Friday, April 27, 2012

On Women in Ministry...

I've got lots of friends on all sides of the current debates in the Church of England about women in ministry. As usual, I'm not towing any party line in particular, but here are a few questions I don't think I've seen good answers to.

Questions for Supporters of Women Bishops

  • Men and women are blatantly different, and the differences aren't just in terms of genitalia. No-one in this debate is arguing that women are inferior. The evangelical end of the debate is about whether biological, psychological, theological and ontological differences between men and women mean that they should have different ministries in the light of Scripture. And yet so often it seems like you rule out that possibility before even beginning to engage in debate. Why?
  • As it currently stands, a significant minority of the C of E take the view that the majority of the church has for the majority of its history, that the Bible teaches that certain roles within the church should be restricted to men only. Many of them believe that not because they uncritically accept tradition, but because they have thought and prayed about the issue and in good conscience come to the conclusion that the restriction still stands. Given that, even if they are wrong, what is the most Christian way to treat them?
  • If the objectors to the Consecration of Women are wrong, surely they classify as "weaker brethren" a la Romans 14. Why then aren't we acting towards them as such?

Questions for Opponents of Women Bishops

  • There are many requirements in Scripture for overseers / bishops. Why is the requirement that bishops be male any more important than that the bishops be able to teach, or that they be of good repute in the community (for example)? Personally, I can think of women I'd much rather have as my bishop than several men I know of who are bishops!
  • It might be wrong for the C of E to allow women to become bishops - I'm sure they way they are going about it is wrong - but if the C of E does allow it, don't those women then become an authority set over us a la Romans 13, and so isn't the right response to submit to them?
  • Why is 1 Corinthians 11 sometimes used in the debate? If it teaches that men are ontologically the heads of women (which is the only way it is relevant to this debate), it means that I am head over the Queen. Isn't it much more likely about marriage?
  • Are you all right with Deborah acting as she did in Judges? Why / why not?

And finally, a question for both sides

  • Why do both sides in the debate seem so sure on what 1 Tim 2:11-12 means when one of the key words is a hapax legomenon and when no-one has an entirely coherent account of what Eve is doing being saved through childbearing just two verses later? That suggests to me that we don't properly understand the context, so there is therefore scope for our interpretation, whatever it is, to be wrong.


Mike Dowler said...

Hi John,
let me kick things off (as an 'opponent').
Q1) Yes - there are several requirements in Scripture (though it is not particularly clear that they are referring to a 'bishop' as defined by the CofE, not that I think that this matters hugely. I don't think that any opponent is suggesting that we can select any single requirement and ignore the others though - we want bishops who are sound Christian men, of good repute and able to teach the Bible.

There are a couple of reasons why we are currently talking about the unsuitability of women, and not discussing the unsuitability of certain current male bishops:
a. The proposed legislative change is only about women. If we were about to change the rules to allow (for example) male polygamists to be bishops, I (for one) would be just as strong in opposition. Women bishops just happens to be the battle at the moment.

b. Ability to teach is a question of degree, rather than nature. My standard of 'good Bible teacher' is different to someone else's. By contrast, gender is more easily defined. Thus, whilst I might prefer one candidate over another, in most cases it is impossible to justify a public campaign on the issue.


John said...

Agreed they aren't talking about bishops in the full C of E sense. For starters, overseers in the NT are always members of a local church, which makes a lot more sense...

Daniel Hill said...

This is what, for what it's worth, I think that the opponents of female bishops think. Not all give the same answers to your questions, of course.
(1) I think most would say here that while you are right that there are many requirements in Scripture for overseers/bishops, this is the only one that the C of E is *intentionally* going against at the moment. If the C of E said `we know that these people aren't able to teach, but we just don't think that that Scripture is relevant today or means quite what evangelicals think' then there would be an equal reaction, I think.
(2) Most hold that Romans 13 is about authority in the state, not the church, and that it is right to resist those attempting to become wrongful secular leaders anyway. Also, there are some that interpret Romans 13 differently from you: in the Civil War, for example, many Bible believers thought Charles I was an invalid leader, and so not covered by Romans 13 (and similarly in the American War of Independence). This is relevant in that many opposed to female bishops think that their ministry would be invalid as well as illicit.
(3) I think some of the opponents of female bishops regard 1 Cor. 11 as refuting the absolute egalitarianism that underlies some of the arguments in favour of female bishops.
(4) Some people (e.g. Schreiner) think that Deborah's role as judge was not akin to that of a bishop, being more of a civic role (she wasn't a priest, for example). Others think that she was exercising her ministry under the headship of Barak (whom some think the same as Lappidoth). Others (e.g Calvin) think that she was an exception divinely ordained at the time, but that the NT offers us no reason to expect such today, and that, even if there were such exceptions, the legislation in question proposes to make female bishops normal rather than exceptional.
(5) I think that while most opponents of female bishops would admit that they aren't sure what Eve is doing being saved through childbearing they would point out that this is the reason given in the text for the prohibition on women's teaching and having authority over men, and that one can understand a prohibition even if one doesn't understand its reason. Finally, I think many opponents think `whatever precisely it means it is teaching different church roles for men and women'.

John Smuts said...

Good questions.

One comment on Deborah though - I'm puzzled why Judges 4 is ever used as a pro-egalitarian argument. The bulk of the story revolves around Barak being a wimp and how he is judged for his refusal to assume 'male headship'. Isn't verse 9 the punchline?

John said...

I think we agree about the main point of Deborah - Barak is a complete wimp. But because of that, several issues come up.

First, Deborah is described as a prophetess. She clearly has some kind of leadership / teaching role, even if under the authority of Barak.

Second, when Barak doesn't lead properly, Deborah does, and that is seen as ok. But many conservative evangelicals I know would disagree with a woman taking the lead even if the men weren't leading properly. In fact, one could argue that there clearly aren't enough men coming forwards to lead churches in the C of E, so it's only right that women who are willing should be allowed to do so...

Daniel Hill said...

I don't think it's exegetically correct to say `when Barak doesn't lead properly, Deborah does'. Deborah goes up *with* Barak (4: 9 and 4: 10), but it is Barak that summons the others (4: 10), and the men go under `his' (not `their') command (4: 10; cf. 5: 15). Deborah then passes on a prophecy to Barak (4: 11), but it seems from the word `Go' (rather than `Come') that Barak then goes down without Deborah. It might seem from 5:7 that she assumes the leadership when the men are unwilling, but 5:12 has Deborah singing while Barak leads the captives. (In fact we know from 5:1 that they both sang.) I think the egalitarian case has primarily been based on 4:4, which was the object of my comments in (4) in my previous post.