A few weeks ago, I attended the International Clergy Meetings in Bryn Athyn, USA.
Or did I?
I think everyone can agree that I was in Bryn Athyn at the time, but whether I was present at the Meetings themselves… well, you can decide.
I first realized that there was some confusion while at the Clergy & Wives dinner. There, we wives had been toasted by our husbands, “we couldn’t do this without you.” Juxtaposed against that, after dinner I learned that a group of women had set up a protest—they had left shoes outside the door of the room where the Meetings were being held. Empty shoes meant to display the absence of women’s voices in the governing of the Church.
For all the many women who don’t bother to follow the local politics of Bryn Athyn Church, here is a little background: Several years ago a portion of the laity-mostly in the US- pushed to have the clergy reevaluate whether women could be priests. Three years ago, Bishop Keith lead the clergy through an examination of the HD to see what they understood the Lord said on the subject. When the clergy turned in their responses, the vast majority of them didn’t think the doctrinal support for women priests was there and so the Bishop announced that the priesthood would remain as is. Most congregations in the world moved on. Many WIM (women in the ministry) supporters who couldn’t move past the decision left the GC and joined other New Church organizations (Convention and Conference both ordain women). But in BA there remains a contingent of vocal dissidents—people who don’t want to accept the decision and don’t want to leave the GC.
This article is not venturing into the whether-or-not-women-should-be-priests debate. Neither is it attempting to answer the larger question of “what are the ways women CAN serve the Church.” Rather, I wish to refute a particular insult to Clergy wives—and to Our Church—implicit in that original protest: to say that no women’s voice was represented at these meetings is total (expletive removed).
As I hope to demonstrate.
The day after the Clergy & Wives dinner, I went to see the protest. When I looked up close at the display, I admit, I laughed. The quote on the paper around which the shoes lay read: “It is not good for man to be alone” a quote from Genesis 2.
The set up was too perfect and I had to leave a little note for the activists that finished their sentence for them “…I will make him a helper comparable to him.”
Of course I agree that men are broken on their own—The Lord thinks so too—that’s why He gave men wives!
I don’t think the activists were intentionally downplaying the support Clergy Wives give to their husbands—I suspect they really just don’t understand how deep that support goes. I worry they may be overlooking the role that any wife is designed to play in her husband’s use. And I fear they may be falling into Western culture’s error of viewing a man or woman as a complete unit unto themselves. And this leads to the error of believing that the person you physically see only represents himself.
In the most external terms, I think you would be hard pressed to give any woman’s voice greater influence over the clergy body, than a clergy wife has. In fact, I contest that had 100 unconnected women been standing in that meeting shouting out their opinions, they could not have had one-tenth of the influence over my husband’s view on the subject than my casually spoken word has.
But this is a trivial argument. There is a far more disturbing implication by the shoe-protest than that a wife’s opinion has no real influence. The greater danger is a potential ignorance (or worst, dismissal) of the complete interconnected design of a truly married unit.
To explain, below are excerpts from one of my favorite Memorable Relations (the complete number can be read here). In Conjugial Love 56, Swedenborg goes to visit the Temple of Wisdom in Heaven. He steps into one of the small side buildings near the Temple to talk wisdom with the angel man there:
I saw inside that the building was divided into two sections, and yet the two were still one. It was divided into two sections by a transparent partition, but it looked like one room because of the partition’s transparency, which was like the transparency of the purest crystal. I asked why it was arranged like that.
The receptionist said, “I am not alone. My wife is with me, and though we are two, yet we are not two but one flesh.”
To which I replied, “I know you are wise, but what does a wise man or wisdom have to do with a woman?”
At this, with some feeling of annoyance, the receptionist’s expression changed, and he stretched out his hand, and suddenly, then, other wise men were present from the neighboring buildings. To them he said with amusement, “Our visitor here says he wants to know what a wise man or wisdom has to do with a woman!”
They all laughed at this and said, “What is a wise man or wisdom apart from a woman or apart from love? A wife is the love of a wise man’s wisdom.”
But the receptionist said, “Let us join together now in some conversation of wisdom. Let the conversation be about causes, today the reason for the beauty in the female sex.”
So they then spoke in turn…The fourth speaker gave this reason, that the Lord took beauty and grace of life from man and transferred them into woman, and that is why a man not reunited with his beauty and grace in woman is stern, severe, dry and unattractive, and also not wise except for his own sake alone, in which case he is a dunce. On the other hand, when a man is united with his beauty and grace of life in a wife, he becomes agreeable, pleasant, full of life and lovable, and therefore wise…
After these and several other similar views were expressed, one of the wives appeared through the crystal-like partition, and she said to her husband, “Speak, if you wish.”
And when he spoke, the life in his wisdom from his wife was perceived in his speech, for her love was in the tone of his voice. Thus did experience bear witness to the truth expressed…
It doesn’t matter if your physical eyes only see my husband—when he speaks, when he governs, and when he judges, his effectiveness is a product of us both.
I am present.
I am present in the most powerful way I possibly could be because it is the way I was designed to be present by the Lord God Jesus Christ—my love is, as it were, the very life of my husband’s wisdom!
No policy or structure humankind can create could ever provide women a truer or more powerful outlet of influence than what Our Lord has created.
I suppose it is difficult to prove to those outside of my marriage that I know this connection exists between Derrick and myself. But it does. When I recognize that the Lord has blessed us with so deep a bond…such complete interdependence and connection…words fail me.
So did I attend the Clergy Meetings?
I think your answer to that will depend on whether or not you acknowledge the woman behind the partition.