An interesting look at being a young, wealthy woman in ancient Rome (from here; HT: Christopher Rollston on Facebook):
This morning, as my wife and I were getting ready for church, I noticed that someone had posted this article on Facebook, regarding a 70-year-old Kentucky woman who was recently ordained as a priest by the Association of Roman Catholic Women Priests. This ordination obviously took place against the authority of the Vatican (as well as their archbishop, who referred to the ceremony as a “‘simulated ordination’ in opposition to Catholic teaching.”)
The following conversation (names have been changed) ensued in the comments section beneath the posted link:
“Tracy”: A woman can no more be a priest than red can be blue.
Me: Tracy, that’s ridiculous.
“Tracy”: Well, Joshua, it’s not. But I think being out of communion with the Church that Christ himself founded is ridiculous. You can’t follow the groom and reject his bride… But in any case, Protestants are free to call animals priests if they want to, but the Catholic priesthood is defined by the High Priest himself through the Church He founded, the Church, which is His mystical body, and his bride. This is a great, concise synopsis of why women cannot be priests. [She provided this link as evidence of why women cannot/should not be priests].
“James”: The reason appears to be simply that Jesus didn’t ordain any women, which to me doesn’t seem to warrant such an extreme response. I would also appreciate it if you didn’t compare women to animals.
“Tracy”: It goes deeper than that, James, but yes if Christ had wanted women as priests he could have ordained them. Didn’t equate women to animals, sorry. What I am saying is you can call anything or anyone you want a priest, but that doesn’t make it so. Some things cannot happen. She can have hands laid on her by a bishop and call herself a priest but she isn’t one. It’s impossible. She can pronounce the words of consecration but she cannot consecrate. I can call that plank of wood over there yarn but I cannot knit with it, because it is not yarn. [In response to an earlier comment about exegesis/hermeneutics vs. eisegesis]: I am familiar with the concepts of exegesis and hermeneutics, yes. The church goes back to Jesus himself, not the Middle Ages. His Truth never changes, and nor does it need to. All the baptized are members of the priesthood of all believers. All the baptized are priests, prophets and kings, but this priesthood is not the ordained priesthood, which is reserved for those men who are called to it by Jesus Christ, and is only conferred upon those men who are ordained by bishops who are direct successors of the apostles. Every Orthodox and Catholic bishop can trace his line of ordination back to one of the original apostles. But a valid bishop cannot ordain a woman, because women cannot be priests. I’ll give birth to a yak sooner than this truth will cease to be, but it is nothing to balk at or feel offended by. Women have their own indispensable and irreplaceable roles in the Church. The actions of those in this article are sad, for they harm their own souls in the process and create scandal and confusion among those less formed in their faith. Having different roles does not make one group better than another, just different. Just because Jesus regards all men ad women with equal dignity doesn’t mean He intends all roles for men and women.
I felt like this was a pretty bizarre exchange, and was left with a few questions/observations:
1) How prominent is Tracy’s view among those who are members of the Roman Church? I had always assumed that the sort of comments she posted were caricatures of outdated RC beliefs, and that few—if any—actually believed that Protestants are outside the Communion of the Saints and have “rejected the bride of the groom.”
2) Is this really the best argument against female priests? “Jesus never ordained women, so obviously they were never meant to be in that role”? That seems to me like an argument from silence.
3) How serious and how prevalent among RCs is the belief that priestly succession actually can be traced back to the historical figure of Jesus of Nazareth? Isn’t this about as debatable as those silly Baptist folks who would claim their denominational lineage goes all the way back to John the Baptizer? And isn’t the premise of the argument kind of like painting a historical bulls-eye around a religious practice that was put in place long after the fact?
I understand that these questions reveal my ignorance of the Roman tradition. But the vast majority of RCs I’ve encountered have not been as radically fundamentalist (and, frankly, obnoxious) as Tracy. Feel free to post your thoughts on this RC/Protestant divide, as well as whether or not women should be permitted in the priesthood. Please keep it respectful.
Last week I mentioned how Douglas Estes suggests in his book The Questions of Jesus in John: Logic, Rhetoric, and Persuasive Discourse that the the function of questions (non-declaratives) in Paul’s writings or the Synoptic Gospels may be ripe for further research (see Questions and question-asking as a potential thesis/dissertation focus). I have two more ideas for students needing guidance. Both come from Joan E. Taylor’s The Immerser: John the Baptist within Second Temple Judaism.
