Thursday, December 6, 2012

God is not biased against women

It is all too tempting to get involved in the details of debate over the ordination of women. The details have importance because, in the end, Scripture is made up of sentences, verses, chapters, 66 books. But part of being Christian is to hold the big picture in tension with the details and to resist the details driving the big picture askew: when Jesus took on the scribal culture of the Pharisees and Sadducees he was challenging them to find God among the details instead of making a god of the details.

Out of the God-centred, details-flung-to the margins mission of Jesus as told to us in the quadriscopic (? what's the fourfold word for stereoscopic) vision of the gospels we meet the God of Jesus Christ who is biased towards the people on the margins and against the power-brokers and people controllers of an allegedly God-centred society. The details had pushed people to the margins, so Jesus got rid of the details!

A problem with arguments against the ordination of women is that they make much of the details (1 Timothy 2:12, twelve male apostles or Apostles, among the few ordinations recounted in the NT none included women, the second century church knew not a female episcopacy or presbyterate) as though the most important thing is to find reasons not to ordain women. Is not the most important thing to find God and the gospel? And what is the gospel but a message of freedom in Christ from details, openness to the life of the Spirit, and restoration of the image of God in humanity, an image experienced in being male and female.

The gospel message is biased towards inclusion of people in the kingdom of God, not towards exclusion of people. A recurring theme of stories of Jesus is the breaking down of barriers which excluded people from living under God's rule. Healing on the Sabbath is forbidden? Let's bypass that rule. Gentiles are not part of Christ's mission? Let's make them a part. A serially polyandrous Samaritan women worshipping at the wrong temple? We'll send her to be an apostle to the Samaritans.

In episcopal churches which ordain deacons, presbyters and bishops, there are two groups, the ordained and the non-ordained. How inclusive and exclusive should the ordained group be? It should be exclusive of the unfit, the immature in Christ, the uncalled and inadequately gifted or discipled. As a group of Christ-followers, it should be inclusive as far as possible. Exclusion purely on the grounds of gender does not fit with the flow of the spirit of the Jesus we meet in the gospels, nor, for that matter with the history of the continuing mission of Jesus told through the remainder of the New Testament.

In an age when we are aware, perhaps as never before in the history of humanity, that women and men together make up humanity and thus should not be divided in privilege and participation (e.g. to vote, to receive education, to engage in work and family life, to make decisions about property), nor for that matter in responsibility (e.g. to pay taxes, to attend school), the question of ordination asks why women should be included among the ordained not why women should be excluded.

I challenge those here who argue that women should not be ordained to ask yourselves why you press for reasons not to ordain women rather than to find reasons to ordain women.

When you want to find reasons to include rather than exclude women, you will find within the pages of Scripture plenty of reasons to press for that inclusion.

A further challenge is whether the pressing to find reasons not to ordain women is more in keeping with the spirit of Jesus who included people or with the scribal culture of the Pharisees and Sadducees which excluded people from full participation in the kingdom of God.

At all times, let's remember, God is not biased against women.

27 comments:

Anonymous said...

Over these days on this blog, the arguments for ordaining women continue to sound incredibly similar to the arguments for gay marriage. The arguments against ordaining women sound just like the arguments against gay marriage.

Susan

Peter Carrell said...

Even Jesus, Susan, agreed with the Pharisees that marriage is between a woman and a man.

But I am quite happy to agree with you that arguments for the ordination of women are the same as arguments for the inclusion of people identifying as gay, in the kingdom of God, in this sense: God is for humanity and not against it.

Andrei said...

I'm sorry Peter but your premise is wrong.

Nobody is excluded from life in the Church by virtue of their gender and ordination is not required for full participation in life of the Church.

Salvation is available for all.

For whatever reaaon God ordained that humanity comes in two flavours Male and Female rather than having us organized like earthworms with only one gender. Why? I don't know but it is the way it is.

And this leads us to two archtypes FATHER and MOTHER

I have four children and I am their FATHER, not their progenator 1 nor progenator 2 as is used for official documents in some overly PCified countries, I beleive it is actually parent 1 and parent 2 in the formerly Great Britain

And ordained Clergy fulfill the role of Father to their flock not that of Mother.

