This article will discuss the decision of the General Conference to create and fund a Global Theological Education Fund, to be administered by The General Board of Higher Education and Ministry (GBHEM), and the impact of this decision on central conferences in Africa. I maintain that this decision will keep us on the road to increasing the number of clergy members throughout Africa and especially the formation of clergywomen on the continent.
The Central Conference Theological Education Fund will have $5 million allotted from World Service Funds for theological education for the seven central conferences outside of the USA.
These monies are to be spent over the 2013–2016 quadrennium. No decision has yet been made on how to allocate the funds among the various central conferences, but the funds indicate an increase in the support of theological education around the world. The Council of Bishops is charged with electing members who will serve on the Commission on Central Conference Theological Education, which will direct the use of those funds. In whatever way the Commission decides to allocate these funds (e.g., for the develop of theological schools, courses of study, libraries and local resources, scholarships, faculty learning, scholarly networks, and new approaches to theological discourse), the funds have a great potential to increase the participation of women in theological formation. It is our hope that the Council of Bishops has named the Commission including five women. We are most excited by this prospect.
Compelling reasons exist for the decision to allocate the $5 million to the Central Conference Theological Education Fund. First, the church is growing at an extremely high rate in the central conferences, in contrast to the United States membership, which is on the decline. According to The United Methodist Church Appendices: Operational Assessment Project: Report to the Call to Action Steering Committee; The Association of Religious Data Archives (United Methodist Church); and the Research Office of the GBGM, African membership increased from 1,075.538 in 1998 to 4,200,317 in 2012. In the United States, on the other hand, membership declined from 8,363,584 to 7,679,850 from 1998 to 2009, with continuing decline since that time. Moreover, we have a great lack of pastors in the African Central Conferences. Bishop Joaquina Nhanala, episcopal leader of Mozambique, has said, “The church is growing in Africa and we have a great need to educate pastors. Some of the pastors have never been in theological schools, so it is necessary to train them, and some who have training need more education” (quoted by Mrs. Brown, 2012 General Conference blog). She continues: “Lay people with no theological training lead more than 800 churches in Mozambique, and that is one example of the need for the $5 million Central Conference Theological Education Fund” (ibid.). No question exists as to the need to increase our clergy members on the African continent. But how much of this is going to the women of the church for our theological formation?
The formation of women clergy across the globe is not making significant advances. As stated in The United Methodist Church Appendices: Operational Assessment Project: Report to the Call to Action Steering Committee (p. 2; cf. pp. 16–17):
Although there have been significant nominal [number] increases in diverse clergy ethnic/racial categories over the Period [1998–2008], total clergy remain predominantly “White” (88%) and male (76%) in 2008. Female clergy have become an increasing percentage of total clergy over the Period and, although this trend has occurred across all jurisdictions, significant variation remains among jurisdictions in 2008.
There are currently 10,231 clergywomen in the USA according to statistical data provided by the General Council on Finance and Administration of The United Methodist Church (GCFA). Furthermore, Africa is not keeping up with the United States in regard to the pastoral formation of women. In Africa, current UMC clergywomen number only 582. The total number of clergypersons in Africa is 9,209.1 Women, therefore, make up only 6 percent of all African clergy. The ratio of the number of American members to American women clergy is approximately 704:1; while for Africa it is 7,217:1; a number more than 10.25 times the U.S. number. Meanwhile, women constitute 57 percent of church membership roles around the world. We remain the primary “consumers” of religion, while men make up most of its “managers.” Clear evidence exists from the GBHEM that women in the African Central Conferences benefited directly from the theological educational fund in the last quadrennium. Yet, the need for theological formation of African women continues to grow as African membership grows, and several clergywomen from the three Central Conferences, who attended the continental African Clergywomen Consultation in Mutare, Zimbabwe, February 1–4, 2012, expressed this need loudly and clearly. Obviously, all support of theological education will also directly and indirectly enhance women’s pastoral numbers. Yet, we call for more direct funding to support women called to ministry. African clergywomen, toward the end of the last quadrennium, represent only 6 percent of all African clergy. This is wholly inadequate!
I would argue that the visible church, the whole body of Christ on earth, still sits behind a patriarchal glass, darkly, being only a very limited and provisional expression of the heavenly kingdom wherein all people are equal before God. It does not see clearly that in order to increase the full participation of women, the direct application of monies to women must be undertaken at a higher rate than is currently being done. Although the global UMC has affirmed the biblical rationale for the ordination of women (see, e.g., N. T. Wright, “Women’s Service in the Church: The Biblical Basis”) and began ordaining women officially in 1956, African clergywomen highlighted at the Consultation that continuing misogynist, patriarchal biblical interpretation is the root cause of justifying male supremacy, female inferiority, and the slow formation of female clergy.
