As I write this, the 2013 NASCAR racing season is set to begin this coming Sunday (Feb. 24) with the Daytona 500. While that is generally of little interest to many, this year the race is engendering quite a media buzz. For the first time ever in a NACSAR Sprint Series race, a woman will be sitting in the pole position. And to think it is at the Daytona 500, the granddaddy of them all. Um … make that the grandparent of them all. This means that Danica Patrick, a 30-year-old woman, will start the race from the front row on the inside — the most coveted, advantageous and prestigious position.
This position is not awarded on the basis of looks, personality, congeniality or sponsorship. This is absolutely not a case where the guys have let the girl go first. No, to sit in the pole position you have to go faster than everybody else in qualifying runs. And, this Patrick did. She turned in the fastest lap, speeding around the 2-1/2 mile oval track in 45.817 seconds at a speed of 196.434 miles per hour. I hardly ever drive half that speed, myself. My top speed for a lap at Richmond International Raceway in a Richard Petty car — a gift for my 60th birthday — was a shade over 115 mph, so I know 196.434 is fast!
Having Patrick in contention to be the best of NASCAR’s best shatters illusions still held by some, men and women alike, that women are unsuited to some occupations. In reality, women drivers are not new to NASCAR. In fact, Sara Christian drove her husband’s Ford in the very first NASCAR race in Charlotte on June 19, 1949. Less than a month later, on July 10, she and two other women started the second NASCAR race which was held at Daytona. Christian finished 18th in a field of 28.
Like me, you have probably ceased to be surprised by competent women who have taken their places in positions previously dominated by men. It is now more than a decade ago that I suddenly discovered that the physician preparing to administer my colonoscopy was a woman. When the Pentagon decreed that women may serve in the front lines in combat, my reservation was not whether they were capable, but whether men would endanger themselves to a greater degree trying to protect the women.
Women have assumed easy mastery of the judge’s bench and the work bench, the attorney’s bar and the breakfast bar, the conference table and the coffee table. Even in government women have risen to places of leadership and most of us anticipate that a woman will be elected president before too many more terms.
Regardless where Patrick finishes in Sunday’s race, and not since 2000 has the pole-sitter gone on to actually win the race, she has proved the point. She is one of the best. Move over, fellas.
But this notion that some things should be reserved for men only, has a long shelf life among some, particularly in religious institutions, it seems. One has to ask, in light of all the evidence of their abilities and accomplishments, why the Lord would prohibit women from serving as pastors as some continue to contend? Is there something about women that is simply unsuitable? It can’t be preaching. I have heard wonderfully inspiring sermons delivered by women. It can’t be leadership. Women head some of America’s best-known Fortune 500 companies, including Pepsico, Xerox, Sonoco, Kraft Foods and Yahoo. It can’t be that women are not empathetic enough to be pastors. One has to ask, then, if Scripture saying that a woman should not have authority over men does not pertain to cultural conditioning of the times.
Some honestly believe that God prohibits women from serving as pastors. Indeed, some isolated scriptures, such as the one I just mentioned (1 Timothy 2:12) seem clear. Those who hold this conviction through sincere searching of the scriptures should be just as welcome in our fellowship as a church that has just called a woman pastor out of similar convictions.
But let us be consistent. Paul also says in 1 Timothy 2 that men should not dispute with each other and that women should dress modestly without braided hair and without gold, pearls and expensive clothes — exhortations that are rather routinely ignored even by Baptist churches in the American South. Moreover, when Paul’s prohibition of women having authority over men is linked with his rationale, that Adam was created first and that women will be saved through bearing children, it really gets confusing. When taken in the whole, Scripture speaks forcefully in favor of grace gifts being given on the basis of, well, grace rather than gender.
I suspect that many who oppose women pastors are also uncomfortable with the idea of Danica Patrick taking the checkered flag at Daytona. While they may resent and resist the changes, they cannot stop the sweep of time nor the call of the Spirit. The time has come for women to take their rightful places, behind pulpits, not in spite of what the Bible says, but because of what the Bible says, and because they have been called to be there by a God whom we often call “Father,” but who is Spirit, not gendered flesh.
What’s next for women, you may ask? Well, I understand a position in Rome is about to become vacant. Could that be pink smoke I see rising above the conclave of cardinals in the Sistine Chapel?
Jim White ([email protected]) is executive editor of the Religious Herald.