Tuesday, June 3, 2008

What about women priests?

I have to respond to José's comments on my earlier post about the Catholic church recently criminalizing women priests, excommunicating them (as heretics?). I have to respond because José presents us with the party line, which is about as uncritical and ill-informed as can be. It is a party line that we have accepted only because it has been beaten into us over the centuries, and sounds "normal" when in fact it is insidious sexism. Why is it that inequality in gender is considered normal, when inequality on other levels is fought tooth and nail? Why do we allow this to continue? We are the ones who are in control of our thoughts and our actions. It is time to step up to the plate and demand that gender not matter to the priesthood. We do not have to accept the Vatican's decision.

Consider this. We can't allow women to be priests because Jesus only selected men as his apostles. How silly is this? Let's move to another issue. What about race, age, and religion? Are men who are Asian, African-American, or Native American denied priesthood on the basis that Jesus only selected "caucasian" Middle Eastern men as his apostles? Are men who are older than forty denied the priesthood on the basis that Jesus only selected young men as his apostles? If we really were to get serious, shouldn't the priesthood be confined to young Jewish male converts who speak Aramaic, on the basis that these were the men that Jesus selected as apostles and are the only people who can represent him on earth? As soon as we move the discussion to a different issue, it is clear how silly and meaningless it is!

Besides, there is the other issue I haven't raised, and that is the issue of whether or not Jesus actually selected only twelve male disciples as his followers, or whether this is a contrivance of the later tradition which worked to eliminate women from positions of leadership which they held in the early movement.

As for José's statement: "If I were a Catholic I would be allowed to discuss and debate these views, and many other issues, but I couldn’t simply defy church teaching imagining that the church will simply capitulate to my defiance or that I’m setting some sort of good example to incite greater defiance. Not even the entire Protestant Reformation has been able to alter any of the major Catholic and Orthodox doctrines. We must marvel at their consistency and dedication while Protestantism continues to splinter and fall deeper into heretical teachings and practices." If we were to list all of the people that the Catholic Church has considered a heretic, excommunicated, tortured and killed, I think it would put things into perspective. It would also show that some of the greatest minds in our culture, the ones that have moved us forward in our knowledge of ourselves and our world, have been official heretics like Galileo. If it weren't for the heretics, we would never advance in our knowledge because no one would challenge the status quo or think beyond what they have received.

Yes, women can and should be priests. This issue is vital to us, more than ever now that the Catholic Church has criminalized us! It is the reason that I am writing Sex and the Serpent in Ancient Christianity: Why the Sexual Conflicts of the Early Church Still Matter. I'm going to now close so I can go to work on the second chapter, "Why was the Spirit neutered?"

UPDATE: Jared Calaway from Antiquitopia has posted a similar discussion HERE<<<


Pastor Bob said...

First, my bias: I am a pastor in a denomination that ordains women as ministers of Word and Sacrament.

A few comments: the apostles were Caucasians? I thought they were Semites!

Beyond that I would note that Paul refers to his fellow apostle Junias in his letter to the Romans. The ending in Greek suggests that Junias is female.

I would also note that the original meaning of apostle in Greek is one who is sent. Wouldn't this make the women in the Gospels sent with the message of the resurrection apostles?

We had this argument in the PCUSA. The argument that all of the early apostles were male doesn't cut it. It only works if you believe in apostolic succession and even then the RCs believe that apostolic succession comes through Peter, not the rest of the apostles.

Worse they also use the argument that only men can be priests because Jesus was male. Carried to a logical extension wouldn't this also mean that women aren't saved because they aren't male?

You have to watch your arguments from nature as they have a tendency to turn around and bite you on the butt.

Jared Calaway said...

I also addressed this on my blog (antiquitopia.blogspot.com) with similar arguments that, by extension, all priests should be Jewish, dark-haired, etc., to show how absurd this position is.

I am curious when this new book is going to be released? Sometime next year?

J. K. Gayle said...

Wow. Thanks for this post. And I'm with Jared: keep on writing that book so we can read it soon! And Pastor Bob, Isn't that male Jesus those guys were arguing with you about the same one whose first evangelist (i.e., the illegitimate Samaritan slut), first theologian (i.e., the sister of one he raised from the dead), first apostle to the guys hiding out in a little dark room somewhere (i.e., the one who had all those dirty demons) were all women? (i.e., the woman at the well, Mary of Bethany, and Mary of Magdala)

Leon said...