Despite all the wittering about girls being excluded it is my three girls are prospering and it is my masculine son who has struggled in our now overly feminized society. Indeed at school it was suggested he be medicated to induce the docility required to function in a female dominated classroom and some of his contemporaries had just this done to them.

Male and Female he made them with male and female roles Not progentator 1 and progenator 2. Offenicive I know but true never the less.

We cannot elininate gender and trying to by eliminating masculinity and male role models is suicidal, stupid and cruel.

Joshua Bovis said...

Peter,

A problem with arguments against the ordination of women is that they make much of the details (1 Timothy 2:12,

One could equally say that arguments for the ordination of women is that they ignore the details.

To say imply that those who don't agree with WO are on a quest or see this as being the most important thing is the same arguement that revisionists use when it comes the homosexual issue. Why are you Conservative Evangelicals so obsessed about sex? etc etc ; when the truth of the matter is that they are no obsessed, but are merely responding to the strong revisionist aggenda.

Is not the most important thing to find God and the gospel? And what is the gospel but a message of freedom in Christ from details, openness to the life of the Spirit, and restoration of the image of God in humanity, an image experienced in being male and female

While I agree that WO is not a primary issue, in fact for me the issue is not so much WO but women being appointed into positions of headship, however your comment seems scarily familiar. Peter, as you know, the gospel is theologically defined. Yes in the gospel there is freedom, but the essence of freedom is found in submitting to the Lordship of Christ and the Word of God, otherwise a person is not "in Christ". To say that the definition of the Gospel is a message of freedom in Christ from details - this opens the door to error as Revisionist 'theology' as you well know has a penchant for omitting the details- i.e, sin, judgement, the atonement, repentance.

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Andrei,
Absolutely nothing said here in any way shape or form has said that gender is irrelevant to life and I have been quite clear that men become fathers, women become mothers and so forth.

The question being addressed here is whether the roles of bishop, presbyter and deacon are gender specific or not. There are a variety of ways in which these roles are described in the Bible. Shepherd, for example, which is not gender specific. To the extent that these roles image God then we are taught in Scripture that God is Father and Mother to us all; quite rightly too, as male and female are made in the image of God.

I am very sorry to hear about your son's experience. I am the proud father of three daughters and one son, and the question of gender difference is a source of endless learning for me.

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Joshua,
Is the matter of women participating in the life of the church, including that part which is reserved to the ordained as matter of 'revision' or 'development'?

The kingdom of God is likened to a seed which grows into a bountiful harvest, a large tree, etc. Development of what begins with Jesus is the history of the gospel. I am not asking people to 'revise' their understanding of ordination but to 'develop' it. And only just a little bit, really, as I am not asking for the abolition of the traditional Anglican orders, nor for lay presidency, or for people to be only be ordained if they can juggle three oranges (which would certainly rule me out).

The details I am talking about are not, of course, major gospel components such as judgement, which is clearly taught by Jesus.

Fr. Jonathan said...

Peter,

You said:
"I challenge those here who argue that women should not be ordained to ask yourselves why you press for reasons not to ordain women rather than to find reasons to ordain women."

On the contrary, I would like nothing better than to see a good, biblical argument for the ordination of women that is consistent with the universal teaching of the Church. I read every pro argument I can find on this subject, precisely because I want to be convinced so badly. I have deep respect for many of my female colleagues, and it would make life much easier for me and it would certainly make my relationships with others in my own church flow more smoothly if I could affirm women's ordination without any qualifications.

But, as yet, I have not seen such an argument offered. Instead, all I hear are either secular arguments, based on notions of civil rights or equality without any reference back to Scripture, or incredibly thin and mushy arguments that assert that the Gospel is a kind of Kumbaya-let's-all-get-together-and-affirm-one-another campfire song, which is, to put it bluntly, kind of how I read what you're saying in this post. (And incidentally, Susan is completely correct above in pointing out that your argument here for women's ordination is identical to the argument for gay marriage made by most liberals in the Church and could be used as such almost without changing a single word).

