I spent this weekend at the Inclusive Ministry and Renewal in a Complex Age Conference in Boston. This joint conference was co-sponsored by Roman Catholic Womanpriests, Federation of Christian Ministries, CORPUS, and Women’s Ordination Conference.
From the moment I arrived at the conference I couldn’t shake the feeling that I was on a cruise ship. Maybe it was because the conference was held at a fancy hotel right on the Boston Harbor. Or perhaps it was because 99% of the attendees were white people in their 60s and 70s donned in floral prints and khaki shorts. Or it might have been because of the numerous cocktail hours held overlooking the water. Nonetheless, as I sat in an adirondack chair watching one older heterosexual couple practice Tai Chi as another clinked wine glasses – I couldn’t help but think – I am on the Church Reform Cruise Ship.
Now, the thing about cruise ships is that people board at one port. They eat. They drink. They relax. They may stop off at a few other ports, but they always come back to the exact place from where they started. I think this may be the problem with this part of the Church Reform movement. (By “this part of the movement” I mean folks – mostly older, white, upper-middle class folks – who stand ardently behind the Roman Catholic Womanpriest movement, see it as the most radical form of change the Church has ever seen, and further the ideology which puts folks who have been “legitimately” ordained in a position of superiority. While not everyone at the conference took this position, it was clear that this ideology was steering the ship). These women and men sail off with the best of intentions, but they end up right back where they started – patriarchy, white privilege, heterosexism, classism, elitism…
I witnessed this several times at my weekend on the Church Reform Cruise Ship. I watched in wonder as folks at the first cocktail hour rushed around the reception room to get to shake the hand of the newest womanbishop. I listened in terror as the man giving a presentation on pre-marriage told me about the difficulties that couples face in preparing for marriage especially when “one is a man and one is a woman.” I tried to understand with compassion as one person in the workshop entitled “Addressing Racism in Inclusive Ministry” discussed celebrating Martin Luther King Day and Black History Month as key ways to be an inclusive Church. I cringed as I heard that when each of the sponsoring organizations was having a breakout meeting, the RCWP meeting was only open to those ordained and the candidates for ordination. And I laughed when one man tried to claim that women are “just more programmed to like chocolate than men – it is something in their genetic makeup,” and I wanted to cry when the women around the table agreed with him.
This Church Reform Cruise Ship was definitely going back to the port from which it started. And maybe it is good that these folks do take this cruise, see what is out there, and come back to tell us what they’ve seen and show us what it means to come back. But I am convinced that we, as the next generation of this movement, need to be sailing to a different place entirely. We need to chart our own course to a place where all people are considered priestly. To a place where there is a true discipleship of equals. To a place where we can create a genuine inclusive community. And the ship I was on this weekend – well intentioned as it was – is just not going there. So, let us set sail.