A sermon delivered by the Rev. Scott Dalgarno on June 29, 2014
Wasatch Presbyterian Church SLC, Utah
based on 1 Cor. 12:12-27
"I want to talk aboutKate Kelly this morning.
I’m gambling on the fact that you all know who
Kate Kelly is -- the woman who founded
a Mormon organization called, Ordain Women.
I want to discuss her this morning because whether we are Mormon,
or former Mormon,
or not Mormon at all, her case is of importance to us. And for several reasons.
Because we live in Utah,
and because her case brings up matters that are of critical importance
to every one of us --
matters having to do with men and women and how we work together,
and also because it brings up questions about how change happens in the world.
How God uses change agents.
So, what do you think of Kate?
Do you think she’s a radical; maybe a little too aggressive; maybe someone who is well meaning but whose tactics are counter-productive? Those are questions Doug Fabrizio asked her this last week on Radio West.
Or maybe you think she isn’t radical enough.
Maybe you think she is too polite to the powers that be in her church. This how this often breaks down in the media.
It’s been interesting to me to see how differently many women understand her.
If you are paying attention you’re doubtless seen how the whole question of women’s ordination is already changing, as people are exchanging ideas about it – on Radio West, in the Salt Lake Tribune, and even more, on the blogosphere.
I’ve been especially interested to see how some women who initially found Ordain Women’s march to the tabernacle during the recent Conference meeting to be aggressive and ill conceived, now think that her chastisement, handed down by a Mormon bishop via a judgment of nothing less than excommunication, to be shocking; so shocking as to cause some women to feel they have to reconsider most everything they think about things church.
Now the ones I’m thinking of are most often mothers; mothers of girls. They are the ones who initially found themselves on the fence when this started up and who now are expressing some doubts about that position.
I am talking about mothers who have been teaching their daughters to think for themselves. Mothers who are doing their best to teach their daughters not to base their self-concept on what a boy (or a man) thinks of them.
They see wonderful sparks of life in their girls and they don’t want to see them diminished. And so they are watching their girls watch what is happening with Kate Kelly and other women who believe that full membership in their church should come with equal opportunity to lead; full opportunity to take the hand of a hurting sister and pray on her behalf when feeling that impulse, instead of having to round up a man to do it who doesn’t know either of them all that well.
One moderate Mormon woman who was shocked at the use of what she called “the nuclear option” (excommunication) said the following –
"Do we want the same narrative as in 1970s and 1990s… … conflict, confrontation and martyrdom? Is that one we want to pass on to our daughters?"
One Idaho mom said she had tried to raise feminist issues quietly, politely and behind-the-scenes for years, but it wasn’t until Ordain Women began their activism that LDS leaders began to pay any attention.
"I’m not sure at what point a larger conversation in the church would have taken place if Ordain Womenhad not decided it wouldn’t be so polite," she said. "They have opened up a space for discussion."
One very articulate young female critic of Kate Kelly spoke up in a blog that is being forwarded a lot this week. She said that Kate isn’t just asking questions. She is advocating a teaching. The organization’s name, Ordain Women,” says it all.
In response to such criticism, Kate Kelly has said, “The name is NOT, Ordain Women NOW.” Just Ordain Women."
Interesting, is it not? One person’s radical is another person’s moderate. I find that fact as fascinating as anything in this discussion. I mean, how do you think Kate will be judged in ten or twenty years? These things are relative.
I’m just old enough to remember that when Martin Luther King Jr. came on the scene, he was considered quite the radical, especially by white clergy; clergy who found Dr. King to be too aggressive, too pushy. Impatient. One of the great documents in all of American letters is his answer to those critical clergymen in his letter from the Birmingham jail.
But, as persuasive as his answer to them in that letter, what truly turned the tide was the late arrival in the movement of a man who called himself, Malcolm X.
Malcolm X came along with his wild sarcasm and eloquent stridency and in one swoop he made Dr. King sound like the mildest, most reasonable moderate by comparison.
Is Kate Kelly a radical?
