I was greeted on Friday morning (Feb 16th) with an article in the West Australian: "Bishop rejects female leader." The bishop in question is Gary Nelson, bishop of the North West, a diocese that has been taken over by Sydney Anglicans. The female leader is Archbishop of Perth, Kay Goldsworthy, recently installed.
Nelson explains that his position on the ordination of women is based on New Testament texts that forbid women from leadership in the Church. The most obvious reference is found in Paul:
women should be silent in the churches. For they are not permitted to speak, but should be subordinate, as the law also says. If there is anything they desire to know, let them ask their husbands at home. For it is shameful for a woman to speak in church. (ICor. 13:34-35)
One would think from this that the case is closed. If this is the word of God then it is plain, as Nelson says, that God is opposed to the ordination of women and we should be as well. The installation of a woman to the position of archbishop is but a further sign of the church's disobedience to God.
Paul's letters to the Corinthians are understood to be written in his hand, unlike some of the pastoral epistles that were written in his name. (Ephesians, Colossians,1 and 2 Timothy.) So, here we have definite opposition to female leadership in the Church from the hand of the earliest New Testament writer and major architect of Christian theology. The words say what they mean. There is no wriggle room for interpretation since they are not in the form of a parable or metaphor.
Those of us who support the ordination of women need to explain themselves in the face of perhaps the greatest and earliest interpreter of Christianity. Any argument that is obviously counter to the writing of Paul must begin, not with the text but with how the Church understands Scripture. It understands Scripture not as the object of faith but as the witness to that object i.e. Jesus Christ. These witnesses, who wrote the New Testament, were men (there were no women as far as we know) in their own time and this shows through.
Paul, was a former Jew:
circumcised on the eighth day, a member of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew born of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; (Phil. 3:5)
Paul was a man who was in the process of discarding his background as a law-abiding Jew. He could pronounce that:
There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus. (Gal 3:28)
However, he still had not realised what it meant for leadership in the Church; he was still wedded to the male leadership of the family and the Church.
It makes sense to have some sympathy for Paul and for all the other writers of Scripture. They were men set in an historical context and this, at times, muddied the waters so that the image of Christ is distorted. As rational agents, historians, exegetes, theologians, pew sitters of the modern age it is expected that we read Scripture with a nuanced eye so that the truth may be learnt. To do otherwise, to simply read the bible as if it actually reflected the will of God is to make an idol of it. It is to become like the Pharisees who were so strict in interpreting the will of God from Scripture that they became alienated from the prime human concerns of love and compassion for each other and were condemned by Jesus.
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