Monday, August 21, 2006

Woman Fired After Decades of Teaching Sunday School... for Being a Woman?

That, without the question mark, was ABC World News' television lead for its coverage of the firing of 81-year old Mary Lambert by the First Baptist Church of Waterton, New York.

The story seems pretty straightforward. Ms. Lambert got a letter from the Diaconate board of the church (it was shown on screen) consisting of but one paragraph. The first sentence told Mary Lambert that she had been dismissed by unanimous vote of the board. The rest of the paragraph was taken up with 1 Timothy 2:11-14 "A woman should learn in quietness and full submission. I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she must be silent. For Adam was formed first, then Eve. And Adam was not the one deceived; it was the woman who was deceived and became a sinner."

The letter gave no additional rationale for the dismissal.

I won't bother arguing with the bogus interpretation of the verses above by the church, or its board, or its Reverend Timothy Labouf. For that discussion, see Christians for Biblical Equality's website. Check the "free articles" section.

But as for what I could find out on my own in a few minutes, I discovered the story's more complex. For one thing, it turns out their pastor is a member of the Waterton city council. Even before ABC-News got hold of the story, it appears to have become a local hot potato for Rev. Labouf. In a lengthy letter posted on the Waterton Baptist Church website, Labouf noted the following:

As stated in the Board’s August 19th press release the reasons for this most recent decision was, “multifaceted and the scriptural rules concerning women teaching men in a church setting was only a small aspect of that decision. Christian courtesy motivates us to refrain from making any public accusations against her.”

But wait... isn't saying that basically making a public accusation against her, one which taints her reputation yet does not contain enough specificity to challenge? I can't see how either Rev. Labouf or the folks on his board would think a one paragraph letter -- most of which was a bible verse -- was good communication. But this longer letter seemingly makes things worse.

In the end, whatever political intrigues were or were not going on in the church, Ms. Lambert was dismissed for being a woman. Period. The letter sent to her by the Church board made this crystal clear in the most unambiguous terms possible. The fact that her gender was used as the basis for dismissing her is simply not acceptable.

Link (added): ABC posted the story on their website.

(ERRATA repaired: edited to add word "addtional" to sentence "The letter gave no additional rationale for the dismissal.")

1 comment:

ian said...

I am a little (okay, a lot) wary of these types of news items. All the facts are never laid on the table, and then we get people trying to push their particular "ism" based on a supposition of 'what happened.' I'm sick and tired of this contentiousness -- on all sides!

The proof in the pudding, for the apostle Peter (Acts 10)and later the Jerusalem council (Acts 11) for whether Greeks needed to become Jews prior to becoming 'full-fledged' people of 'the Way' was the fact that the Spirit of Jesus filled them upon their baptism (referring to the case of Cornelius). Doesn't this prove a better model for our understanding of the role of anyone in the Church than trying to reincorporate legalistic guidelines? It would appear to me that many would be excluded from ministry, whether female or male, if we were more concerned about the spirituality of that individual more than whether they conformed to a predetermined grid of what they know or don't know; whether they were female or male; circumcised or uncircumcised; left or right handed. Can we truly recognize a "Spirit-filled" and gifted person anymore?

When it comes to the issue of who is eligible for service (I despise the modern connotation of 'leadership') in the Church, I would argue with Peter: "If God therefore gave them the same gift as He gave to us also after believing in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could stand in God's way?" (Acts 11:17)

It would seem to me that we are reaping piles of wood, hay, and stubble, by pouring out so much of our energies on both sides of this hot-button issue (and many other similarly motivated issues), that we are neglecting to comprehend the truth as Christians that where the Spirit of the Lord there is PEACE.