Women as clergy:
The continuing debate
Excerpts from speeches to the Synod of the Australian Anglican Church,
2001-JUL. The church was considering whether to allow women to be considered for
consecration as bishops.
||"In salvation, there is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free,
male nor female. But in my mind, it does not follow that responsibility
for feeding and correcting the flock of God, for administering the
sacraments instituted by Christ, and for teaching sound doctrine is
gender non-specific. If the leadership role of men rested only on one or
two verses in the letters of St Paul, then I might be convinced that it
was a practice for that time, but not binding us now. However, that is
not the case. As I read it, the consistent teaching of Scripture is that
men have the responsibility under God to take these roles...We need to
be very sure that it is new wind of Spirit of God, and not a tornado of
our times, that we allow to blow away two millennia of acceptance of the
leadership role of men in the church." Ann Young,
||"A male-only episcopate will declare that we have a divided
priesthood and indeed two classes of Christians - men who can lead the
church, and women who cannot...I have not presented the case for women
bishops on theological grounds, because the theological debate about the
ordination of women was concluded in this church once women were
accepted as deacons and priests. Our prayerful study of the Scriptures,
and our examination of church history and tradition, convinced us that
this move was 'of God'. In the past nine years, that conviction has been
resoundingly confirmed as we have seen and experienced the priestly
ministry of women." Dr. Muriel Porter.
||The Original Disciples: According to most Christians' interpretation of
the Gospels, Jesus called 12 individuals to be his disciples. Most or all probably shared
9 factors in common. They were:
||residents of Palestine,
||without much formal education and
||the parent of one or more children.
Various Christian denominations have deviated from these factors in the selection of
clergy. The Roman Catholic Church, for example, has ordained clean-shaven and bearded
priests; candidates of all races, speaking many languages; usually single but sometimes
married, etc. In other ways (marital status, religion, citizenship,
education) the church requires its priests to be opposite to the
original disciples. But Roman Catholic and many other conservative denominations still maintain
the necessity that all of their pastors, priests and ministers must be male.
||Treatment of Women in Bible Times: Some liberal theologians point to
differences in the treatment of women in the Bible. Before Jesus' ministry and women's
roles were very severely restricted in Jewish society. During
his ministry, he treated women and men equally, even though it
offended many people. The Gospels describe about 10 of Jesus' followers in some detail.
About half were men; half were women. After his execution, the growing Christian
movements appear to have continued Jesus' practices towards women. But the church
gradually reverted to the earlier policy of treating women as
inferior beings, in the 1st century CE. This led to the almost complete suppression
of women in later centuries. The church and government reduced the status of women to the
inferior standard of the Jewish, Roman and Greek societies of the time. Women were
gradually denied access to positions of authority, and restricted limited and rigidly
defined roles. This largely continued into modern times, until the rise of the feminist
||General comments on 1 Timothy: Conservative theologians believe in the inerrancy of the Bible. The author of 1 Timothy unambiguously
restricts the role of women to minor tasks within the church. Thus many believe that women
must not be considered eligible for ordination today.|
Many liberal theologians regard 1
Timothy as a later forgery. They note the numerous references in the Bible, in early
Christian writings that never made it into the Bible, and in archaeological evidence which
show that women did indeed play an active leadership, ministering and teaching roles in
the very early Christian church. Quoting Elisabeth Schussler Fiorenza:
"The Pauline literature and Acts still allow us to recognize that women were
among the most prominent missionaries and leaders in the early Christian movement, They
were apostles and ministers like Paul, and some were his co-workers. They were teachers,
preachers and competitors in the race for the gospel."
Liberal theologians believe that 1 and 2 Timothy were written by unknown authors in the
second century CE, many decades after Paul died. Some further speculate that one of the
purposes of the forgeries was to "subvert Paul's radicalism," and to
reinstall "conventional patriarchal attitudes towards women." 1
||General Comments on 1 Corinthians: Conservatives generally interpret 1
Corinthians 14 as limiting all women's speech during services. Paul's statement is clear
and unambiguous. And if women are not allowed to speak, then they obviously cannot be
pastors, ministers or priests.
Liberals might point out that St. Paul's statements would be in conflict with the
historical evidence of female leadership in the early church. In other passages in his
Epistles, Paul acknowledges that there were female apostles and ministers. He
also referred to women prophesizing in church. They might
conclude that the restrictions in Corinthians were most likely intended to control
specific actions by some women, at some churches, and at a particular time. They would not
necessarily have been intended to refer to the status of women today. Many liberals
believe that the passage 1 Corinthians 14:34b-35 was inserted into
the original writing by an unknown person at an unknown date. Since it was not part of the
original writing, it cannot be considered authoritative.
||The Priestly Function: Those opposing the ordination of women would
note that throughout the Hebrew Scriptures, and from the early Christian
church to the present time, the priestly function has only been performed by men. In
ancient times, only men of a specific Jewish tribe could act as priests. Those promoting
female ordination point out that Jesus broke with the tradition of male superiority on
numerous occasions, and that Paul acknowledged female apostles, co-workers and ministers.
It was only in the 2nd century that the doors once more closed on women's
ordination. By once more allowing women to be priests and ministers, they would argue, we
are returning to Jesus' pattern of gender equality.
||Effect on Denominational Stability: One argument that is often used
against female ordination is that it might weaken or split the denomination.