Saying that the details do not matter, particularly little details like the Scriptural prohibitions of women's orders, is frankly unreasonable. Of course the details matter. If they did not, why would we spend any time at all debating these things? They matter because they're not just details. What's at stake is the Gospel, which means that what's at stake is quite literally everything.

Again, I'm saying this as someone who really wants to believe in the ordination of women. I really and truly hope to be proven wrong. But honestly, the lack of theological seriousness with which this question seems to be taken by so many supporters of women's ordination, even and including folks like Bishop Wright who normally work with such versimilitude and thoroughness to make sure that the Scriptures are properly expounded, is honestly baffling to me.

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Jonathan,
I am sure my mush can be improved upon.

Instead of looking for an argument to convince yourself, how about making the argument. You can do it. And improve on my mush.

It is about women being treated as human beings equally equipped by God in body, mind, spirit and soul, as men are, to teach, preside, nurture, shepherd and oversee God's people.

I cannot think of a gender-based reason for women not to work with men in the ordained ministry. After all, as everyone agrees here, they are already participants in ministry in general terms.

So my question remains, if we are all made in God's image, if God through Scripture has not laid down distinctive gender-based roles for women (save for the obvious biological ones), if all are endowed by the Spirit, and if we are one in Christ in whose name ministers minister, why may not women be ordained to office in the church?

Actually, I do not see anything mushy in asking the question and I don't particularly like Kumbya as a song!

Father Ron Smith said...

Dear Peter, as an Anglo-Catholic who accepts, with Saint Paul, that 'en Christo' there is neither male nor female' I can only applaud your proudly evangelical affirmation of the ordination of women.

You and I agree that the term 'In Christ' is rather more specific than the common or garden matter of being able to procreate; in that it is about our proto-divine nature, in which Christ has shared the divine nature with our common humanity - not in a gender-specific way, but with all humanity.

The sacramentally 'priestly' role that makes clergy in a significant way different from the Faithful Laity, lies in the way they are specifically gifted by the Holy Spirit, at ordination, to preside at the unveiling of 'Christ in the midst' at the Eucharist.

As Jesus in the flesh represents ALL humanity - not only the male of the species - it stands to reason that he might be equally represented by either a female or a male priest. The ontology is in our common humanity, not our the fact that Jesus happened to be a man.

As many people have said on this issue, in His own day, Jesus would not have been credible to Jewish custom if he had encouraged women to assume headship. However, his revolutionary respect for women, in a male-dominated society, was quite remarkable for His time.

And he did send (apostello) Mary Magdalene to Tell the Good News of His Resurrection to the male disciples! Why didn't they believe her? Because she was only a woman'.

I guess Jesus would do things a bit differently in today's world. (Or was his message for the patriarchal era only?)

If the primary role of a priest is to facilitate the Presencing of Christ at the Eucharistic Table; then God chose a Woman, the blessed Virgin Mary, to bear Him in the Tabernacle of her Womb. Was this, too, not a 'priestly' task?

And Elizabeth said: "Blessed are you among women and Blessed is the Fruit of your womb!"

Shawn said...

Hmmm.....

Virtually sentence for sentence this is the same argument I have read and heard from those promoting the acceptance of same-sex relationships and marriage.

If those of us who are evangelicals and support WO and female leadership are going to be able to make our case to those who disagree we must avoid using the same arguments that liberals use.

Notions of inclusive vs exclusive and equality vs inequality are not Biblical categories, but rationalist, abstract modernist ideas that do not do justice to the richness and depth of Scripture.

So for example, rather than say that Jesus is more concerned with inclusion rather than exclusion, which is not automatically true, I would say that Jesus is concerned with giving glory to His Father, and it is to the glory of God to rescue sinners, no matter how far they have fallen or how far away from God they are.

Again, everything which can and needs to be said can be said without relying on modernist categories and ideas.

Shawn said...

"I don't particularly like Kumbya as a song."

There is hope for you yet Peter! ;)

David Ould said...

