I received word today of the death of Beverly James. She was a classmate of mine in Seminary. Beverly was brilliant and personable and instantly likable. She was the best preacher in my class. She had courage. Once she and I stood up to preach in class and did the Who’s On First Routine instead. Fortunately, the professor had a good sense of humor.
Yet, when it was time to seek a call, the only offer she got was to do children’s ministry at a big church in Pittsburgh. there she might get the chance to preach twice a year. This was just 40 years ago.
Women in ministry have had a difficult struggle. I believe and hope that attitudes are changing. But for too many years, there has been a bias about women in the pulpit. We live in a culture that is clearly patriarchal. And the church has been no exception.
Some have tried to seek Biblical rationalizations for this injustice. All of the disciples that Jesus called as apostles were men. They were also all Jewish. Why would a gender qualification matter if an ethnic one does not? Were not many of the followers of Jesus female? According to John, the first person to witness to the risen Christ was a woman. Was not Priscilla one of the teachers of the New Testament church? Were not Phillip’s daughters prophets which is another word for preachers? Trying to use the Bible to keep women from ministry has no validity.
I have heard people say that they are not against a woman pastor. They just don’t want one in their church. That is sad. They are missing out on some wonderfully gifted pastors and preachers. Many times it is women who express opposition. Sometimes it takes generations to change wrong attitudes. Women should not have had to wait that long.
I have known and worked with many ordained women who have obviously been called and blessed by God in their work. The notion that one must be male to be a preacher is one that should have died long ago. I have admired their tenacity and their determination. They have had to overcome obstacles that men cannot understand.
Beverly James went on to earn a doctorate in Rhetoric. She then did some adjunct work at the seminary helping to prepare men and women to preach. She was an effective interim pastor in several churches. I am sure she was a tough act to follow for the next called pastor; male or female.
Rest in peace, Beverly. You have fought the good fight and finished the race. You have made it easier for women to follow their call by showing the world that a women can preach as well as any man.