Is it really possible in practice to ask questions about men, women and authority in the church and “banish the ghost of the Usurper”, when deep in your heart you believe that anything other than your position actually would amount to usurping?
In answer to Bronwyn’s question, I do think we should aim to ask questions and address practical ways that the threat of usurption can be banished in male pastoral relationships with his women members. Alastair raises one question that places some responsibility on women and that is to consider ways in which one can treat their pastor and the pastoral office with respect even while disagreeing with him. I will list a couple more factors to consider below. Even though asking these kinds of questions and having this conversation will not ensure that the dynamics between a male pastor and the women in his congregation will change in every situation/context, I hope that it would in some.
This leads to a problem I see with Wilkin’s piece. The issue regarding the problems that exist between male pastoral leadership and women, specifically women in ministry, is reduced to three fears or “ghosts” that haunt men in position. To be sure, I do not doubt that there are men who allow, in part, these ghosts to dictate the way they interact with the women in their churches. However, I don’t think the issue is as simplistic as three ghosts.
Perhaps, as Alastair asks, the reason why male pastors act a certain way toward women is because a particular woman or women have treated him and/or his office in disrespectful ways. Perhaps his behavior toward women is influenced by his personality, past experiences, or a particular interpretation of Scripture, to name a few. Perhaps, like Hannah suggests, it is because his identity and authority stem from his gender and therefore the opposite gender will pose a threat simply because of the gender. Perhaps it is due in part to something that a particular woman has done to cause distrust in the relationship. Given the nature of our humanity, the reasons behind our behavior cannot be reduced to just one. Therefore, our response in addressing this issue will need to be formulated from a more complex perspective.
I think Wilkin’s piece is helpful in addressing possible fears felt by male pastors, and I hope that her piece causes male ministers who read it to do some serious self-examination. For these ghosts (or fears or attitudes) only can be changed through the grace of the Holy Spirit and self-examination.
Again going back to Bronwyn’s question, I sense an assumption (or should I call it a ghost) held by women (myself included!) that projects a certain belief onto the pastor, that is no matter what I say or do he will consider it usurption. Perhaps it is not a projection but a description of an experienced reality, or perhaps it is unfounded. However, it is good to remember that when there are strained relationships between a male pastor and a woman that it should be handled case-by-case, and the only way we can break down barriers will depend on prayer, the people involved and their willingness to come to the table to dialogue and self-examine in a spirit of humility and grace.