Thursday, December 8, 2011

In Favor of Women's Ordination

Below is the second part of my "utrum" paper on the issue of women's ordination. This part of the paper attempts to lay out the case for women's ordination, stating the case thoroughly and fairly but without counter-argument. Strangely, it was harder to write than the case against women's ordination, although the process probably involved much lower risk of aneurysm. Tomorrow, I'll post the third and final part, my conclusion on whether it is theologically sound to ordain women to ministry.

Sed Contra: On the other hand, the ordination of women must be considered theologically valid.

Many women feel specifically called to ordination and are uniquely gifted for pastoral ministry. When a woman has carefully discerned the will of God, in some cases experiencing a dramatic call to the pulpit and the parish in a voice or a vision, how can the church claim that God’s will is for her to ignore that call?

Ordination of women is a matter of respecting divine vocatio. In Not Every Spirit, Christopher Morse writes that “Christian faith refuses to believe that God calls anyone to reject the particular gifts that God gives uniquely to each human life to make it whole” (267). God would not give women the aptitude for ministry and a sense of call to ordination, only to ask them to ignore this call. Neither, then, should the church ignore this call.

Furthermore, ordination for women is consistent with biblical witness. In the midst of a patriarchal society, Jesus defied societal norms by treating women with dignity and respect, maintaining friendships with women including Mary and Martha, and including women in his ministry. Jesus’ ministry included healing many women (Luke 13:10-17; Mark 5:25-34; Matthew 8:14-15); parables such as the unjust judge and the lost coin place marginalized women at the center (Luke 18:1-8; Luke 15:8-10) In the Gospel of John, we read of the woman at the well, with whom Jesus had a long conversation even though his disciples “were astonished that he was speaking with a woman” (4:27). Jesus’ disregard for social mores around gender calls into question the assertion that women must necessarily be proscribed from certain roles in God’s ecclesia.

Women in the Gospels take on pastoral and ministerial roles. The woman at the well is arguably the first person to preach the good news, announcing to her town, “Come and see a man who told me everything I have ever done! He cannot be the Messiah, can he?” (4:29). All of the Gospels agree that women were the first to find out that Christ had been resurrected from the dead. Furthermore, in Matthew, Mark, and John these women are explicitly bidden to spread the good news, and in Matthew, Luke, and John, the women are the first to the disciples of the resurrection. In light of these clear scriptural instances of women being sent to spread the news of what has happened with Jesus, it seems that there is biblical support for the ordination of women.

The shift toward women’s ordination in the last two hundred year reflects the ongoing guidance of the Holy Spirit, leading the church to grow in faithfulness to the will of God. The first woman to be ordained in America was a Congregationalist in 1853. Since that time, many Christian traditions have embraced the ordination of women, including mainline Protestant groups, Evangelical traditions, and many parts of the Anglican Communion. These widespread changes in policy, undertaken in prayerful discernment, demonstrate that many Christian communities around the world are discerning that the ordination of women to ministry is the will of God.

The church’s shift towards women’s ordination coincides with the secular movement for women’s rights and equality. On its own, feminism in the secular world is a poor reason to change church standards of ordination. However, if the church arbitrarily resists gender equality in the name of preserving tradition, it risks being seen as archaic and irrelevant. When our growing societal awareness of gender equality is combined with the testimony of women’s experiences of call, the witness of scripture, and discernment that God is leading the church to ordain women, it is clear that women’s ordination is theologically valid.

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