There are two major branches of the Swedenborgian (New) Church. One is simply called “Convention” and the other “General.” The Convention branch is considered more liberal and currently ordains both gays and women into its ministry.
The General Church does not, and is considered more conservative. There is great (and heated) discussion going on concerning the ordination of women in this conservative branch of the Swedenborgian Church.
My position on this issue (and people have asked) is that it is up to the membership and leadership of any church to decide the outcome of who can be ordained or not within their organization. Either decision is OK with me.
Yet, Swedenborg himself believed that church ministry was a function, designed by God, to be a male job. Why would he say this? Was this a belief stemming from those of his antiquated generation or was it a real divine dictate?
Looking deeper than worldly fairness and social equality, it is a question of each gender’s approach to spirituality, and in this, they are indeed different. Women are more pragmatic than most men, and tend to favor action over conceptual ideas (even describing the probing of these ideas as mere “navel-gazing”). But without a proper understanding of doctrinal ideas (God’s Truth), actions—even charitable actions—can remain worldly, external and material (maternal). For instance, social issues like feeding the hungry, putting money into the pockets of the poor, and telling everybody that God loves them equally, does not necessarily promote spiritual growth.
A flawed individual can just as easily be helpful to society as can an angelic being. The former always has an eye on status, affirmation, or some kind of personal favor resulting in even more outwardly zealous activities. The latter has gone through sincere self-scrutiny and their efforts are often invisible to onlookers.
Having participated in a Swedenborgian Seminary myself, where there was a ratio of four women for every male, you would expect tangible outcomes. My observation is that the Convention Church would shrink to nothing if women weren’t being ordained (men are staying away because they see ordination as not providing a feasible money-making career for their future, while women believe that good things will miraculously happen). The General Church, which only ordains males, seems to be growing at least at a snail’s pace.
Neither church is capturing the world’s imagination.
Ironically, women already run both churches through their various groups. So their influence is already quite powerful. But women are incessantly seeking formal (planetary) leadership roles. But what leadership roles are ordained women performing in the Swedenborgian Church?
My understanding of Swedenborg’s doctrines is that a minister’s role is to grow the congregation and lead them out of hell. That to me is what represents real ministerial leadership in the Swedenborgian church.
But my experience, and having attended seminary, is that women ministers are taking people’s lives in the wrong spiritual direction. With their pragmatic approach to love, they are stressing kindness, community, and cooperative support, while leaving out the more distasteful duty of self-examination—preferring to look at the “positive” side of people instead (just ask them). Unfortunately, this “easier” approach hides the true inner quality of one’s outer actions, even when the person is giving visible help to others.
The point is that God designed the male human psyche to be more adept at recognizing the need for unflattering self-examination—to sanitize one’s real motives within acts that would otherwise look visibly charitable and helpful to all observers. That does not mean that the male ministers of the Swedenborgian church have consciously appropriated this “strong” medicine into their teachings.
Women will not naturally embrace this “harsh” approach. Men can.
Women see God’s heaven as a kingdom of mutual love (which is not incorrect). But men can grasp the additional and deeper idea that this heavenly kingdom of love contains innocence at its core. Innocence allows worldly deeds to become spiritual. Innocence does not come from any outer activity of kindness or goodness but through inner cleansing. This cleansing allows the purity of God’s genuine love to enter into our lives and direct our actions. (Without this cleansing, we will mistakenly assume that our good deeds are genuinely spiritual.)
So Swedenborg’s steps for spiritual regeneration, when properly understood by the human intellect, would actually make this new religion highly unpopular to the flawed human psyche. In other words, to make the Swedenborgian Church (both sides) more popular would mean to make regeneration more popular.