But I am quite happy to agree with you that arguments for the ordination of women are the same as arguments for the inclusion of people identifying as gay, in the kingdom of God, in this sense: God is for humanity and not against it.

So then, Peter, do you think someone who identifies as gay and is unrepentant of homosexual activity could be ordained? After all, God is for humanity and not against it.

Joshua Bovis said...

Is the matter of women participating in the life of the church, including that part which is reserved to the ordained as matter of 'revision' or 'development'?

The problem with your question I think is that much of the so called 'development' in the Anglican Communion has arisen from the revision of what Scripture says.
Instead of filtering our culture through the grid of Holy Scripture, the reverse has taken place where Holy Scripture is filtered through the grid of our culture and human reasoning of the day. The result is that Scripture which is deemed:
1. Out of touch with our culture
2. Offensive to our culture
3. Irrelevant to our culture

is either ignored, denied, or re-interpretted along acceptable lines.

As for the details, you write:
The details I am talking about are not, of course, major gospel components such as judgement, which is clearly taught by Jesus.
However it appears that the thinking behind what you said suggests the details are arbitrary.

MichaelA said...

"The details had pushed people to the margins, so Jesus got rid of the details!"

Peter, this is where I strongly disagree with you. Jesus did the opposite - his complaint against the Pharisees was not that they had ignored the details, but that they had paid attention to the wrong details. Now THAT should give all of us serious pause for thought.

"Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished." [Matt 5:17-18]

That appears to be the exact opposite of the methodology you have espoused. But Jesus goes on:

"Therefore anyone who sets aside one of the least of these commands and teaches others accordingly will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven." [Matt 5:19-20]

MichaelA said...

"The gospel message is biased towards inclusion of people in the kingdom of God, not towards exclusion of people."

Really? I would have thought Jesus has just as much to say about being excluded from the kingdom of God as included - as many have observd, Jesus does not shrink from teaching about hell, even though many modern theologians would prefer that he didn't.

But in any case, how is this comparable to the issue at hand? You appear to be arguing that excluding women from the priesthood means excluding them from the kingdom of God. Perhaps its because I am lay person that I do not think members of the clergy are any more likely to go to heaven than Christian lay people!

"Healing on the Sabbath is forbidden? Let's bypass that rule."

You have forgotten a little detail - healing on the sabbath was not forbidden by God's law, only by human law. That is the whole point that you seem to be missing - Jesus NEVER "bypassed" a law laid down in scripture.

"How inclusive and exclusive should the ordained group be? It should be exclusive of the unfit, the immature in Christ, the uncalled and inadequately gifted or discipled."

Really? From where do you get those criteria?

Father Ron Smith said...

"And ordained Clergy fulfill the role of Father to their flock not that of Mother." - Commentator -

And what about the occasion when Jesus said "How often have I longed to gather your children, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings"
- Matt.23:37. That doesn't sound like a masculine paradigm of nurture to me. And isn't priestly ministry about nurture?

Peter Carrell said...

Hi David,
Repentance is a requirement for ordination, David.

You will be well aware, of course, for the point is often made in these discussions, that a woman cannot repent of being a woman.

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Joshua,
The issues you refer to are a "deep and wide" agenda for the engagement of gospel and contemporary culture, so I do not want to pretend a quick observation here sorts the agenda out.

But here are two quick observations:

(1) If women in your church and mine are not wearing veils, and the men are not raising their hands when publicly praying, then our congregations have a working hermeneutic on relating Scripture to contemporary culture: one that bears considerable reflection, including why we specifically go against Scripture on such matters.

(2) I suggest it is not a matter of the details being "arbitrary" but that close inspection of how Jesus interacted with his culture while on the cusp of shifting the paradigm from "old Covenant" to "new Covenant" (law to grace) raises the intriguing question that the ethic of Jesus is more about case by case determinations than universal rules for all time. (Quick, e.g.: in Luke the rich are both denounced and invited for lunch (Zacchaeus).)

Peter Carrell said...

The "wrong details", Michael?

