Although it might seem strange to us today, just 150 years ago politicians had to at least pay lip service to the ideal that they were to be drafted and called into office and not push and strive openly for it. To be sure, there was no shortage of ambitious leaders who sought to create or exploit the popular mood that would lead them into power, but there was at least a knowledge that pushy ambition for office was viewed as a negative quality. Leaders were thus faced with the situation of having to prove themselves worthy to be called up for positions of high office. This has been a perennial problem in republics where the more aristocratic desires for would-be leaders to conduct some sort of course of office to demonstrate fitness for the highest offices has been in tension with the tendency of younger leaders to bristle at slow opportunities for promotion or for demagogues to exploit problems that were not being addressed successfully. And so it is in many institutional cultures that one must prove fitness for offices without expressing a personal ambition to hold them in order to be viewed as truly fitting for such offices.
Why do I bring this subject up? It so happens that recently my mother sent me the writings that someone else had created that urged for a fairly drastic cultural (and political) change to take place within the religious tradition I am a part of. I have written at some length about the issue before, and in reading the four-part paper I was sent I was struck by several aspects of the appeal that I viewed to be especially interesting and relevant to the current discussion. For one, the author appeared to have a lot of personal frustration about the tendency of (some?) men to view themselves as being in authority over all women. For another, the author’s call for women to be ordained as elders and given opportunity to speak in church services appeared to come with a call to be viewed as such a leader herself. Although, like the author, I believe 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 to be a question from Paul’s congregation in Corinth and for the rest of the chapter to be his response to that query, speaking in favor of the wide distribution of opportunities to prophecy so long as it is done decently and in order, obviously not everyone else agrees with this position, and it has always been an issue within any institution to balance the struggle between the desire for justice or reform with the need to obtain the consent of the governed, including (and especially) those who do not particularly have a strong desire to change their beliefs and practices, regardless of whether they are based on human traditions or have a stronger warrant.
How is that women achieve their ambitions within the Church of God? I remember some years ago watching a camp video where a teen girl expressed the desire to be a minister’s wife. And though the comment elicited titters from the audience, I have known young women who were ambitious to marry future ministers and judged their potential suitors by how far they could go in the church based on their ambition and political skills. There are certainly ways, though, that a woman can have influence on what sort of messages are presented, even apart from marrying a leader (although that is certainly the most obvious way to do it). Among the most easily accessible are to befriend those who do speak and provide perspectives and questions that the speaker appreciates but would not necessarily come to on his own. Quite a few times I must admit that my own messages have been strongly inspired by conversations I have had with people whose questions and whose perspectives were interesting to me but something I would not have thought about that way myself given my own point of view. And I do not think this to be very unusual. I would hope, for example, that most speakers and writers would be willing to engage their wives and mothers and daughters and cousins and sisters in Christ and to reflect upon what needs and what issues need to be addressed. If people are unable to provide their insights and opinions and thoughts officially and directly, they will do so indirectly and unofficially. We are not an age that is willing to suffer in silence, after all. And if ambition must be shadowed, as it sometimes must be, it will be present nonetheless in some more or less disguised fashion. We may as well deal with that reality.