By Rev. Kim Priddy

I was sitting at a coffee shop with the church women’s director. I explained to her that at the age of 35, I felt called to become a minister. While I had heard this calling since high school, the volume had grown louder with each season of my life. I grew up in the Methodist tradition which acknowledged women clergy; however, there were few for me to imitate. The church I was currently attending was a large non-denominational with only male pastors and lay leaders. I am not sure why I felt the need to discern my calling with Denise. Maybe I secretly hoped she would spout scripture to encourage me not to interrupt the status quo of my life and faith formation. And that she did. She explained to me, using biblical texts and so-called logic, that women were not called to preach the Good News. Her message was emphatic, that women are not to lead but rather must be taught and led by men. While her argument was full of conviction, it did not stop God from calling me. And it did not stop me from listening to my calling. I left that church and found a home in the PCUSA denomination. Later I attended seminary and learned from women pastors who encouraged me to look more deeply and discover my own voice of God, fed from the voice of promise found in scripture. During this season of Lent, we must interrupt the status quo of our lives to starve the voice of seduction and feed the voice of promise. The voice of seduction is our own way, the easy way. The voice of promise is the life-giving ways of God. I offer no judgment, because we are well acquainted with our self-seeking ways—they are what we have been taught (even by the church), and sometimes it is the only way we know. However, if we can get beyond what is logical and view life with new lenses then we notice self-seeking ways are not life-giving. Scripture advises, “There is a way that seems right to a person, but its end is the way to death.” (Proverbs 14:12) There are theologians, preachers, and biblical interpreters who practice exclusivity by barricading the pulpit and church. These ecclesiastical guards deny women, LGBTQ, divorcees, people of color, and anyone they deem unworthy. This practice of exclusion is shameful, because when certain voices are left out of the pulpit, and banned from the church, we miss the full image and promise of God’s “kingdom on earth as it is in heaven." The Good News is truncated when men are the only messengers of God’s Word. The voice of God is too loud–and the need to hear God’s voice is too important– not to have that voice be represented by all of God’s many children. The Church cannot afford to silence these underrepresented children of God. When voices are silenced then only a sliver of the story is told. A partially-told story is not truthful, nor can it convey the beauty and complexities of the world. Stories that do not tell the whole truth become death-giving stories which permit bullying, sexism, classism and racism. “Faithful and responsible biblical interpretation,” says Jonathan Walton, Dean of Wake Divinity School, “searches for possible meanings according to the context in which it was produced. Thus, the better we understand what the ancients were trying to convey about God, power, injustice, evil, suffering, and hope in their world, the better we might be able to make moral connections across space and time in our world.” (A Lens of Love: Reading the Bible in its World for our World, pg. 258). Although I had been formed and shaped by churches and culture to be excluded from certain positions, God’s voice was loud enough to “cross space and time” to move me beyond what was logical and liberated me to follow God’s calling for my life. Bullying takes place when we allow only one facet of the story to be told. Make no doubt about it, bullying is using scripture and biblical interpretation to prevent someone from being all that God created them to be. That day in the coffee shop, I could have listened to Denise and missed the opportunity to become the minister God called me to be. Do not allow others to tell you who you are and what they think God’s plans for you are to be in this world… Bullying is aggressive and God’s ways are loving. Bullying oppresses the vulnerable and God’s ways liberate the vulnerable. God’s ways never bully. Rather, God’s ways are life-giving and life-sustaining. If we are going to end bullying, we must listen to the loud voice of God that is heard–and that may be told–through different people throughout all the world.