I agree with your position and reasoning. Some of your comments made me laugh (in a good way, not a bad way) because I could use the same language in my work on vindicating Judas of the charge of betrayal and Jewish leaders of complicity in Jesus' death. You spoke of the party line being uncritical and ill-informed, beaten into us over the centuries and sounding normal when in fact it is insidious. I think they are all excellent insights. I only note here that we all use strong language when we know we have a strong evidentiary case and the other side has a weak case at best. All the words you used also apply to the party line that Judas betrayed Jesus and Jewish leaders put Jesus on trial. They have become normal through long repetition and not through evidentiary analysis. You too seem to know that it takes strong language to defeat an untenanble position.

Leon Zitzer

R.Eagle said...

Yet, in spite of this ignorance which continues to spin out of control, the Pope gets red carpet treatment when he comes here to the U.S. . . . a guy who used to be a Nazi no less (so I've heard). How crazy is this??? Is it truly any wonder how this stupid so called church continues to look down their hairy males noses at women? No, not really, as they continue to refuse embracing the heart and mind of Jesus as far as I'm concerned!

José Solano said...

It seems I must have struck a funny bone in some whose often clear thinking now appears rather clouded and I feel somewhat assailed by a barrage of irrational thoughts and expressions unrelated to what I have stated.

I am happy to entertain and respond to diverse opinions but I would suggest that my comments be reread in the light of what I’m accused so that the accusers may see that to a considerable extent they are swatting at phantoms.

The “party line” which I presented is that of the Catholic and Orthodox churches as well as that of many other Christian denominations, and I suspect numerous if not all Gnostic schools. BUT, IT IS NOT MY “LINE!” I don’t imagine anyone wants to censor their views and reasoning in this discussion so that we end up simply talking to ourselves.

I’ll leave it here for now and allow some time for the huff-n-puff dust to clear before addressing certain specifics within a calmer climate.


Aaron Armitage said...

No doubt if I asked how a woman could be a huband of wife you would tell me that Paul didn't write 1 Timothy; this in addition to the systematic falsification of the narrative about Jesus you also assert. But if the New Testament is essentially fraudulent, then the Christian religion is false and there is no reasonable argument for having a Christian ministry of any kind. Therefore the case for women priests/pastors/elders is incoherent.

Phil Snider said...

I think it easier for Protestants to accept female ordination than Roman Catholics or Orthodox, not so much because of their theology about the apostles being male (Protestants argued the same for a long time), but because the concept of the priesthood as making the priest the vicar or substitute for Jesus makes it harder to detach gender from the incarnation.

As an Anglican and an evangelical one at that, I tend to prefer a 'priesthood of all believers' position, so I really don't get worked up about this issue.

Yet, I wonder why such a visceral response? Unless Dr. DeConick is claiming standing as a Roman Catholic, we can denounce their views and think the reasoning untenable, but I'm not sure I understand the vitriol.


José Solano said...

I’ve read that a headline from the newspaper L'Osservatore Romano used the term “crime,” but in what context? It is a violation of Canon Law. It would of course not apply to non-Catholics or any civil law.

The actual decree from the Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith says nothing about “crime.” (See http://forums.catholic.com/showthread.php?p=3748531)

Talon said...

I thought I was harsh to Jose
but April just pwned him
as my offspring would say.

Jose, are you saying that you are arguing on behalf of someone something you don't personally believe? Stop playing the clown. Stand up for what you believe, even if it is trite.

It is amusing to see the Catholic church defended by someone who believes in the truth of scripture, because Catholic doctrine has very little to do with the bible.


Talon said...

One other thing. The idea that the church today should duplicate the social norms of the Bible is crazy.

If you want to bring back biblical marriage, then advocate that women should women be forced to marry their brothers-in-law if their husband dies and she is childless. And legalize polygamy.

If you want to bring back first-century prejudice against women that is accepted and/or endorsed by the Bible, then go all the way. And bring back slavery and stoning and genocide and all those other good things endorsed by the bible.

José Solano said...

(I’m going to try to avoid responding to the fringe element that blogs tend to attract. I’m sure that as “supporters” of some of Dr. DeConick’s statements they must be an embarrassment. Intelligent conversation does not benefit from asinine heckling.)

Now, Dr. DeConick, you state, “If we were to list all of the people that the Catholic Church has considered a heretic, excommunicated, tortured and killed, I think it would put things into perspective.”

This actually takes things out of perspective. To be fare and have balance you could simply substitute “Protestants” for “Catholic Church” in that statement. In those times that you are referring to Protestants were doing exactly the same thing and perhaps even more than the Catholic Church. I’m hoping we are not going to engage in a general Catholicism bashing.

Aaron Armitage said...


I'm a Southern Baptist, of the Reformed wing, so my tradition believes in the priesthood of the believer in a more robust sense than any kind of Anglicanism I know of, unless you count the old Puritans. The only person I ever saw show a realy "visceral resoponse" to the idea of women priests was a Mormon missionary I tried explaining the priesthood of the believer to. He kind of stopped for a second while I was starting to get into the standard arguments, and then said, "Does that mean you have women priests?"