Perhaps. But Jesus did not let "details" stand in the way of the welcome he gave to people. Whatever he meant by his counsel of perfection (surely, at the least, that we live holy lives) he did not set out a new sketch of details for his followers to submit to.

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Michael,
The bias towards inclusion re the kingdom does not mean no one is excluded (e.g. the rich ruler, most Pharisees). It implies that when we consider aspects of life in the kingdom our bias should be towards inclusion rather than exclusion. One aspect is how we approach the question of ordination. Some people rule themselves out re ordination on "character" grounds, e.g. a lack of call being discerned by the church, or being a recent convert = immature in Christ.

MichaelA said...

"But Jesus did not let "details" stand in the way of the welcome he gave to people."

Sure, but why is that a reason to ignore plain teaching about who can be leaders in the church?

"Whatever he meant by his counsel of perfection (surely, at the least, that we live holy lives) he did not set out a new sketch of details for his followers to submit to."

Really? So the Old Testament paradigm whereby only men could be priests was not changed? ;o)

"One aspect is how we approach the question of ordination. Some people rule themselves out re ordination on "character" grounds, e.g. a lack of call being discerned by the church, or being a recent convert = immature in Christ."

But my question remains, where do you get those criteria? In other words, is it only Peter Carell who says that a person whose call has not been discerned by the church may not be ordained? Or that a recent convert should not be ordained. What if I personally believe differently to you - why shouldn't I have someone ordained who is immature in Christ or an unrepentant sinner?

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Michael,
We are both working - I assume - on criteria within or inferred from Scripture being important for ordination (plus, I suggest, some reasonable pragmatic rules such as ACANZP's no one under 23 to be ordained, and no one under 30 to be made a bishop).

Where we disagree (only, I hope) is on whether a woman may be ordained according to Scripture. From Scripture I hope we would both agree re not ordaining hastily a recent convert etc. That, incidentally does seem clearer to me than not ordaining someone because they are a woman.

Bryden Black said...

Oh dearie me! I have had to conclude that a fully orbed Trinitarian theology will resoundingly endorse WO, just as it will soundly decry any such notions as same-sex marriage: bottom-line.

Anonymous said...

Oh dearie me! As has been made crystal clear here time and time again, anyone who does not resoundingly endorse women’s ordination, and soundly decry any such notions as same-sex marriage, clearly does not have a fully orbed Trinitarian theology, has not yet thought deeply enough, and has not exegeted God’s Word written profoundly enough. That, of course, includes the majority of Christians throughout history. But tradition, as those who can think so deeply realise, can be flawed, whilst the one or two people who do have the ability to orb their theology and think clearly will find God’s plain teaching readily available and graciously share it with the rest of us who struggle to reach this lofty level. And none of this, of course, is ad hominem. It is just, humbly, the truth.

Susan

MichaelA said...

Peter, my point was that if you follow your earlier methodology about "bypassing details" you will inevitably undermine the scriptural rules about restricting ordination in any case.

When you take general comments such as "The gospel message is biased towards inclusion of people in the kingdom of God, not towards exclusion of people" and then use them to override specific teaching in scripture, you inevitably bring about the breakdown of church order.

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Michael,
I think where my point of difference lies in respect of your latest comment is with the word "override". On matters of detail one might "override" based on some other consideration (and I accept that I have pushed the situation that way). But one might also view the detail differently, e.g. as having a local or time-bound application. If we want to argue the detail of 1 Tim 2:12, for an example, that is where I see the big picture of the inclusive kingdom, men and women are one in Christ heading. Whatever "authentein" means, how we understand the appeal to Eve and Adam (vss 13-14), and what the "childbirth/child-bearing" of v. 15 mean, they do not override (!) that bigger picture, and thus have a narrower application than a universal rule for all time and all generations.

(Incidentally, I agree with the KJV when it interprets authentein as 'usurping authority'. That can still be an issue in the church today - I have seen it with my own eyes - and where it is an issue, usurping women should not teach!).

Mr. Mcgranor said...

Christ is discriminatory on several grounds regarding women. I revere the ethics of Christ's preference.