This is an
argument that has considerable validity, as does the parallel arguments about ordination of gays and lesbians. In fact, every major ethical
debate in recent decades has created major intra-denominational stresses: slavery in the 19th century, racial integration in the late 1950's,
inter-racial marriage in the mid 1960's, and now ordination of women, gays and lesbians.
||Representation of Christ: J.I. Packer argues that
a pastor or priest represents Christ when he ministers to individual members of his flock.
Since Jesus was undeniably male, then the ideal form of the pastor is to also be male.
"That one male is best represented by another male is a matter of common sense."
Liberals might argue that God has traditionally male properties (lawgiver, judge, etc) as
well as traditionally female properties (creator, healer, etc). Thus God can be
represented by either a man or a woman. Genesis 1:27 states this clearly. The fact that Jesus became a human being is
of primary importance; that he was male is incidental. If Jesus were female, the daughter
of God; she could still have been crucified and resurrected. Nothing fundamental would really
change in the gospel.
||Genesis 1:27 describes how "...God created man in his own
image...male and female he created them." Thus a man reflects the image of God
as much as a woman does. The ideal church structure would thus appear be to have both male
and female pastors, in order to fully reflect the different aspects of God. A pastor must
minister to both men and women. By both male and female clergy available, each church
member has the opportunity to deal with a pastor of whichever gender they feel most
||Alternative Roles for Women: Packer cites Genesis
2:20, and suggests that women were created by God to be helpers to men.
2 He feels
that women should be confined to the roles of pastoral assistants, ministers of music,
youth directors, [and] educational ministers. These roles have "the effect of
supplementing and supporting [the male pastor's]...own preaching and teaching...
None of this... requires ordination as a presbyter." Most English
translations of Genesis 2:20 describe Eve as a "helper." And a helper
is normally regarded as a person of lower stature to the "helpee." But
some (e.g. New Living Translation, Today's English Version) use the term "companion."
- thus indicating that Eve had an equal stature to Adam. The original Hebrew word does not
have a connotation of inferiority.
An "Action Purple Stole" has been organized by Roman Catholics in
Germany, to promote with dignity the cause of women's ordination. Members of the group
wear a purple stole during mass. Before ordination services, they quietly demonstrate in
the church. After ordinations, they congratulate the newly ordained, give them a rose, and
ask them to pray for the Church and for those women who feel called to the priesthood. The
group has compiled a list of women who would seek ordination if it were available to them.
A similar group in Austria goes further. They also list the names of men who are
ineligible for ordination under the present rules because they are married, or who cannot
accept a lifetime commitment of celibacy and loneliness. They also include the names of
those former priests who were forced to leave the priesthood in order to marry.
Sister Ruth Schfer, a German theologian and teacher, has been employed by the
Catholic church for the past 3 years. She organized an "Action Purple Stole"
in Essen on 1998-MAY-29. After meeting with her diocesan bishop on JUL-1, she was told
that her yearly contract would not be renewed. "We Are Church" Germany
and "Maria von Magdala", a German movement for equal rights for women
in the Church, are calling for letters of support to Sister Schfer and letters of protest
to her diocesan bishop.
The council has been actively involved for many years in the promotion of civil rights
for minorities. In 1999-MAR, they debated whether to allow female pastors to join their
council. Some spoke in favor of a non-sexist approach to membership in the council. They
asked how a group can be effective at fighting racial discrimination if it continued to
engage in gender discrimination. But others quoted Bible verses to support their argument
that women should not be allowed in leadership positions. The Rev. Sampson Matthews,
pastor of Mt. Hebron Baptist Church in Ferndale, MI commented: "God has always
put man first. He never put man at the foot. We all have theological differences. All of
our interpretations are different. But Scripture plainly says what it says."
After the council voted to admit women, the Rev. Johnny Ray Young, pastor of The Greater
St. John Missionary Baptist Church, resigned. He commented: "After 2,000 years,
all of sudden God is wrong -- I don't buy that." 3
Other information related to Female Ordination:
||See our essay "The status of women in the Bible"
for additional information on the role of women in old testament times, during Christ's
ministry and during the early Christian church.
||The Canon 1024 discussion list has a FAQ on the Ordination of Women. (1024
is the canon law within the Roman Catholic Church which specifically excludes women
from ordination.) Members of the list have selected 12 difficult questions to answer, with
responses that are both in favor of and opposed to the ordination of women. See: http://www.epix.net/~areopag/FAQ-OW.htm
M.J. Borg, "Meeting Jesus Again", Harper, San Francisco CA, (1994) Page
67, Note 43
- J.I. Packer, "Let's Stop Making Women Presbyters", Christianity Today,
1991-FEB-11, Page 18 to 21.
George Bullard, "Pastors invite spirited debate on women's leadership role,"
Detroit news, 1999-MAR-20.
G.Y. May and H.P. Joe, "Setting the Record Straight," Christians for
Biblical Equality, a critique of J.I. Packer's essay at: http://www.cbeinternational.org
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Copyright © 1996 to 2005 by Ontario Consultants on Religious
Removed from file femclrgy.htm on 2000-DEC-17
Latest update: 2005-JUL-27
Author: Bruce A. Robinson