Jesus had women disciples. Jesus taught woman, was supported by woman, and Jesus listened to women. Jesus allowed Mary to sit at his feet and be taught just like a man, Jesus ministry was bankrolled by women, Jesus had women who followed him (remember they are the only ones with enough guts to go to the tomb, and then became the first to pronounce the resurrection), Jesus spent an afternoon listening to the women at a well (She too became a proclaimer of the Gospel).
Paul tells us that in Christ there is “no male and female”. I believe that in Paul’s churches women spoke and were leaders in proclaiming the Gospel. The early church was a dynamic place where anyone with the gifts proclaimed the sacred mystery of Christ’s death and resurrection. My wife and I named our daughter, Phoebe, who is mentioned in the book of Romans by Paul. “I commend to you our sister Phoebe, a deacon of the church at Cenchreae, so that you may welcome her in the Lord as is fitting for the saints, and help her in whatever she may require from you, for she has been a benefactor of many and of myself as well.” We gave her this name partly so she will remember that within the body of Christ she is equal to everyone else, and her proclamation of the Gospel is equally important.
Somewhere along the way the church got knocked off course. It no longer mattered what your gifts were only the plumbing. Women were barred from leadership in the Church, and we all suffered for this sin. We all were less fed because we only heard about Jesus from a certain point of view, and Jesus became about conquering and killing others different from us.
In seminary half of my classmates were women, and I can remember multiple occasions in class thinking how blessed I was to have women in our class. I was thankful to God for their presence and their voice. It made me a better pastor, a richer theologian, and a deeper thinker. The ELCA (and its predecessor’s bodies) has been ordaining women for 43 years. In that way this day seems like it took too long. We should have had a presiding woman bishop long ago. It seems that progress is always too slow. But what it took the church over two thousand years to do was not going to be undone in a short time. I pray for the day when we have no more first in our church. We have no more first woman bishop, or first openly gay…or first person of color…instead we have a dynamic church that uses the gifts of its entire people for the building up of the kingdom of God. What a day that will be.
There will be some other Christians who will think that this is merely the “liberal ELCA straying from the doctrinal purity of the true Church.” I can only say that I am a proud pastor of the ELCA. I am proud that we are trying to be a Church that judges our leaders by the only criteria that should matter, are they faithful stewards of the mysteries of God. Do they love the people they serve? Do they have compassion for all of God’s children? Do they love their neighbor as themselves? Do they know and preach the grace and mercy of God through Jesus Christ? Everything else is about human divisions that we invent to make ourselves feel superior to others. So let our Church celebrate one more time when we grow closer to the Holy Spirit and it’s moving among us.