Whilst I most definitely call myself a feminist I have come to the conclusion that supporting the ordination of female clergy is not entirely an indication of feminism. Yes, I support gender equality, and yes, if a woman feels spiritually inclined to take on priestly roles in religion (and for the purposes of this post I am really only discussing Judeo Christian concepts of priesthood) then of course there should be no obstacles to stop her from doing so. However, in this article I question whether female ordination really is something we girls should be striving for, or whether what we really should be doing is acknowledging religion as a male dominated construct and as such just reject the entire institution.
Ordination & Subordination – why women should never be ordained
Printed in Grok 2013 #3
I was twenty-one the first time I was excommunicated. The second time was at my own request.You may ask, why a second time? Getting excommunicated not just once, but twice, implies I saw the error of my ways – albeit temporarily – and returned to the fold appropriately contrite and willing to subjugate myself to the will of man/God.
This was far from the truth.
You see, my sin against man/God, was the most heinous of sins. Fornication. Don’t you just love that word? It’s so biblical. According to my Macquarie dictionary, fornication is “voluntary sexual intercourse between unmarried persons”, though personally I find the online Urban Dictionary definition more appealing: “Fornication; see ‘fuck’.”
But as exciting a topic as fornication is, the moral of my story really has nothing to do with fornicating, and everything to do with being fucked … over that is.
You see, I had gradually begun to suspect I was accessory to a global movement that sought to oppress women.
At the tender age of fourteen I had asked my Sunday school teacher why it was that only men held the priesthood. (Bear in mind I am coming from a Mormon background here where boys are automatically given the priesthood at age 12)
Why, I asked, were they in charge of everything? I even adopted a phrase I rather liked that I had picked up while eavesdropping on a conversation between my mother and her friend; “It’s all just a big boys club really.”
Over ensuing years I asked lots of questions. By some I was branded a rebel, which I took great offence to considering I wasn’t the one sneaking out for a smoke in the adjacent park between services. Nor did I ever drink alcohol or smoke pot in secret like my good little church-going friends who were seen as the epitome of youthful innocence and righteousness.
No, I just had questions. I was trouble.
It was my experience of excommunication that confirmed my suspicions that Christianity was patriarchal, engendered and thus flawed.
I attended my church court willingly. I entered a large conference room – the inner sanctum of the grand poobah’s – where mysterious men’s business of great import was conducted every Sabbath. In the centre of the room was a large conference table at the head of which sat the bishop, his two counsellors and the scribe; also male. I was given the chance to acknowledge and repent of my sin, evidence of which could be demonstrated by my agreeing to wed my co-fornicator on a date determined for me approximately one month later.
I informed this group of men that I wasn’t there to defend my actions or repent of any wrong doing. In fact I was not in the habit of doing wrong. Surely if I were doing something I thought to be wrong I would stop doing it? No. I was there to state that my membership of the church was dependent on my support of a set of beliefs and rules. Unfortunately I didn’t support them and so it seemed to me that excommunication was the right course of action, in fact, the only course of action if they were to uphold their own beliefs.
But what of my co-fornicator? He felt terrible, ashamed, burdened with sin. I’m sure the bishop was greatly relieved to hear this. To call a church court for my boyfriend, himself a holder of a priesthood title, would have required not only the bishopric in attendance, but an additional twelve men to decide his fate. Much easier to get rid of a woman.
For many years I supported the feminist argument that as spiritual and intellectual equals, women have the right to hold leadership positions in religion. Why would any self-respecting feminist think otherwise? But over the years as I have watched the argument unfold in the media and seen various faiths adopt the practice of female ordination, my own thoughts have shifted. The more the general populace accepted women clergy, the less comfortable I became with it. It seemed there was something missing in the argument, but I could never quite put my finger on it.
Mary Daly, radical feminist philosopher, academic, and theologian puts it nicely;
“Tokenism does not change stereotypes of social systems but works to preserve them, since it dulls the revolutionary impulse.”
Tokenism. We’re getting close.
Yes, female clergy appeared to me a token gesture, one designed to calm our disturbed uterus’ which having achieved the end goal had apparently turned our hysteria into post-coital bliss.
But I still wasn’t satisfied that this was the missing argument.
While taking a unit in Anthropology at UWA I learned to define religion as a cultural system, one made up of symbols and practices that served to shape the deepest values of society. It occurred to me that symbols and practices were more than a set of definitive morals. It was bigger than that. Deeper. More pervasive.
Something so big was standing right in front of me that I had missed it entirely, yes, even I had come to accept it as the cultural norm; man/God.
Many of us feminist types like to throw in the idea that God is a woman. Alanis Morrisette portrayed woman/God in the movie Dogma; Emily Watson in a much more oblique sense in Breaking Waves. But in general two thousand years of cultural manipulation has entrenched the idea that God is male, and as such the entire male species has become representative of higher power on a global scale. We are much more ready to accept the idea that Morgan Freeman can be God than a woman. Even the god-fearing members of The Klan might be challenged in this regard; black man, white woman, which is the lesser of the two evils?
