In June of 2000, I again came to the Greater Boston Area to spend five days with John. He made good on his promise to show me around the city, taking me to the Hancock Tower Observatory (which has since closed), the Old Granery Burying Ground, the Public Garden, the JFK Library and Castle Island. I also met more of his family, went out to lunch with two ladies from his church, hung out with him and his pastor and enjoyed a romantic meal with him at Legal Seafood. And of course we attended his church together.
Because the topic of marriage had come up several times between my first visit and this one, I expected him to propose. Certainly, some of those venues would have been perfect for a proposal, at least in my estimation.
But I left Massachusetts without a ring.
We resumed our daily online chats and frequent phone calls once I’d returned to California. Although I felt some disappointment that he hadn’t asked me to marry him, I had hope. Anyway, I kept busy teaching Junior High Sunday School at Church of the Open Door and helping with Youth Group while he continued serving as a deacon at his church.
Somewhere in that year, his pastor expressed the need to either step down or have an assistant pastor. In response, John became part of the Search Committee.
The church, it turned out, belonged to the American Baptist Convention, a particularly liberal denomination for Baptist churches. Therefore, both of the candidates that applied for the assistant pastor position happened to be women. At the time, John felt that, while a senior pastor should definitely be male, nothing in Scripture prohibited a woman from other leadership positions. Having spent several years in a Charismatic group that did have women in leadership positions, he felt a degree of comfort with the prospect of a female assistant pastor. When he voiced reservations about the possibility of calling a woman, his pastor persuaded him that 1 Timothy 2:11-14 applied specifically to the First Century church in Ephesus rather than being prescriptive for all churches in every era.
Two decades earlier, I had struggled with a desire to be a pastor, and had concluded that the Bible clearly forbids women from assuming that office. Over the years at Love In Action, I periodically questioned whether or not I should have been writing counseling letters to men. My male supervisors always convinced me that, since I was under their authority, it was okay (I now know it wasn’t). As John and I continued discussing the possibility of marriage, however, I knew I’d be wrong to participate in his church if they called a woman pastor. Actually, I knew they would be wrong to call one.
The issue seriously threatened my relationship with John, frankly. I contemplated breaking up with him, but thankfully my mom advised me to wait a few weeks.
During that few weeks, John and I both spent time individually studying the issue. As I examined arguments in favor of allowing women in leadership positions, I discovered something horrifying. Those arguments employed the same reasoning that pro-gay theologians use to convince themselves that the Bible affirms homosexuality. John found other reasons to reject the idea of a woman serving as assistant pastor.
John took some heat from other members of the Search Committee when they realized that he wouldn’t support a female assistant pastor, and his pastor’s wife reprimanded me for insinuating that God hadn’t called the candidates to pastoral ministry. Many of my friends from church and youth group in California also believed I had become legalistic on the matter. But John and I know that the Lord spoke to us very clearly through His Word.
Interestingly, the Search Committee eventually decided that calling a woman as assistant pastor would cause too much division (John wasn’t the only person in his church to oppose a woman as pastor). The Lord sovereignly protected that church (at least temporarily) from rebelling against His Word. In all of it, He taught me and John to look to Scripture, not popular opinion, to understand His will.