I said, "Yeah, sure" and tried picking up where he interrupted, but he almost yelled, "You just said you're in a false church!"



So he repeated himself twice.

I think I was lucky he didn't chuck the Doctrines and Covenants at me.

But more seriously, the priesthood of the believer doesn't get you where you want to go, because the New Testament includes prescriptions for communal leadership which exclude women from being elders. If the priesthood of the believer is true (rather than merely congenial), then Paul must have believed it or something like it, and still wrote what he did. To take these as contradictory is still, on some level, to conflate the eldership with a priesthood, and also to presume that you are a better reasoner than the Apostle.

NJZimmermann said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
NJZimmermann said...

I am a cradle Roman Catholic and stand opposed to the position taken by the Holy Mother Church because, there are severak women who were ordained to the diaconate in the Early centuries of the Church, a fact to which the
The Biblical canonand patristic writings attest.

Some examples include Saint Phoebe, Prisca and Aqulia who are mentioned in Paul letter to the Romans.

Additionally the Didascalia Apostolorum attaches the title to the persons of Mary Magdalene, Susanna and Joanna the wife of Chuza, and the Apolostolic Constitutions clearlt elucidates their function within the community

Further traditions hold that Macrina the Younger and Melania the Younger were deaconesses within their communities

The unwillingness of the Holy Mother Church is contrary to the traditions of the Proto-Orthodox church.

Mark D B said...

Hear, hear, Dr. DeConick. These are my thoughts as well, although you have expressed them much more precisely than I might have been able to!

Mr. Solano, the argument you supplied, whether it is your argument or not, doesn't "hold water", so to speak. Simply because this is the position the Vatican/Orthodoxy has shouted loudly for centuries has no bearing on the validity of the position itself.

The argument ignores completely the patriarchal agendas and politics behind a male-only priesthood, as if "Jesus only had male apostles" (which is itself not factual if you reduce "apostle" to "messenger", since Mary Magdalen was indisputably the first witness [although the significance of this is usually ignored] and messenger, or apostle, of the Resurrection) is a satisfactory answer to this question. It clearly is not.

José Solano said...

I appreciate the more civil discourse. Thank you.

In my first comment on this issue I clarified that Catholics recognize that there were ordained “deaconesses” (diakonissai) in the early church. They do not believe that they were “priests” in the sacerdotal sense. If we are honest with ourselves we will admit that the biblical and historical evidence for women priest is sparse, if any. We are really grasping at straws. So, I respect the conclusion that the Catholics, Orthodox and other Christians have made in this regard even as I harp on trivia to disagree. Merely throwing around the names of a lot of saintly and influential women in the early church hardly supports our argument. Remember that the Catholic Church has elevated a woman, the mother of Jesus, to a position above all other mortals, yet she was not a priest.

I understand that Church teaching is not or should not be driven by socio-political movements, that is, by political correctness. On the contrary, its teaching seeks to drive the socio-political situation. Many denominations today are driven by contemporary and malleable social constructs. They are not grounded in Scripture and Tradition.

I disagree with many things that the Catholics strongly believe, e.g., transubstantiation, priestly celibacy, repetitive liturgy and prayers, the Assumption of Mary, infant baptism, etc. And I mentioned: “I personally believe that we do have some Scriptural grounds by which women may justifiably become church ministers/priests under certain circumstances.” Hence, I am not a Catholic.

It would be strange indeed that I would be trying to corrupt these beliefs while trying to remain a Catholic. Just imagine that I would become a priest and then go out and be married civilly or find some bishop who would marry me. And certainly the argument against celibacy is far stronger than the argument for ordaining women priests. If I wanted to create scandal or make a political statement I might do that. That’s basically what Martin Luther did but he understood the consequences: Excommunication. And he became the first Lutheran.

It is important that people research the actual arguments of the Catholic/Orthodox church on issues. Their scholars are simply brilliant and formidable with some 2,000 years of focused study. They should not be underestimated and belittled by throwing little, out of context, biblical passages at them.

Today there are hundreds of “Christian” denominations to choose from or you could simply make up your own. I could become an Episcopalian and try to create havoc there. In fact, that’s exactly what some have been doing. It’s not my approach.

Bless and curse not.

Unknown said...

Jose; I'm not cursing orthodox Christians but I'm not blessing them either. Christianity is a very misunderstood religion especially by the orthodox community. You simply don't know what you are talking about. The Roman Catholic Church lost the plot centuries ago if they ever had it to begin with. If that's less than civil discourse to you, then you are the one who is irrational. Btw, I have some apostle's teeth for sale if you want them.
Richard B.