To quote Mary Daly again from her book Beyond God the Father,
“‘God’s plan’ is often a front for men’s plans and a cover for inadequacy, ignorance, and evil.”
I realised Gods very existence as male legitimised a world in which I as a women existed only as a vessel for male progeny.
We are getting closer to the missing argument now, but before I do I think a quick run-down of the main arguments for and against female ordination is in order.
Author and theologian father Dwight Logenecker … who can take anyone seriously with a name like that? … claims that feminists have only put forward three very broad arguments, none of which come even remotely close to the academic theological musings he himself is capable of. And they are:
Utilitarianism; she is capable of carrying out the required tasks of the clergy and can do them well, so she is useful, particularly when it comes to understanding the needs of the female laity.
Sentimentalism; ahhhh, women, so sensitive, so emotional, so in tune with matters of the heart. Women have natural empathy, are gentle and kind, so she is suited to the job.
Civil Rights; men and women are equal. End of discussion.
Of course there are in fact some real theological arguments for the ordination of women – women can muse academically too – but they all come down to interpretation of both historical practices and religious texts. I’ve organised these into three theological arguments just to prove to Father Logenecker I have a brain and I’m not afraid to use it.
Firstly, and as already covered, cultural bias. That is to say cultural systems engendered by patriarchy have affected men’s view of women’s power as both inferior, unclean, and dangerous. As women we are by our very nature, and by virtue of our sister Eve, considered evil. This view is archaic and it’s time to let it go.
Secondly, there is this thing called latent tradition, which is defined by Pope Benedict XVI (aka Joseph Ratzinger) as the gospel which was not written but was taught by word of mouth and “simply entrusted to the hearts of the faithful”. This “gospel of the heart” at one time openly accepted the idea that women were ordained as priests. Mary was perhaps the one most accepted in this role and was often referred to as a priest until the church forbade the reference in 1922.
Lastly, Jesus did not specify that priesthood was a male domain. According to the very book Christianity is founded on, we all become like Christ through baptism.
“There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus.” (Galatians. 3:28)
This passage, taken from the King James Version implies that through baptism women have just as much right as men to hold the priesthood.
The idea that Jesus actually empowered women as priests is a really important clue in my quest for the missing argument, so I’ll come back to it later.
Of course, as any experienced bible basher would know, for every scripture quoted in support of one cause, there is another designed to refute it;
“I do not permit a woman to have authority over a man in church.” (I Timothy. 2:12)
In some weird convoluted way the general consensus theologians pose against ordaining women is that man is alter christus as in, he plays the role of Christ because like Christ, he is a man, this is known as redemptive sacrifice.
Likewise, women have their own redemptive sacrifice, basically that they are women, and thus mothers, which despite some women’s choice not to be, is still considered a non-negotiable thing, because men can’t bear children. Ergo, it is as impossible for a woman to be a priest as much as it is impossible for a man to be a mother. This according to Father Logenecker is all about the natural order of things.
“When we play about with these core truths that come to us from the natural order we do so at our peril, for they were put there by the creator himself for our good and the good of the whole human race.”
So here is where my missing argument comes in, in its own convoluted way.
If – as written by Paul in Galatians – Christ stated that men and women are equal in his eyes and therefore in the eyes of God, then it seems pretty likely that Christ was not as misogynistic as his post-enlightenment followers would have us believe.
This is my argument.
What Christ taught and what Christianity teaches is not one and the same. Regardless of what Christ thought about the spiritual enlightenment of humanity as a whole, somewhere along the line things changed.
One only has to look at the pomp and ceremony associated with Catholicism and other such older forms of Christianity to know that something got lost in translation. Poor old Jesus would be rolling over in his ossuary box if he knew the atrocities associated with his name today. If he saw the expensive garments, the ridiculous phallic hats, the big fat precious gem stones begging to be kissed, and, the acquisition of ridiculous wealth spent on such worthwhile human endeavours as the $1.5 billion temple of consumption also known as City Creek Shopping Centre in Salt Lake City Utah.
As a woman I reject the token gesture of female ordination for I reject the patriarchal intuition of Christianity as whole. What woman in her right mind would aspire to walking around with a big embroidered penis on her head? As Daly said much better than I, the church as we know it was created by men for men; to cover up their inadequacies, to maintain a sense of power and control.
So why is it than men feel such inadequacy? Well, that I cannot answer. Perhaps it is their disconnection from the workings of the universe. That we as women, share the creation. Our cycles, deemed unclean, in sync with the cycle of the earth, our bodies capable of bringing forth and sustaining life.
The second time I was excommunicated it was at my own request. To participate would be to deny my creation, my ordination would be nothing more than a new form of subordination, and to the subordination of women, this woman says, “No!”
Link to print article: http://issuu.com/curtinguild/docs/grok4_2013_issu/20?e=1188212/5361181