Sour Grapes
Of course we're Fair and Balanced!

2004-04-30

Worship led by women in Alberta, BC


The following is a [anonymized and slightly edited] reply to an article written by Bishop B____, the Executive Bishop of the General Church of the New Jerusalem, in which he responded to a question from a woman in Alberta. Apparently, a young woman had returned from the Bryn Athyn College of the New Church (BACON) very eager to lead worship for the local group of adherents. No male lay-person had been willing to do so, and she proposed to read sermons written by New Church ministers. The Bishop said this would not be appropriate [via Roslyn].




Women in Alberta



Dear Editors,



This letter is in response to M____'s cry for support around the issue of lay-led worship services.
My understanding is that the Bishop strongly discouraged our Alberta friends from letting women
contribute to this use1 by reading sermons aloud — sermons written by a male General Church minister — to other laity, in the absence of a minister or willing and comfortable male layperson.



My feelings run so deeply on this topic. I shall attempt to be moderate in my words (a thing I cannot apparently do because I am a woman, and is one of the reasons given for why women can't write, or even, apparently read General Church sermons without somehow infecting the sermon or harming a "use2" somewhere).



In my understanding, (which I do indeed have, based on personal experience and, for those who need it, confirmed by Heaven and Hell, para. #3693):



Jesus said, "Where two or three are gathered together in My name, there am I in the midst of them." Matt. 18:20


The Lord did not say, "Where two or three men are gathered...."
He did not say, "Where two or three people but one of them must be a General Church minister or at least a male...."



Two or three — what?
Hearts, souls, spirits?
People?
Only men?
Women only if a man isn't around and it is somehow a lesser quality gathering because a male isn't present?



What are we afraid of?
Where is our common sense?
How limited is the Lord?



If a female of any age wishes to support New Church gatherings, I say, "Heaven's blessings on her!"
Why teach women any doctrine at all if we are not allowed to synthesize and discuss our response to it?
Why send our girls to college if they are going to return home, passionate about their wonderful new insights and then be gagged because of their gender?
By virtue of being born female, a human soul is deemed inferior in intellect, inferior in the ability to achieve "wisdom" and formulate "doctrine," and therefore must be dependent on a male in this regard.
If this is so, is a woman unable to be regenerated without a man filtering and sifting doctrine for her?



Folks, folks, folks.
I have heard and read, over and over again, [the parts of Swedenborg's writings] about men's understanding and women's will.
I have heard and heard how scary the will is and how much we need men's understanding to lift our earth-bound sights above this rampant will up to where enlightenment resides.



You know what?
It's all true.
It's all true if I use the model of the individual human spirit on the path toward an internal marriage — that
is, a conjunction of good and truth within my spirit.
Yes, my first [i.e. unreformed and unregenerated] will does tend to run rampant.
Yes, it does tend to see everything in terms of my best interest: "Me first! I want the window seat! Her cake is bigger! I want one too! No fair! Gimme, gimme!" and on and on.
Yes, I do have to be instructed in the truth about my place in the universe, that there is a God and I am not God, that working with and for others is the only way to real happiness, etc. etc.



The will does need to be guided and instructed by the understanding, in both men and women.
The understanding does need the passionate drive and love of life that runs like an electric current through our
will (in both men and women).
And the end result is a new, reformed will, a will that is matured and shaped and led by the understanding.
And the end is an understanding fed by and in complete agreement with the regenerate will.



Human genetic females have just as much ability to do this, to become rational, as do human genetic males, or they could not be regenerated.
Human genetic males have just as much ability to become emotional and irrational as do human genetic females.
Attend almost any society [i.e., congregation] meeting and this will become amply evident.



For heaven's sake, let the girl lead lay gatherings if she feels so called.
Maybe, just maybe, it will be a good thing.
Maybe the group will grow in connection with each other and in understanding of the Lord and His leading.



Think about it: What is the Word for?
Can a woman have a relationship with the Lord herself, or must she go through a man?
Should a woman even bother reading the Word, if she cannot use it, because of her crippled intelligence?



On the nature and purpose of the Word, I will say only this: I know that the Word is to help me get to heaven.



By "heaven" read, "a state of mind, which can be achieved, moment by moment, more perfectly over time, which is a state of increasing conjunction with the Lord and compassionate respect for my neighbour and a desire to serve both from the gifts at hand."
To seek and occasionally achieve this heavenly state, I keep the commandments to the best of my ability, fight to let go of the attachments that stand in the way of this union, and serve the people around me with integrity and humour.
I also study revelation and pray for increased wisdom.
My gender has nothing to do with my ability to do this or not do this.



I know that the Word is NOT for me or anyone else to use in application to others.
I am NOT to use quotes from the Word to prove that I am right and you are wrong.
I am not to use the Word to compel any one else to interpret the truth my way.
That is between him/her and the Lord.



And for those who find it uncomfortable to be disagreement with the Bishop, I offer this passage from A Statement of the Order and Organization of the General Church of the New Jerusalem amended to date by the Rt. Rev. Peter M. Buss, August 2000:



In the segment marked, "Principles" we read: "Neither the Bishop of the General Church nor the clergy, nor any council or assembly of the church should, by pronouncement or by majority vote, decide doctrinal issues and thereby bind the conscience of the church."



No Bishop can bind the conscience of the church nor any individual.
That includes women in Alberta.
We can disagree in interpretation of doctrine and survive.
It is uncomfortable to gently disagree, but it is less comfortable to be bound by another human's conscience, even if
it is the Bishop's, when your own heart cries out that there is another way to look at things.



God bless you as you try to sort this out,



Yours in all sincerity,

A____



"Such was the Ancient church2.... Among these the doctrinal and ritual matters differed, but still the church was one, because to them charity was the essential thing.
If it were so now, all would be governed by the Lord as one man....
Then would each person say, in whatever doctrine and in whatever outward worship (s)he might be,
'This is my sister/brother. I see that (s)he worships the Lord, and is a good person.'"
Secrets of Heaven, para. #2385, sub. [5].

A____



"Wouldn't it be much worse if life were fair and all the terrible
things that happen to us, come because we actually deserve them?
So now I take great comfort in the general hostility and unfairness of
the e." &ndash Marcus Cole, Babylon 5




Hopefully, this makes clear several sources of my disaffection with the General Church is these days.
I don't agree with the limited roles women are allowed to play.
I don't like the fundamentalist approach that values the finding of supporting texts much more highly than rational, reasonable and even common-sense thought.
I don't like the contrast between the alleged unwillingness and inability on the part of the leadership to make decisions on behalf of the church and the actual power to do so that I see wielded regularly.






1The term use in these instances is a kind of New Church jargon.
It is a noun with the sense of "the quality of being suitable or adaptable to an end" or "a purpose for which something is used."
To my understanding, usefulness is the closest synonym.


2This "Ancient church" is a reference to a presumed Silver Age that began, in Biblical terms, with Noah and ended with Eber, who is said to have established the Jewish church. The predominant quality of this church was its charity to one another.
In Swedenborgian terms, church is generally not a reference to an organized religion, but to all who live their lives in accordance with what they believe to be true.
At times, Swedenborg distinguishes between a specific church with direct access to divine revelation — of which the Ancient and Jewish churches were two — and a universal church comprising all good people.
All people in the universal church go to heaven.


3The first part and essential point of this reference is: "Both man and woman are endowed with intellect and volition, but for men intellect tends to take the lead, while for women it is volition that does so...."



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