I saw a T shirt, ‘God is an equal opportunities employer – pity about the church!’
20th November 2012 saw the debacle in which a handful of Church of England members were able to scupper the Church’s plans to introduce women bishops. It was later reversed, but not to universal acclaim.
The argument against women bishops centred on a number of fallacies. The first (and most obvious) is that 21st Century humans should pay blind obedience to words written nearly two millenia ago by people belonging to a primitive society very different to ours. Opponents of women clergy claim that the scriptures state unequivocally that only men are suitable for the calling. They say Yeshua himself was a man, he chose only male disciples and there are biblical references to women taking a subsidiary role in church. These don’t come from Yeshua himself, but from his self-appointed, celibate and seemingly misogynistic apostle, Paul.
Paul clearly regarded women as subservient to men. For example, in Corinthians 1 he stated that a husband is the head of his wife and tells women to cover their heads when prophesying. Nor did he regard them as suitable leaders. ‘Paul’s First Letter to Timothy’ sets out the author’s advice for running a church. ‘I permit no woman to teach or have authority over a man; she is to keep silent’, he wrote. He then tells women that their salvation comes from having children, which makes me wonder what devout and celibate nuns make of that!
There are many reasons for not relying on these words. For a start, Paul didn’t write them. The letters to Timothy were written in the final decade of the First Century (thirty years after Paul’s death) by an unknown author. It was considered perfectly acceptable in those days to ‘borrow’ the name of a deceased person and express what the author thought that person would have said had they still been alive. That’s what the author(s) of most of the New Testament letters did.
The early Christian community was noted for its egalitarian attitude to the genders, which brought condemnation from their Jewish neighbours. By the end of the First Century some Jewish Christians thought it had gone too far. 1Timothy was part of their attempt to put Christian women back in their place.
Secondly, the ‘Purity Laws’ that ruled Jewish religious practice decreed that women were less pure than men due to their natural bodily processes of childbirth and menstruation, and because they don’t have a penis (yes, really!!).
Thirdly, we don’t know for sure what the original passages actually said. All the New Testament writings were augmented, edited, redacted, translated and mistranslated many times before reaching their final form. That year, church leaders in Rome recognised today’s 27 books as the New Testament, but by then many ‘adjustments’ had already been made. Women were thought to be a distraction and carry a greater burden of sin than men. The evidence was the story of Eve and the serpent in the Garden of Eden, proof of the evilness of women.
Another fallacy that was put forward by opponents of women bishops is that the Church of England should pay heed to the wider community of churches, including the Roman Catholics. But excuse me, didn’t the Protestant churches break away from Rome precisely because they didn’t agree with Catholic teachings and practices? Fortunately in 2014 the C of E took the lead. By then the outgoing and incoming Archbishops of Canterbury supported women bishops, and even Pope Francis was moving slowly in that direction.
Who can seriously argue that women are not just as capable of being good priests, ministers, bishops – and Popes – as men? Women have proved their worth as ministers in many denominations for many years. Aren’t many of the feminine traits the essence of spirituality? Yeshua certainly thought so. The gospels say he cared deeply for women, and frequently put his reputation on the line by praising them.
It’s time for enlightened 21st Century thinking to put unenlightened and outdated 1st Century thinking in its place in every denomination. I just hope I live long enough to see it!
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Copyright David Lawrence Preston, 23.3.2016
 1 Corinthians 11:5
Hay House/Balboa Press, 2015