Against the Restriction of Women from Ordination

May 4, 2008

From the nature of woman

Plainly, Paul Jewett states in his book The Ordination of Women that this argument is “about as bankrupt as an argument can be” (9). The idea that a woman cannot preach because she will be a sexual distraction from the word of God is nothing short of ridiculous, not to mention insulting. Jewett acknowledges that the root of this argument is actually a “thinly veiled admission that the woman is still regarded as a sex object rather than as a person” (10). Men should use their positions in power to change that regard rather than perpetuate it. Jewett laments that instead of empowering women, “the church sees to it that god never authorizes a woman to escape male guardianship” (12) by creating a convoluted theology that puts a woman at odds with her divine calling (to wifely duties?) should she accept an actual divine calling (to seek ordination).

From the nature of the ministerial office

In Jewett’s estimation, the nature of ministerial office does not limit women from being ordained except by the lack of open-mindedness of the men. If it is “the woman’s relationship of subordination to the man that disqualifies her for ordination” (19), then we are back to the argument from nature that men should rather rise above than perpetuate. If women are capable of receiving “the same spiritual endowment” (18), and if it is true that “in Christ there is a universal priesthood of all believers, female as well as male” (20), then there is nothing to say that women cannot hold the office pertaining to that endowment. The underlying argument that women are unable to receive the sacrament of ordination even if it were placed upon them because they are women has no firm foundation but is merely an assumption based on cultural expectations. The arguments do not hold water theologically or practically, yet the rule stands on a tradition of faulty belief and teaching.

From the masculinity of God

In this section, Jewett calls perpetuators of this argument to account, arguing that “an affinity between maleness and divineness remains the basic assumption” (35). Those who make this argument simply like for God to be more male than female so that “to the male belong the privilege and the responsibility and the dignity in God’s church, because God is a masculine Deity” (35). The problem with this argument, Jewett points out (aside from degrading women), is that it does not jive with the theological principle that “there is only a ‘personal’ distinction in God (Trinity), not a ‘sexual’ one” (36). There may be male imagery for God in the Bible, says Jewett, but there is female imagery, too; there may be condemnation of goddess worship, but there is condemnation of god worship, too (37). Ultimately, “if God transcends human sexual distinctions in his essential being, then one cannot predicate of him either masculinity or femininity in the human sense of the terms” (43). God is like a father, and God is like a mother; “he is not subject to the either/or of fatherhood or motherhood as we are” (43), and both images are necessary to more fully explain the character of God and the manner in which he relates to his children. From a grammatical and linguistic viewpoint, Jewett advocates that when we “refer to God as ‘he,’ [we] should mean only that God is a personal God in contrast to an abstract, philosophic idea,” not that God is male (45); however, that usage must be taught and understood correctly and not allowed to be warped into an argument against woman’s capability to image God equally to man’s (47).

On a side note, I found Jewett’s discussion of the Holy Spirit as female (47ff) really interesting. I had never heard the argument before, always assuming that like the “he” used for God the Father and God the Son is meant to denote personhood and not sexuality, so too the Spirit was described with the pronoun “he.” It is appealing, I must admit, to consider the Holy Spirit in the role of Sophia, the feminine counterpart to all this masculine divinity. But I was convinced by his argument that any persuasion toward femininity comes solely from the fact that the word itself is feminine, not from any discernable specialty of character of the Spirit. Making the Holy Spirit female presents just the same set of problems we are already dealing with by the misunderstanding that the other persons of the Godhead are male. Ultimately, “the Trinitarian fellowship of the Godhead knows no male and female distinction, and the human fellowship of male and female knows no discrimination against the female as bearing the divine image to a lesser degree. Therefore, God’s Incarnation in the form of male humanity [and likewise the Greek word for “Spirit’s” being a feminine word] is theologically indifferent” (55). I can jive with that.

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