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When Churches Deny Full Equality to Women

I’m going to try hard not to sound like that line from “I’ve Grown Accustomed to Her Face” in “My Fair Lady” that goes, “I’m very grateful she’s a woman/and so easy to forget/ Rather like a habit/One can always break – and yet …”
 

And I’m going to try very hard not to act like the Pharisee in the parable Jesus told about people who trust too much in themselves and their own righteousness and show contempt for others, saying and praying, “God, I thank you that I am not like other people …”

 

That effort shouldn’t be hard since, in my own Baptist tradition, so many zealous Christians have resisted – well, no, “fought” is the more accurate verb – the ordination of women and the more comprehensive subordination of girls and women in the family, religious institutions and society at large.

 

But the temptation for Baptist and Protestant self-satisfaction is still there in me and others because there have been small outcroppings in our histories that gave the impression that we actually believed and put into practice something as fundamental as the claim that every human being is created equal before the Creative and Transformative Reality and that women and men equally are called to serve the end of an all-inclusive Beloved Community.

 

The temptation for self-satisfaction is greater, in fact, now, because some relatively significant steps have taken place in some religious and civic places over the last century to make better – if not actual good – on those claims about the full equality of human females and males, overlooking how far we yet have to go in order to approach genuinely the sacred and secular norm of equality between and among the sexes and the genders.

 

Yet I find I can’t help myself, it seems, when I thanked God recently that I am a part of religious and civic movements that are, at the very least rhetorically, committed to equality, in distinction from a religious – indeed, Christian – institution in the United States, that resolutely and callously denies equality to women and girls.

 

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I read that the Rev. Janine Denomme died of cancer in the Edgewater neighborhood of Chicago. She had been denied a Roman Catholic burial at her local parish; her funeral Mass would instead be held at First United Methodist Church in adjoining Evanston.

 

Why?

 

Because Denomme, a person created by and in the image of the Creative and Transformative Reality, courageously embraced her full equality and her call to Christian ministry by being ordained by a group called Roman Catholic Womenpriests.

 

That was sufficient grounds for denying her official last rites in her own religious tradition.

 

WBEZ, the National Public Radio station in Chicago, reported:

 

“The Catholic church never recognized Denomme’s ordination. The Archdiocese of Chicago says Denomme automatically separated herself from the Church when she participated in ‘the simulation of the sacrament of Holy Orders.’ The diocese says she knowingly and willingly participated in the simulation and brought excommunication upon herself. And because of that Denomme is denied a Catholic funeral. The Archdiocese says Denomme could only be allowed a Church burial if she gave ‘some sign of repentance before death.'”

 

That, despite the fact that she had been a member of the Church her whole earthly life and served as a lay preacher, religious teacher, church musician, spiritual director, parish council member and leader of youth programs for the Church.

 

Please don’t accuse me of saying and praying, “God, I thank you that I’m not like other people” or “God, I thank you that I haven’t been a part of and am not now in a religious community that isn’t like some other religious communities.”

 

I hope God knows those are not my prayers – or that, if they are, God will forgive me for them.

 

But my prayers are that the Creative and Transformative Reality will find a restless presence in the Church into which Denomme was irregularly ordained, that some day a creative and transformed Roman Catholic Church will ordain women like Denomme, and that, when that day arrives, she will be given a Catholic burial in her own parish.

 

For now, however, my prayer is also that: “I’m very grateful she was and is a woman/Not easy to forget/Surely to become, sometime, a habit/the Church should never break/Not now … but yet …”

 

Larry Greenfield is executive minister for the American Baptist Churches of Metro Chicago. He also serves as editor and theologian-in-residence for The Common Good Network.