Phil Snider said...


I said easier, I didn't say that the doctrine of the priesthood of belief meant that one couldn't argue against female ordination, but, merely, that groups which have accepted it have also been (mainline) Protestants. I grant the disagreement, but I hope you grant the wider point that it tends to be (mainline) Protestant groups find it easier to accept this position.

Now, a general comment.

What is interesting here is the clash of traditions here which, I think, is leading to the heat because both sides are thinking they are obviously right. I find Jose's comment "If I were a Catholic I would be allowed to discuss and debate these views, and many other issues, but I couldn’t simply defy church teaching imagining that the church will simply capitulate to my defiance or that I’m setting some sort of good example to incite greater defiance." particulary interesting as well as Dr. DeConick's response that "If we were to list all of the people that the Catholic Church has considered a heretic, excommunicated, tortured and killed, I think it would put things into perspective. It would also show that some of the greatest minds in our culture, the ones that have moved us forward in our knowledge of ourselves and our world, have been official heretics like Galileo."

Both sides have a point here, although I think that Jose is, by and large, showing a more clear understanding of how people function in an intellectual tradition (or worldview). It is entirely possible to disagree within a tradition because the conversation can be understood as happening within that tradition. In that sense, the dissent is meant to fulfill the tradition's true self, not so much criticize the bases of the intellectual underpinings of the tradition as a whole.

This is where there is the difference between the criticisms we're seeing here and Jose's point here. The criticisms (valid or not) are aimed at the outside of the Catholic tradition and, hence, are as distorted as it is alleged the Catholic tradition is. Of course, they are because we aren't sharing the same lenses.

Okay, I know, this is all so po-mo and all, but, if we are going to be good scholars here, we have to be aware when we are crossing the frontiers of a worldview/tradition, or we will fail to understand what another person or culture is up to. We are seeing a culture clash here, so I wonder if we can factor that in and see that our best proofs are going to miss the point when translated in the idiom of the tradition we are critisizing.

Of course, that makes this discussion rather pointless ,so I don't know what else there is to say.


José Solano said...

Thank you Phil for once again trying to bring some temperance and objectivity to this discussion.

As I am neither a Catholic nor a Protestant nor do I have a radical feminist or anti-feminist agenda, I work to remain above the factional fray of these at times opposing camps. I do try to dispassionately examine the evidence and by doing so I sometimes have all sides opposing me. Well, so be it.

I am addressing Dr. DeConick’s post and some of the comments that deserve a response piece by piece.

I wish to now say something about Pastor Bob’s reference to Junia in Romans 16:7. There are two issues related to Junia[s], one is the spelling of the name Junia and the other is the question of Junia’s relationship to the Apostles. Was Junia seen as an Apostle or “well known to the apostles.” This I understand remains an open question though some may wish to jump to conclusions. I recommend the following for further understanding of the “The Double Identification Problem”: (http://www.bible.org/page.php?page_id=1163). The leaning of Dr. D. B. Wallace and others is towards the latter. Linda Belleville and others have also written on this subject with some different conclusions. I have not read them.

Junia is listed among numerous men and women that Paul is commending to be well received by the church in Rome. Phoebe, Mary, Priscilla, Julia, etc. are also mentioned in this list. Entire households are also mentioned. No conclusions can be formed about any of them being priests.

With respect to the action taken by Catholic Church in response to the recent wannabe priestesses we need to carefully read vs 17 of the same chapter 16.

It is only fair that I give you a Catholic reference on this issue. See http://forums.catholic.com/showthread.php?t=192643. The implication here seems to be that “apostle” would be an honorific expression or simply it means “messenger.” Nothing definitive is stated here.

Next, as time permits, I hope to address the reasoning fallacy related to the posted non sequitur that because women are not accepted as priests therefore all priests need be physically and culturally identical to the Apostles, that is, clones of the apostles.

paulf said...

Now I'm not saying that those who want to ordain women are wrong, but there are others who have studied the issue and find that if we can interpret the word apostle to mean "housewife," women really are unsuitable to do real spiritual stuff ...

Aw, let's dispense with the civility.

The point is that in the year 2008 women should be equal to men. Whatever it says in the books that comprise the Bible. Because they represent not much more than the opinions and understandings of people who lived in time and a society far different than our own. One few of us would want to live in today.

It's fun to try and figure out what Paul was trying to say. But to discriminate against women today because of what he or someone writing in his name wrote 1900+ years ago is irrational.

Timothy said...

This has been one of the better discussions on the ordination of women, however, at the end of the day, it still remains that Rome has no authority to ordain women and has definiteltively stated so. Nothing has changed and nothing is even remotely likely to change.

God bless...