First, Taylor notes in a discussion on Matthew 21:31-32 that Jesus speaks of toll collectors and prostitutes entering the Kingdom ahead of the chief priests and elders. She investigates whether or not John the Baptist would have been known to tell prostitutes to reform certain behaviors like he told soldiers while not telling prostitutes that their profession was to be abandoned completely. She writes of prostitutes encountering John (p. 120),
“Prostitutes would have had to indicate in some way that they had borne good fruit worthy of repentance. Were they also to continue being prostitutes? This is an interesting question. The rabbis clearly considered prostitution sinful, but in ancient Israel prostitution was not unlawful under all circumstances. A father was not to prostitute his daughter (Lev. 19:29), though he was allowed to sell her as a concubine (Exod. 21:7). A priest was forbidden to marry a prostitute or a divorced woman, and a priest’s daughter who became a prostitute was to be burned (Lev. 21:7-9), but the rule for priests was not the rule for everyone. Prostitution was certainly frowned upon (Tob. 4:12; Prov. 7:9-23), but there was no specific law forbidding it. Certain noble prostitutes appear in Scripture–Rahab,for example (Josh. 2:1; 6:25). Samson visited one (Judg. 16:1). Prostitutes could appeal to the king for judgment (1 Kgs. 3:16-18), and they walked openly in the streets (Isa. 23:16). There were probably large numbers of prostitutes in Israel near to Roman military garrisons (Josephus, Ant. 20.356; cf. b. Sabb. 33b; b. Pesah. 113b). The idea that prostitutes could be righteous would nevertheless be shocking. The saying of Jesus in Matt. 21:31 is designed to play on the shock value of the statement. Yet would John, whose ethical standards were extremely high, have allowed that such women could be accepted by God upon immersion, if they, somehow, ‘bore good fruit’? Did he advise ethical conduct within their profession? What kind of advice would have have given to these women, if indeed we are to imagine that he objected only to abuses within their profession?”
Now, Taylor herself concludes, “It is highly unlikely that John thought professional prostitutes capable of living righteously while still keeping to prostitution.” She observes that the word זנה was used to described harlots and זונה is used of women who have committed a variety of sexual sins. The word πόρνη is used to translate these idea in the LXX and it appears in Matthew 21:31 (αἱ πόρναι). There is a connection between Jesus’ words and this OT concept of prostitutes, or women identified primarily by sexual sins committed outside the marriage covenant. This leads Taylor to ask (p. 121),
“Even if professional prostitutes are referred to in relation to John, it should be remembered that in a country of extreme poverty, in which women were a vulnerable group, prostitution proper might have been the only way of surviving for women who were divorced, widowed, or somehow on their own in need of money. The word could also refer to a woman who, though living with a man, was not married to him, that is, to a woman who was maintained by a man without a formal marriage contract. A woman could very easily earn the reputation of being a “prostitute,” even if she were not actually earning money for sex. In the story of Jesus’ meeting with the Samaritan women [sic], he refers to the man she is living with as her “husband,” to which she replies she has none. He then notes that indeed she has had seven “husbands,” though in fact the one she is living with now is not her real husband (John 4:16-18). In common appraisal, this unmarried and sexually active woman would have been considered a prostitute. Interestingly, in this story, Jesus does not advise her to go and “sin no more” (cf. the adulterous women [sic] of John 8:1-11). This subject is clearly one that requires more study…”
A few observations:
(1) One could study the role of women who had negative reputations based on their sexual activity among first century Jews. What differentiated prostitutes/harlots from unmarried, sexually active women who depended upon a man for their survival. In the patriarchal culture of the time there were few options for a woman who did not have a husband or another man to care for her.
(2) How did Jews handle the ethical problem of telling a woman to stop having sex for money if that was her only option?
(3) How does this impact our reading of early Christianity’s emphasis on caring for widows?
Second, Taylor observes (pp. 122-123),
“…Matt. 21:31-32 is the only specific mention of women among the disciples of John. This is important, because discipleship in later Judaism and in Graeco-Roman philosophy was typically a male preserve. Two key exceptions to this norm were found elsewhere in Judaic culture, in the community of Therapeutae living by the Mareotic Lake near Alexandria (Philo, On the Contemplative Life) and in the community of disciples of Jesus (see, e.g. Acts 8:3; 9:2, 36). Again, this subject requires greater study, but it should be noted here that women were probably among the disciples of John, and were, like the men, immersed after undergoing a period of instructions
I should clarify that Taylor establishes that people who came to be baptized by John were likely taught by John for some time as concerns fidelity to the Law prior to returning to their communities. If prostitutes came for baptism then these women received instruction making these women disciples.
A couple more observations:
(1) One could research Taylor’s claim that baptism is connected to discipleship in the community of the Baptist.
(2) Another area worth exploring would be the uniqueness of being a woman disciple in the ancient world. What did this do to the early Jesus movement? How would it have been perceived by the surrounding culture? What does it mean to be a woman disciples in juxtaposition with being a male disciple?