The patriarchal reading of the two creation stories (Gen. 1–3), particularly the idea of Eve as both a second and secondary human being and the originator of sin in Genesis 2–3, often uses these two accounts as proof texts for the idea that women are inferior to men and unworthy of ordination. This is not, however, the only way to read these texts. For example, Phyllis Trible asserts:
Special among the literature of the ancient Near East in focusing upon the creation of woman, this narrative [Gen. 2–3] depicts sexuality as occurring simultaneously for male and female (2:23). Moreover, the appearance of women is the climax of the entire story (cf. Gen. 1:27). While the animals were helpers for “the man,” they were inferiors. By contrast, the woman is “a helper fit for him” (2:18). This phrase connotes the equality of woman with man, an equality that is stressed in various ways. 2
Many feminist interpreters agree with her regarding her reading of Genesis 1–3.
Paul argued, in the New Testament, that women should be silent in churches (1 Cor. 14:34). He instructed that a woman who desires to understand the Christian message should wait until she gets home to ask questions of her husband (v. 35). We cannot take these assertions at face value because Paul himself educated women (e.g., Act 16:13–14), and gave them much power in the growing Christian community (e.g., Phil 4:2–3). As N. T. Wright says:
What the passage [1 Cor. 14] cannot possibly mean is that women had no part in leading public worship, speaking out loud of course as they did so. This is the positive point that is proved at once by the other relevant Corinthian passage, 1 Corinthians 11.2–11, since there Paul is giving instructions for how women are to be dressed while engaging in such activities, instructions which obviously wouldn’t be necessary if they had been silent in church all the time.3
First Timothy 2:12 seems to state that a woman should not teach or have authority over a man. The passage continues: “For Adam was formed first, then Eve” (v. 13 niv), who “became a sinner,” not Adam (v. 14 niv). “Women will be saved,” however, “through childbearing” (v. 15 niv). The way to salvation for a woman is only through childbearing!? We should question how a single or an infertile woman might achieve salvation under this view. Thus, it may be that we have interpreted this pericope erroneously for millennia. Wright has suggested about this passage:
The key to the present passage, then, is to recognise that it is commanding that women, too, should be allowed to study and learn, and should not be restrained from doing so (verse 11). They are to be “in full submission”; this is often taken to mean “to the men,” or “to their husbands,”, but it is equally likely that it refers to their attitude, as learners, of submission to God or to the gospel—which of course would be true for men as well. Then the crucial verse 12 need not be read as “I do not allow a woman to teach or hold authority over a man”—the translation which has caused so much difficulty in recent years. It can equally mean (and in context this makes much more sense): “I don’t mean to imply that I’m now setting up women as the new authority over men in the same way that previously men held authority over women.”4
I offer the materials by Trible and Wright just as one pair of examples of helpful rereadings of these passages. There is now extant a wealth of feminist literature that argues convincingly that the passages that have been used repeatedly to force women into submissive roles have been read through inappropriate, patriarchal lenses. So many women have been victims of biblical misinterpretation.
I, therefore, argue that the establishment of the Fund for Central Conference Theological Education is essential in educating seminarians in the broad range of methods and readings of biblical passages, including feminist readings. The Fund is the key to unlocking a better understanding of biblical texts. Let us, then, take a moment to examine Paul’s scripture theme in 1 Corinthians 13–14 in order to show its place within our focus on the General Conference decision to create the Central Conference Theological Education Fund.
The context in which 1 Corinthians 13:12 stands is that of a long discourse that starts in chapter 1, where Paul identified himself as well as his audience. He is kletos “called” to be apostolos “an envoy, delegate, messenger, apostle” of Jesus Christ. He identified his audience as ekklesia of God that is in Corinth (literally, ekklesia means “called out,” from the verbal form ekkaleo). Paul addressed people who were “sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints” (v. 2a). He addressed also those who “call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, both their Lord and ours” (v. 2). Paul and his audience were called, and they also did the same; namely, they called on the name of Jesus Christ.
Sisters around the globe have been called by Jesus Christ to preach and teach for the purpose of reaching out for Christ. Our sisters, as do all Protestants through Luther, have a mandate to read the Bible for themselves and no longer through a patriarchal glass, darkly. Theological education of women allows them to read the texts in the Hebrew and Greek and to face the complexities embedded in biblical texts. Theological education is needed in Africa, and women need to be beneficiaries of this opportunity.
As we look forward to future gatherings, we hope that clergywomen (Central Conferences clergywomen in particular) will again have a chance to share their experience with theological formation. We hope to be able to celebrate a substantial number of new women beneficiaries of this opportunity. As we gather together around the Scripture and allow ourselves to be wrapped in prayer, we start to see.
Upon returning from the 2012 Consultation in Zimbabwe, the Congolese clergywomen held a meeting in Lubumbashi, DRC, at which they expressed their impression of this gathering with other clergywomen: “Our sisters glow.” One clergywoman said, “Je ne suis plus la même”—“I am no longer the same.” We glow and make others glow. Through reading Scriptures together and through prayer, we were able to see, to know. The glass through which we saw, darkly, fell away to reveal just a bit of heaven. We experienced how theological formation is crucial. We now recognize clearly that as monies for theological education grow and are shared with women, we will step out from behind the patriarchal glass through which we see, darkly, into the light of heaven.
Windows to a Wider Sisterhood