Well, some have said no. She marched on the Tabernacle, yes, but she didn’t ordain women herself, or anything like that. She didn’t claim that Mormon women already have the priesthood. Kate has never said that this is about her. She has, in fact, said quite the opposite.
You know, no matter how this plays out, it’s healthy to note that it almost always takes more than one individual to bring about change.
Moses was called to begin the deliverance of the Hebrew people,
but it was Joshua who got them to the land of the promise.
Neil Armstrong was the first man to walk on the moon,
but when Tom Wolfe wrote the story of pioneering efforts in American space travel in his book, The Right Stuff,” he reminded us all that it was Chuck Yeager, the test pilot with ice in his veins, who maybe had the best “stuff” of all.
Jesus made a fuss in the temple, overturning the tables of the moneychangers which probably got him killed, and then the mild mannered apostle Paul came along and made the whole Christian thing work.
So, as I said, we don’t know how this will play out for our LDS sisters. There certainly is no timetable for it. We only know change will have to come from the top; probably by “revelation,” as racial change came to the Later Day Church in the 1980s.
Here’s a note on that kind of thing. Many of you know that I lived for a short time in Rome, Italy in the 1970s. Pope Paul Vi was on the throne of St. Peter at the time. I remember asking a Vatican insider I knew about him at that time. She said, “Pope Paul wants to die.” I said, “Why?” She said, “Well, he knows change has to happen for the Catholic Church to thrive and he knows he is not the one to make the kind of change. His theology and understanding of the church is just what it is and he can’t do otherwise.” He didn’t feel, like Pope Benedict, that he could just retire, and get out of the way of people who had a different line on God.
Another line on God. One moderate Mormon feminist, Rosalynde Welch from St. Louis, said that Kate Kelly’s approach was “too activist” for her taste, but she was also deeply disturbed by her excommunication. She said that she had hoped for “a third way,” a decision by the LDS leadership that would have opened the discussion instead of a decision meant to close it down.
I was impressed with that statement. Let me tell you about something that happened when I became pastor of First Presbyterian Church in Ashland, Oregon.
I began my work at that church on Labor Day in 1994. Just two years before that the church had had a major kerfuffle over an Oregon ballot measure. A very conservative political action committee had put a measure on the ballot restricting the legal rights of gay people. It was eventually defeated but not before the Session of the First Presbyterian Church, by a divided vote, had come out against the measure.
A number of people in the church said they didn’t mind that people on the church board were against the measure, they just didn’t like the Board taking a stand against such a measure because by doing that it was acting as if the whole church was against it, and that wasn’t true. For those who spoke out, this was a matter of principle.
By the time I became pastor of that church two years later, an almost identical measure was on the Oregon ballot, and at my first Session meeting, the clerk of the Session made a motion that the Session go on record again the measure just like before.
Well, I knew what had happened before, and what it had cost the church, and I knew this was the first test of my leadership, right out of the box, so I asked that the motion be tabled and asked further that a subcommittee be assembled to study what our reformed tradition had to say about the relationship of religion and politics. I proposed that that group bring a recommendation to our next meeting concerning the measure.
Well, we met several times. I spoke about the critical value of the individual conscience for Reformed Christians and I suggested that instead of taking a stand that would have no effect at all on the vote, that instead, we take out a half page ad in the local newspaper and invite any members of the church to ante up $2 each and have their names attached to the ad under the heading, “Presbyterians Against Ballot Measure 9.” We could run it for four days. The Session thought that an appropriate “third way,” to use Rosalynde Welch’s phrase, and it was passed unanimously in place of the previous measure.
Well, an interesting thing happened that none of us could have predicted. Word got out quickly about our plan and pretty soon we had a mess of Methodists, and then a few Catholics, and then some Lutherans, and then some UCC people, and then some Jews, and we quickly doubled the size of our ad. And we had to change the title from “Presbyterians Against Measure 9,” to “People of Faith Against Measure 9.”
It took up a whole page. I was sorry Presbyterians couldn’t get full credit for the idea, but the ad was so much more impressive and effective that I quickly got over that.
You know, when Presbyterians take an oath to become an elder, or a deacon, or a minister in this denomination, one of our vows asks us if we are willing to serve with “energy, intelligence, imagination, and love.”