Last night I was listening to Texas Public Radio (TPR) in the car with my wife. The host of the airing show was discussing Defense Secretary Leon Panetta’s decision to lift the ban on women serving in the infantry unites of the United States. One man called into the show to rant about the horror of women fighting on the front lines. He lamented the idea of a woman, out of bullets, struggling to fight a man using her bayonet. He feared that the physically bigger, stronger gender would overpower our women, and that the result would be horrible things like rape and other abuses. He asked if we want to imagine our daughters on this situation.
My wife is quite the feminist, and she grew tired of the man’s tone of voice and argument, so she turned off the show. I don’t have a daughter, but I did agree with the man that I wouldn’t want my daughter on the front lines of war. I would die inside if I heard that she had been captured, raped, and abused in other ways by enemy soldiers.
I agree with this man: I don’t want my daughter, or any woman I know, fighting in war, but my reasons are different: I hate the idea because my daughter would be a human, not because she would be a woman.
I don’t feel this way because of gender alone, though as a man there is an inherent desire to care for my grandmother, my mother, my wife, and any future daughters. I know that it is often true that men are physically larger, often stronger. If someone attacked a woman in my life, I would defend, and I would hope to disarm the perpetrator with as little harm done as possible to all parties. This is true of other scenarios as well though. If someone attacked my brother, a man much larger and stronger than me, I would feel an obligation to defend him. If I saw a man walking down the street who was physically assaulted I hope I would have the guts to help him. My concerns is defending the attacked, the vulnerable, the weak, the oppressed–not merely a person of a particular gender.
I think this man had begun to feel something right in the wrong way. He feared the idea of a daughter being harmed because he realizes war is horrible. As a man he has allowed himself to recognize that violence against a woman is disgusting. He doesn’t need to lose that sense of the grotesqueness of combat. Rather, he needs to realize that his understanding of masculinity is warped. Men shouldn’t be seen as warriors, primarily, whose deaths are acceptable, especially in the context of modern warfare.
What if we mourned the thought of a searing hot bullet penetrating the chest of our sons? What if were disgusted by the idea that our brothers might have shrapnel from an IED penetrate their skull? What if we called into radio shows to argue that our uncles shouldn’t have to live with the guilt of dropping a bomb on Baghdad, or catching an Afghan civilian in the cross-fire of war, or control a drone striking a small village in Pakistan.
I remember when my brother was nearing his high school graduation. He was prepared to enlist in the military. He was given a camp to which he would report, and there was some discussion that this would happen prior to his graduation ceremony. I prayed that he would be prevented, even though he was convinced that it was the most noble of vocations. A few weeks prior to the end of the school year he was playing football with some friends, and while running he collapsed to the ground, untouched. Apparently the cartilage in the area of his hip socket was problematic, and the ball slipped from the joint. This hip injury disqualified him from service. He was devastated, and I showed sympathy, but inside I was relieved. This relief had nothing to do with his gender. It had everything to do with my love for him, something that I would feel (ideally) toward my neighbors, and their children, as I imagine anyone being sent into war, whether a citizen of the United States, Mexico, France, Italy, Iraq, or China.
Many of us idealize men like Alexander the Great, Julius Caesar, Genghis Khan, and if you are French, Napoleon Bonaparte, but I don’t think this is the ideal expression of genuine masculinity. As a Christian I find Jesus to be that person, one who was strong enough to realize his enemy was a victim too. I see in Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr., people who followed the trajectory of Jesus’ life to the conclusion that active non-violence is more effective at ending wars than wars at ending wars.
I am a realist, which is why I am not fully anabaptistic (though, I want to be as anabaptistic as possible), so I don’t spend much time arguing that the eschatological hope of warlessness is something we can manufacture now. I live as a witness to that hope. I struggle to live a life of non-violence, as far as I am able, but I know there is a “not yet” to the “already, but not yet”. When you read this I hope you don’t advert your eyes from my argument because you don’t affirm “all, or nothing” pacifism. Even if you find nobility in war, we must admit, many of us have lost our ability to understand the gravity of death, especially those of us who are citizens of the United States. We have been handed a narrative that violence begets peace, and we have accepted it to the degree that we don’t ask if there is a way that is better. We expect our nation to be at war and we don’t ask if these wars are “necessary”, 0r “just”, anymore.
I hope with this decision to allow women to go to the front lines of combat that it will make some of us stop, reflect, and ask why we aren’t concerned about our men being placed in that same situation.
I have been particularly impressed with two pastors who have addressed some weighty matter recently with wisdom.
First, I want to point to a sermon series by Greg Boyd where he seeks to reconcile the violent depictions of God in the Hebrew Bible with the God revealed to us through Christ. He argues that we should understand these depictions as “shadows” like the Law, Sabbath, holy feasts, and other things that pointed to Christ but that were incomplete without Christ. I am wrestling with his words, but I admit that they are very thought provoking. If you have the time watch/listen to “God’s Shadow Activity” and “Shadow of the Cross.”
