As I am writing my statements of purpose for the graduate school application process, I have been reflecting on why I want to study feminist theology. Out of this process, a couple of things are happening. I am experiencing certain emotions, and I am becoming aware of certain obligations, goals, and responsiblities I have. Let me explain...
One thing that is extremely frustrating is the lack of emphasis by my denomination, the Church of the Nazarene, on academic scholarship. The financial aid departments of various schools list scholarships and fellowships that certain denominations offer. Of course, as I encountered in my Masters work, the Church of the Nazarene does not offer much assistance, and more specifically offers no assistance to students studying outside its denominational institutions. On one level, I understand that the Church of the Nazarene wants to encourage students to study at Nazarene institutions. However, the problem comes when a student is preparing an academic vocation and is pursuing a Ph.D. There is no Nazarene institution that offers this degree, so students must go elsewhere to obtain it. It is interesting that for most teaching positions within a Nazarene University, the professor is required to have a Ph.D. I applaud that standard--one I don't think should be lowered. Yet the problem is that it wants good, Nazarene professors. It wants people who have earned doctoral degrees. But while earning those degrees, people are on their own. The Church of the Nazarene is missing the boat, and people are jumping ship. Why should I remain within the Church of the Nazarene when the United Methodist Church has several different opportunities to finance education? What is it that United Methodists, Presbyterians, Episcopalians, and American Baptists understand that Nazarenes don't? I am considering writing a letter to the General Church expressing my frustration as someone who is trying to remain faithful to God's commandment to love God with my heart, soul, mind and strength, yet who is discouraged to see that the formation of my mind is overlooked by my denomination. Even still, I must ask, would I want a Ph.D. from a Nazarene institution? Look at our denomination's choice for Master's level work--Nazarene Theological Seminary. While it is adequate, let's look at what other denominations offer.
- United Methodist Church: Boston University, Emory University, Claremont School of Theology, Drew University, Duke University, Southern Methodist University, and seven other theological schools.
- Presbyterian Church (USA): Princeton, as well as nine other theological schools.
- Episcopal Church: Yale University, and ten other theological schools.
Not only are there a myriad of educational options in other denominations, but they are connected with universities that are held in high regard. And yet the Church of the Nazarene offers NTS?
Even as I type this, I go back and forth on whether or not I will continue to hold membership within the Church of the Nazarene. On one hand, I am blessed to belong to a denomination that has allowed women to hold pastoral positions and leadership positions. This, alone, provides me with opportunities to be a voice for women who have been silenced. However, the denominations that are doing more, educationally, also allow women equal opportunities. In fact, perhaps women are offered even more opportunities. One thing I have discovered within the Church of the Nazarene is that while women are allowed to become ministers or church leaders, the practice of doing so is limited.
When I sought my local minister's license from my local church, I was pulled aside by the pastor, prior to his meeting with the church board, to discuss some board members' concern with the fact that I wore pants on Sunday mornings. He suggested I "dress the part" and led me to believe that if I were willing to do that, I would be approved by the church board. A week later, I received a letter stating that the church board took no action on my part, and no license was issued. Later, from a supportive board member, I was told that my wearing pants was secondary to the fact that someone had expressed concern over something I allegedly said. Did I say it? Perhaps, I don't recall. However, to the church board, it was a matter of gossip. Not once was I asked about what I said and what I meant when saying it. Never did the church ask me about my calling, my theology, my testimony, or my doctrine. I was simply refused. After the pastor of the church resigned, he expressed that those things mentioned were all excuses people gave; really, it was because I was a woman. To this day, I do not hold any sort of licensing in the Church of the Nazarene, although I have fulfilled all educational requirements for ordination. I am still not sure I want to seek ordination, at least not within that institution.
I know this was kind of a wandering musing. However, I am struggling in where I fit into the Church--not the Church of the Nazarene, specifically, but to the Church, as a whole. Should I stay a Nazarene and try to stand in the tension that is there? Should I save my strength and go to a denomination that is more affirming and supportive, as well as a denomination that prioritizes theological scholarship? I really don't know. One thing I do know is what my eventual goals are. I have a passion for theology and I feel an obligation to use the voice I have been given to respresent the women who have been denied a voice. Where I will speak is still uncertain. However, I know I must speak and I must be heard.