I am so glad that word, imagination, is in there. Because that is what we need in order to find that third way.
Too often votes are taken in churches and what happens? 51% of the leaders defeat 49%. Or maybe 55% defeat the other 45%. And the winning group thinks, triumphantly, “Gotcha!” I’ve seen that, not a lot, but sometimes, and it is painful. It underwhelms me every time and makes me think it’s just not Christian.
With a little imagination, it might have been so different. I’m pleased to say that I have never seen the Session of this church behave that way. Not once. But it’s not because we haven’t had to deal with some hot button issues. We have, but we have worked together on them, and I know that in two particularly divisive issues, we have come to something close to a consensus that none of us, coming in, thought possible. Now that takes work, and prayer, and being willing to let something sit on the table until we come up with better answers, but it’s almost always possible.
You know, I wish I could tell you that Presbyterians were the first Protestants to ordain women, but we weren’t.
No, that honor goes to the Quakers.
A founding principle for them has always been the belief that an element of God’s spirit exists in every soul, and therefore, all persons are equally liable to speak the capital T Truth when it needs to be said. Way back in 1660, a Quaker woman named Margaret Fell, wrote a pamphlet justifying equal roles for men and women in the church in which she pointed out that it was women who first witnessed to the resurrection of Jesus and first attested orally to his victory over death.
Presbyterians first ordained women to be ruling elders in the church in 1930, but few were elected to that position until the 1950s.
The first woman I could identify as ordained to the Presbyterian ministry was a woman named Margaret Towner. She was actually a reluctant candidate for ministry, at first. She spoke of herself as merely a helper kind of clergy person; a Christian educator who wore a robe to worship. She carved out a second tier kind of ordination at first. In time she realized she had done herself and other women who aspired to ordination, a disservice.
By the time of her retirement, though, she spoke with real fire about her own calling. Yes, and she was the first pastor to speak out about what we call today, a stain-glass ceiling in the church -- the fact that while more than half the students in our seminaries are women, almost all the tall-steeple churches are served by male pastors. Here is a little of what she said back in 1980.
We have come a long way, but I still sense a falling backward. It is my vision that someday we will realize full equality as human beings called by God to the ministry of Word and Sacrament based upon our talent and ability, regardless of what gender one happens to be. . . . Let us remember that God created human beings, male and female with distinction, to be equal in partnership with God
in creating a world of peace and love. We are called to free the oppressed, feed the hungry, bring water to the thirsty, clothe the naked, heal the sick and proclaim the day has come when God has saved the people. But until we all see ourselves as those imperfect human beings who are weak and in need of forgiveness, we still will set ourselves up as the programmers of God’s agenda and we will experience discrimination against women, minorities, and age.Let’s get on with being the Whole People of God.
That same year I was attending a pretty conservative Presbyterian Church in Berkeley California. I went there because the pastor, Earl Palmer, was such a terrific preacher and teacher. I remember one thing he said, word for word, in one sermon – it was about the ordination of women. He said, “Beware of any institution that, by its precepts, effectively silences half of it’s adherents.”
This is a difficult word for me to deliver. I know that a number of you have at least one foot in the Mormon church, if not both. Or you have family or other loved ones who are there. This is a tender issue that brings up all kinds of emotions and I have done enough research to know there aren’t just two sides, or three or four to this issue. There are dozens, I would guess.
My feeling is simply that being part of a family of faith that honors the individual conscience the way we Presbyterian Christians do, means we talk about these things. We hear one another out. We explore everything around it. We seek out other voices. We do anything but silence one another.
I will tell you one thing – today is a brand new day in the ward houses in this city and all over the world. When women get up to speak there today they are being seen with new eyes and they are speaking with new tongues, whether they know it or not.
So, in closing this out, I want to speak as respectfully of Mormonism as I would of any other faith, but here is what I would say to Kate Kelly and any other person in her faith that has endured what she has just endured –
No man can take away your baptism. No man can take away your God given calling. No man. God long ago claimed you as God’s own, and no one else can get in the way of that. Not now. Not ever.