Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Ladies in Waiting

I can’t imagine joining a religious organization that treated me as a second-class citizen, and yet tens of millions of women do just that. A new report by the Pew Research Forum on Religion & Public Life shows that women are far more religious and religiously active then men, and yet three of the four largest Christian churches in the United States, the Catholics, Southern Baptists, and Mormons, prohibit women from becoming clergy. So paranoid is the Southern Baptist Convention that last September they removed all copies of Gospel Today magazine from the racks of their LifeWay bookstores because the magazine featured a cover story on women clergy.

Why do women stick with these religions? I can only think of two reasons. Either they really don’t care about gender equality in the clergy, or they accept on faith that this is the way God intends things to be. And maybe it is.

According to the Catholic and Southern Baptist hierarchies, had Jesus wanted women to be clergy he would have had at least one woman among his twelve apostles. I know this will startle some of you, but I think they are right.

Jesus broke so many cultural taboos that one is hard pressed to argue that the traditions he adhered to were chosen lightly. If Jesus had wanted to have women apostles he would have had them. Yes, I know about Mary Magdalena, and I am more than willing to accept her as a close confidant of Jesus, but he doesn’t count her among the Twelve. So I think these churches are correct to outlaw women clergy and thereby remain faithful to the traditions of Jesus. I only wish they would be more scrupulous about it.

For example, all of the Apostles were Jews. Jesus had no Christian Apostles, so neither should the church have Christian clergy. This could open a whole new career path for Jewish men, and I am all for it.

Similarly, Jesus preferred fishermen for apostles, and so the church should require that clergy learn to fish. All of Jesus’ apostles ate raw corn, so this too ought to be a requirement for clerical positions. To the man, the Twelve were incapable of staying awake with Jesus or standing by his side when he was arrested, beaten, and crucified, so cowardliness ought to be another criteria for clergy. All apostles wore sandals, so shoe wearers have no place at the altars of the church. And they wore robes, so pant-wearing men are also out. None of the Twelve brushed their teeth, took baths on a daily basis, used toilet paper (or toilets for that matter), or vaccinated themselves against any communicable diseases. Not one apostle read the New Testament or observed Christmas or Easter, so these practices should be off limits to clergy as well.

I could go on, but I suspect the point is made. If we are going to appoint clergy based on the choices Jesus made in choosing his apostles we must restrict ourselves to Jewish fishermen with bad breath and itchy anuses. Maybe if the churches were more traditional in this way more men would get involved. I’m sure fewer women would.


Patti said...

Hilarious!! Having been at the receiving end of "sorry, you are a woman, so you can still do all the work in the church, just not be involved in any conversation about it" I can add a third reason that kept me going to "those" churches. In the churches that I attended where women had open access to leadership the men completely abdicated. They did absolutely nothing. So in the gender biased churches it was kind of refreshing to see men do anything!! Though trust me I was annoyed at the "we play different roles" response to my gender questions.

So maybe Christ knew that if he left the apostling up to women, the men would just sit and scratch. Or....maybe that is just in central New York.

Julie said...

Thanks Rami. I left church after a sermon called "the parable of the wild Canadian geese" (where women were told we should be like the female geese and sit on the eggs) and the other sermon that said "in this particular passage the writer was speaking to the audience of that day". And it did only take me 29 years to get to that exasperated place so I spent a handful of years prior to that fuming while I sat silent. You are brilliant in your humor and as usual, I appreciate you!

dtedac said...

I love the commentary. The matter of women's ordination in the Catholic Church always starts some fine discussions, although we have been told that the current policy cannot be changed.

It is interesting to note that some ancient histories of the Church seem to indicate that there may have been women in Church hierarchy here and there in the first millenium. The evidence is not solid, but then the Dark Ages didn't produce a lot of solid documentary data anyway.

Of course, if you follow the line of thinking in your commentary, a good question would be "Did Jesus ordain anyone?" We know he chose the Twelve and we know that they are considered the first bishops, but Church history tells us that the current hierarchical model of bishop-priest-deacon was not in place for the first century. And again, looking at Paul's epistles which mention home churches hosted by women, you wonder whether these women were at the head of the eucharistic table. In other words, the priesthood of today was not set in place at the time of Jesus or immediately thereafter.

My opinion: the question of women's ordination should still be open for discernment. It may be that women already were "priests" and that we need to return to an original way of thinking.


naturerabbi said...

Thanks, Rami. I love the 'if...then' logic that opens up this discussion.

What about Jewish Orthodoxy -- I would never attend an orthodox service where I have to sit behind the curtain and cannot come up to read torah!

Rabbi Rami said...

Thanks for the comments. I grew up in an Orthodox synagogue and the women sat behind a wall. I have had people explain to me that separate seating actually deepens their spiritual experience. For me the issue is second-class status. If the rules are the same for men and women, fine. But if it clearly about male superiority, I find it oppressive and wrong.