For this year's blog action day subject of Inequality, I'm writing about aspects of life in the larger, more extended church and in the local churches. By now everyone knows separate (accommodations, considerations, requirements, opportunities) inherently is unequal. Justice and equality are at least first cousins, probably siblings, and anyone who's reached a certain age – ten years old?! – can cite countless instances of retributive and distributive injustice and inequality.
On to inequality...
For quite a few decades, many mostly mainline denominations / church bodies have been ordaining women as deacons / elders (presbyters, priests) / ministers of word and sacrament. Historically and practically, there are different configurations and permutations in terms of ordination. In some churches the diaconate is a rank of ordination; others consecrate rather than ordain deacons /diaconal ministers. Besides churches where woman deacons and pastors have become routine and expected, several other large denominations, most publicly LDS (Latter-day Saints), LCMS (Lutheran Church Missouri Synod), and RC (Roman Catholic) recently again have reaffirmed their positions. In those church bodies, maybe mostly in response to grass roots ferment and restlessness, study of scripture on every participatory level has reopened the question of women's role and rank in church leadership. Reopened the question followed by closing the discussion. Current official position in those three church bodies – and probably in some I haven't been following – remains according in their interpretation of scripture, women cannot be ordained. On a side note, women freely preach and teach in both LDS and RC churches, though the LCMS is guarded and circumspect regarding those activities.
We absolutely need to contextualize the gospel into our current cultural and geographical setting, so what worked for someone as recently as a decade ago when they were a student at an urban New Zealand university won't be a good fit for their current living situation in rural Canadian Prairie Land. In their studies of scripture and their affirmations of Jesus Christ as the ultimate authority, some church bodies have agreed to ordain women, others haven't. No one truly can separate culture and style from history, tradition, and (even!) scripture, and a few recently publicized events regarding women's ordination vis-à-vis church have looked suspiciously (to me and others, as well) like a focus on style rather than on substance―but whatever. Although my own reading comes out on the side of allowing and encouraging women's ordination and full participation in all levels of church leadership, it truly is "complicated," and culture, psychology, and even prejudice aside, I appreciate that some people may disagree with me.
I'm far more concerned by unequal treatment accorded to richer, more prominent, more famous church leaders regarding morality and ethics. "Unequal" in the sense of well-connected, more affluent, household names not being held fully accountable for bad behavior. There's a recently revealed case of a newly installed president of a mainline seminary where the guy had admitted to at least two extra-marital affairs whilst serving Big Steeple Churches. So he apologized and somehow gets to stay in his presidency position. In a smaller church with a lesser-known pastor, the pastor would have been expected to resign, would have quit, and would have agreed to counseling before returning to professional service in the church―or the pastor possibly would have left church altogether.
Regarding another too common example of ecclesiastical inequality, an article I read last winter spoke of the high personal, professional, financial cost of pastoral firings for any reason (not only moral misconduct) in the typical local church. The article admitted in that particular Episcopal Church tradition, bishops generally got a golden parachute no matter how severe their failings and shenanigans. Financial and sexual improprieties may be most common, but other ethical violations too frequently happen, with resulting fallout that extends far beyond the person's family, the local church "family," that town, or the denomination/tradition in question.
Not a single person can achieve the absolute obedience that is God's standard for every Christian, and most of us need to rely upon repentance, forgiveness, and grace more often than we wish were necessary. But why the double standard? Why such inequality?