Book review - Women in Waiting: prejudice at the heart of the church

Thursday, 13 March 2014

Those of you following the progress of legislation concerning women bishops will know that these are exciting times. After a disappointing vote in 2012, many are feeling more optimistic about the situation - and there have been many opportunities to speak about hopes for the future this week as the church has celebrated the 20th anniversary of the first women priests being ordained.

Having finished Julia Ogilvy's Women in Waiting: Prejudice at the heart of the church last week, I'd set this evening aside to write my review. After reading the Tuesday's coverage of the 20th anniversary of women's ordination, and even having a bit of a moist-eyed moment at my desk after seeing Kate Bottley's tweet marking the day, I was made aware, over breakfast today, of an old interview with Wayne Grudem that people were once again talking about.

I'd never read the full interview before, although I've seen some of its content reproduced to illustrate Grudem's position on women teaching and writing books that interpret scripture (a man doing so is 'teaching with authority', a woman doing the same is 'giving her viewpoint'). What I hadn't previously been aware of was his intriguing explanation of the problems that arise in churches and denominations where women are ordained:

"... anyone who lives in a pattern of constant disobedience to the word of God--if a woman does this, she is opening herself up to the danger of the withdrawal of God’s hand of protection and blessing on her life."

He continues:

"Judy Brown is one example that I mention. [She] contributed a chapter to [the book] Discovering Biblical Equality. She was an Assemblies of God pastor or maybe Foursquare, I’m not sure. And she actually, sadly, is in prison in Virginia for attempted murder. It’s tragic."

The problem with Judy Brown, claims Grudem, was her commitment to promoting women's ordination. As a result of her departure from faithfulness to God, she's now in prison. I've never been keen on giving airtime to Grudem on gender, but on reading the interview with him I was struck by the contrast to the stories of the twelve women contained within Women in Waiting. Twelve women, all of them in favour of women's ordination, many of them ordained themselves and holding positions of varying seniority in the church. Theologians, writers, and advocates for women. Twelve women who felt called to vocations where they knew they would face opposition, who have seen enormous changes in attitudes since they started their careers and who know there is still much to be done.

This is not a challenging book; if you're looking for a hashing-out of the arguments for and against women in church leadership, you'll need to look elsewhere - but this is no bad thing. The book's purpose is to tell the stories of just some of the women who have helped pave the way for a greater acceptance of women in ministry and a greater awareness of the damage done by patriarchy. Almost all of them spoke to the author about hostile attitudes from colleagues, but Women in Waiting is by no means a book full of stories about feeling hard done by and miserable. It's actually an inspiring reminder - full of wisdom - of what God can do through those who are willing to serve Him. The women interviewed have worked incredibly hard, knowing that they are fulfilling their calling, and were full of positivity about their achievements and the church, despite some of the painful, lonely and frustrating situations they had been through. It was also encouraging to read, in the case of those who are married, how supportive and affirming their husbands have been.

I wasn't familiar with all of the women profiled in the book and so it was wonderful to learn more about them. I was particularly moved by the interview with Lucy Winkett because it left me with such a strong sense of her wisdom and love for the church and its people. I was reminded, as I read Elaine Storkey's chapter, why I was so inspired by her the first time I saw her speak and why she continues to be ones of my heroes. I was very interested to read the differing perspectives of Katharine Jefferts Schori and Chilton Knudsen from the USA, and found myself nodding my head righteously as I read Helena Kennedy on the cases of abused women that she's been involved in.

Ever since I started attending events where the place of women in the church has been discussed, I've been struck by overheard snatches of conversation, but the confessions of young women getting up in front of a group and saying:

'I feel called but I need to know that it's what God wants for me as a woman. Am I allowed? Is it what scripture says?'

Women in Waiting would be an ideal read for any women mulling over this question, not because it will provide all the answers, but because I think it clearly shows that being a pioneer in the church is what God wants for many women, and that they've been gifted accordingly.

Further reading:


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