Second, Jonathan Martin was late to the discussion around Doug Wilson’s use of words like “colonization” and “conquering” to describe the so-called “passive role” of women in sex, but he may have given one of the best responses. In “Gender, race, and Pentecost: the world has moved on.” he humbles us all. Martin reminds us that God is doing amazing things around the world while we act as if we are the center of the Christian universe. These are three of my favorite excerpts:
“The future has already arrived, and it has little to do with people like me. In the global body of Christ, we have seen a remarkable shift in the balance of power. Those of us in the west in general and North America in particular are used to being in the seat of power and influence; we are used to being those who shape global conversation in the Church. Our sense of self-importance is innate. Drunk on the rhetoric of America as a new Israel, our Christian faith a curious syncretism of sentimental piety and manifest destiny, we send missionaries into the world. We ship our virtues and vices wholesale into all the earth.”
“I am a Pentecostal by heritage and tradition, but culturally I am one of the bourgeois pastors whose day might seem to be coming, but in many ways has already passed. The whole white male, coffee-drinking, apple product-using, Coldplay-listening type. It is a very small world that we live in that feels deceitfully large. We have blogs, we write books, we talk about the most recent issue of Christianity Today. So it is easy to think we are the center of the universe.”
“The average Christian in the world right now is an African or Latin American female in her early 20’s. She doesn’t read our blogs and she doesn’t readChristianity Today. She doesn’t know or care who I am and she never will. The names Piper, Driscoll, Chan, Bell, Stanley, Warren—mean nothing to her. Like most Pentecostal women coming into the kingdom around the world, words like “complementarian” and “egalitarian” are not in her vocabulary, nor Calvinism and Arminianism. Unlike some of my brothers would lead you believe (where their lunch table is the only one that cares about Scripture and THE GOSPEL while anybody who believes differently from them in these tired conversations are flaming liberals), she takes the authority of the Bible very seriously. But more importantly, she believes in the power of the Bible in ways that are incomprehensible even for our most rabid “conservatives.” The western filter and language that frames these issues will not be determinative for her, unlucky as she is not to read our blogs. She may well in end up leading a church one day where she preaches Jesus like a woman on fire and lays hands on the sick and watches God heal them, though this will surprise those Reformed colleagues who are sure all female church leaders have been trained by godless-Unitarian-lesbian-leftist-radical feminist-seminarians (she didn’t have access to seminary at all–unfortunately she has read the Acts of the Apostles). Who knew?”
I recommend taking the time to listen to Boyd’s sermons and read Martin’s article. This is why the pastor-theologian is so valuable to the church. We need more people like them!
It was brought to my attention that Jared Wilson has apologized for the blog post that used offensive and insensitive language toward women regarding their “role” in sex (see “Some Reflections, Just One Explanation, and Apologies”). I am thankful to see it. It is an apology in the right direction. I agree with Scot McKnight that this wasn’t the same type of disagreement between egalitarians and complementarians that we are used to reading (see “Thank You”). The words used were potentially far more offensive. Obviously there are complementarians who would never use that language to describe their sexual relationship with their wife. Wilson’s realization that this language could cause harm is one I applaud. I am glad to see he decided to remove the post.
Rachel Held Evans has posted a long list of articles written by men and women from the egalitarian perspective for this year’s inaugural Week of Mutuality: Mutuality 2012 Synchroblog. I found this to be quite exciting! As I’ve said, I came to Christianity through Pentecostalism where the gifting and calling of a person was the sign of what the Holy Spirit sought to do in and through their life, not their gender. This doesn’t mean gender is not important, but rather that it does not limit. As the prophet Joel said of the New Covenant given to us through the Holy Spirit, “Your sons and your daughters will prophesy (2.28).” Indeed, these contributions are a wonderful example of God using his children–men and women–as instruments. There are more great articles than you will have time to read, but I recommend you browse through the list.
The church is a better place when the Spirit’s work is not quenched because a man has bias against a women or a woman has bias against a men. A marriage is healthier when two people are committed to being a team unit rather than a hierarchy. Even for so-called “complementarians” who believe in particular gender roles I think the challenge stands: love your wife as Christ loved the church. That hardly means, “Your maleness is a trump card.” I know there may never be a day this side of the Second Coming where the Apostle Paul’s words “in Christ…their is neither male nor female” will be fully recognized just like there may never be a time without war, or a time where no one is impoverished, or a time when there is no sickness. But when I see little glimpses of what I saw through this Week of Mutuality I am reminded that the eschatological dream of God can happen just like there will be a time when weapons are destroyed, the poor are made rich, and our bodies are completely healed through resurrection life.
Thank you Rachel Held Evans and all the other contributors for giving me a little piece of eschatological bliss this week!