Friday, August 2, 2013

That door needs to be opened

Pope Francis made headlines earlier this week because of what he said about gay priests, which is understandable. What is receiving, so far, comparatively less attention is a statement he  made about women. I have written previously of my appreciation for some of the steps Pope Francis has taken but I confess that his words about the ordination of females disturbs me. 

To be sure, Francis said essentially that there would be no church without women and he acknowledged that the Roman Catholic Church lacked a "deep theology of women." But he went on to say, "On the ordination of women, the church has spoken and said no, John Paul II, in a definitive formulation, said that door is closed."

Maybe that's all he could say given what John Paul II wrote in an apostolic letter of 1994. Nonetheless, it is a disappointing statement. After all, Pope Francis also said this recently: "I want a mess ... I want trouble in dioceses!" He has stated his intent to shake things up (certainly a Christ-like thing to do) and he has been doing this in numerous surprising and wonderful ways.

So why not mention the tension between the position of John Paul II and that of the Vatican's Pontifical Biblical Commission of 1976 that concluded that the church could ordain females to the priesthood without violating Christ's original intentions? That would shake things up. But I suppose challenging the doctrine of papal infallibility would make too big of a mess for now.

In disagreeing with Pope Francis I mean no disrespect. I simply cannot allow the injustice of closing the door on the ordination of females to pass without remark whether it is proclaimed by the leader of the Roman Catholic Church or evangelical leaders. The door to the ordination of women needs to be opened. Thankfully that door is open in many Christian groups, including the congregation that I serve.

In my own faith tradition, the Bible is supposed to be our guide for faith and practice. The weight of the scriptural evidence supports the ordination of females.  A detailed examination of the biblical evidence in this regard would produce far more text than most folks would want to read in a single blog entry. So I'll just briefly list a little biblical evidence in support of opening the door to ordaining women:

  • There is no outright prohibition of ordaining females in the Bible.
  • Women are depicted as carrying out the primary ministerial function of declaring the word of God (i.e. preaching) in the scriptures. 
  • Females hold ministerial positions on the pages of the Bible. (Junia [a female] is listed as an apostle in Romans 16:7.  Deborah was the spiritual and political leader and a preacher of Israel in Judges 4-5).
  • All of the gift passages of the New Testament are literally gender inclusive, including Ephesians 4:11-12 that says Christ gave some to be apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers.
  • The New Testament declares principles that tear down gender walls, most notably the one found in Galatians 3:27:28: "As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. 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" (NRSV, emphasis mine).

I could go on, but I'll stop there for now. I'm aware that others make a biblical case against the ordination of women and I have responses to their arguments and they have responses to mine. 

But here's an important point to me. Those who decide to close a door between a whole class of humans and a particular way of serving God had better have an iron clad case for taking such a radical step. As I have indicated, there is a Bible-based case to be made in favor of ordaining females, and a strong one at that. This being the case, who am I to stand in the way of any properly gifted human, male or female, and a calling that human senses from God? 

"Look, I have set before you an open door, which no one is able to shut" (Revelation 3:8, NRSV).

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