Wednesday, August 30, 2006

A woman's place

Capistrano Beach, Calif.

Church Fires Teacher for Being Woman
Published: August 21, 2006
Filed at 8:40 a.m. ET
WATERTOWN, N.Y. (AP) -- The minister of a church that dismissed a female Sunday School teacher after adopting what it called a literal interpretation of the Bible says a woman can perform any job -- outside of the church.
The First Baptist Church dismissed Mary Lambert on Aug. 9 with a letter explaining that the church had adopted an interpretation that prohibits women from teaching men. She had taught there for 54 years.
The letter quoted the first epistle to Timothy: ''I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she must be silent.''
The Rev. Timothy LaBouf, who also serves on the Watertown City Council, issued a statement saying his stance against women teaching men in Sunday school would not affect his decisions as a city leader in Watertown, where all five members of the council are men but the city manager who runs the city's day-to-day operations is a woman.

My initial, gut reaction to this story was to feel relief that I have only sons, not daughters. My boys will undoubtedly encounter prejudice, but it’s unlikely anyone will ever fire them, from a job they have held for decades, because they are men.

A local news channel quotes Lambert as saying that she and the church pastor have had “differences of opinion concerning the direction of the church.” The final sentence of the Associated Press story says that “other issues were behind Lambert’s dismissal,” but church board members chose not to elaborate.

The pastor and the church's deaconate board addressed these "issues" a few days later in the local news. At this time they stated that the scriptural imperative was "only a small aspect" of the decision, and that "Christian courtesy" prevented them from saying anything more -- implying, of course, that the woman who took her story to the media was behaving in a way that was neither Christian nor courteous.

To claim that Lambert was fired because of a re-interpretation of the New Testament appears to be a sneaky attempt to put a holy stamp on the board's actions, when it seems to me that what is going on here is more political, or personal. Would these “issues” have been a firing offense if Lambert was a man?

I belong to a church in which women are fully represented in all positions of teaching, leadership and decision-making. It is not the denomination in which I was raised. When my sons were old enough to start asking questions, and I began looking for a place that I hoped would become their spiritual home, I had to confront the gaps between what I was taught as a child and what I had come to believe with time and life experience.

It took me a while to comprehend how important it was for me to see women preaching a sermon, presenting a report from the church's board of trustees, chairing the annual capital campaign, and donning hard hats to break ground for a new church building.

If I had a daughter, I realized, I could not raise her within a religious tradition that would bar her from participating in some part of that community. And I don't want my children, regardless of gender, to be told that women are not credible as leaders, spiritual or otherwise.

Recently I had a bedtime conversation with my oldest son about the people pictured on U.S. currency. E asked me to tell him again about the woman on the gold dollar coin. Then he wanted to know why she was the only woman, why all the other figures were men.

I explained that at one time, women were not permitted to vote, that they were primarily expected to be mothers and take care of their homes, and that they were not considered capable of being leaders. My son’s mouth hung open in surprise. “Why would anyone ever think that?” he asked. Indeed.

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