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Ten Objections to Women Priests

Ten Objections to Women Priests

By Alice C. Linsley
Special to Virtueonline
www.virtueonline.org
November 25, 2019

As a woman who served as a priest in the Episcopal Church for 16 years, I have some experience of the nature of the priesthood. In 1982, with the encouragement of my parish clergy, friends and family, it seemed the right course for my life. Over the years, I began to question the rationale for women priests. I remember feeling that I was standing in another's shoes, not appropriately mine. I wanted to explain this to my bishop, but he clearly did not want to hear it.

Galatian 3:28 has been used to justify the innovation of women priests: "There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus." In the fourth century, St. Epiphanius remarked that the heretical Cataphyrgians (Montanists) employed Galatians 3:28 to elevate women as "bishops and priests and they say nothing makes a difference 'For in Christ Jesus there is neither male nor female.'''

Reading Galatians 3:28 in context, it is apparent that Paul is speaking of the unity of the body of Christ. He is not promoting gender equality as it is framed today. As the Supper was intended to unite the participants to the Head, Jesus Christ, the idea of a woman presiding at the Feast would have been unthinkable.

My doubts made the priestly ministry increasingly burdensome and problematic. As a heterosexual, Bible-believing, Anglican Traditionalist, I found no affirmation in the Episcopal Church as it moved toward a radical revision of the Gospel, setting aside the Apostolic Tradition for its social justice agenda.

Eventually, I renounced orders in the Episcopal Church and left that body. This initiated a decade of reflection on the role of women in the Church and the historic priesthood. During that time, I was in conversation with three former women priests who were seeking clarity also. One entered the Roman Catholic Church and the others entered the Orthodox Church of America. I explored both traditions, but I am thoroughly Anglican and have been for forty-three years.

I have written on the question of women priests, exploring it through Biblical studies, Church history, and cultural anthropology. As with many Anglicans, I believe that the Episcopal Church erred in 1976 when it departed from the all-male priesthood. On a single day the General Convention of the Episcopal Church overthrew catholic orders, rejected the teaching of the Fathers, and denied the authority of Holy Scripture.

Historically, the priesthood of the Church was restricted to a few chosen men, tested and carefully formed for the priestly office. In his treatise "On the Priesthood," St. John Chrysostom wrote, "When one is required to preside over the Church, and be entrusted with the care of so many souls, the whole female sex must retire before the magnitude of the task, and the majority of men also."

Not a single woman served in the office of priest until 1944, at which time Florence Li Tim-Oi was ordained by Ronald Hall, Bishop of Victoria, Hong Kong, in response to the crisis among Anglicans in Communist China. She later stepped down from serving as a priest.

The first woman "canonically" ordained to the priesthood in the United States was a lesbian who served as Integrity's first co-president. Other lesbians had been among the Philadelphia Eleven. In the United States, the ordination of women and homosexuals was so intertwined from the beginning that it is difficult to treat these as separate questions. Both have been framed as "equal rights" issues, revealing a profound misunderstanding of the priesthood. The priesthood is not a right, and it is not a reward to be bestowed upon those who will advance a body's agenda.

In this paper I address ten reasonable objections to women in the priesthood:
1. The Church is not a democratic body.
2. Women's ordination is linked to homosexual activism.
3. Women's ordination is rooted in Feminist thought.
4. Women priests perpetuate confusion about gender.
5. Women priests represent rejection of the authority Scripture and Tradition
6. Women priests cause confusion about the Eucharist.
7. Women priests represent a denial of the Fathers' teaching.
8. Ordination of women to the priesthood undermines women's ministries.
9. The feminization of the clergy discourages men's participation in the church.
10. A female at the altar blurs the biblical distinction between life and death.

1. The Church is not a democracy

In 1994, Pope John Paul II spoke ex cathedra on female ordination, observing that the male priesthood had been "preserved by the constant and universal Tradition of the Church and clearly taught by the Magisterium in recent documents." He stated that the Church has "no authority to confer priestly ordination on women."

Synods may vote to conform "the constant and universal Tradition of the church" to the world's shifting values. That invariably results in the loss of spiritual heritage and places the body outside the catholic Faith, which is where the Episcopal Church is today.

No jurisdiction has authority to set aside the all-male priesthood. The Body of Christ does not concede to the unilateral action of the Episcopal Church. The Church is not a democratic body in which dogma, doctrine, and the received tradition are changed or set aside by a vote.

2. Women's ordination is linked to homosexual activism

Historically, a clear link exists between the push for women priests and homosexual activism. In 1974, the same year that Louie Crew founded the homosexual activist organization Integrity eleven women, including known lesbians, were ordained in Philadelphia.

In September 1975, more lesbians were ordained in Washington D.C. Here is the account in Louie Crew's words: "More 'irregular' ordinations of women took place... after our convention. In Washington at the time, on a missionary journey to our new chapters in the east, Jim Wickliff and I yielded to the counsel of friends who advised that our visibility at the ordination might put in jeopardy lesbians among all early ordinands."

In 1976 the General Convention of the Episcopal Church affirmed homosexual behavior when it passed the "we are children of God" resolution.

In 1977, Bishop Paul Moore (NY) ordained Ellen Marie Barrett, who had served as Integrity's first co-president.

Breaking catholic orders was necessary to opening the priesthood to partnered gay and lesbian persons.

3. Women's ordination is rooted in Feminist thought.

Ideological Feminism is not about equal pay for equal work. It is not an ideology of love, forgiveness, reconciliation, and equality. It is a Marxist ideology that reframes the economic antagonism between classes as a struggle between men and women. As in Marxism, radical feminism seeks to shift control of institutions and society to women. As such, ideological Feminism must oppose biblical headship as an expression of the sovereignty of God Father and God Son.

Feminist arguments are usually baseless and often irrational. Susan Cornwall argues that women can be priests because Jesus was a woman. By this ridiculous assertion she hopes to confront "discrimination against women" which she believes "is based on the tradition of Jesus having chosen only male apostles."

In 2015, Canon Emma Percy of the Church of England said, "In the last two or three years we've seen a real resurgence and interest in feminism, and younger people are much more interested in how gender categories shouldn't be about stereotypes. We need to have a language about God that shows God can be expressed in lots of diverse terms."

Percy wants to speak of God Father and God Mother. Attacking a straw man argument, she said, "Using both male and female language would get rid of the notion that God is some kind of old man in the sky."

4. Women priests perpetuate confusion about gender.

Why draw the line at male and female language for God? On this slippery slope we may slide into casting God as transgendered or, like a crossdresser, being one gender but appearing as another. In a New York Times Opinion piece (Aug. 2016), Rabbi Mark Sameth makes a case for gender fluidity by citing examples in the Bible of male and female pronouns being exchanged or reversed. However, Sameth never claims that the God of the Hebrew Scriptures is transgender.

Jacques Derrida and others have noted that gender reversals in literature point to mystery. Derrida noted that in narratives when a gender reversal takes place, the other becomes the dominant voice. Normally, the dominant voice is that of the Male Principle/Presence, but when the reversal takes place, the Female Principle/Presence is in action. There are many examples of this in the Old Testament which explains why the Hebrew pronouns are sometimes ambiguous.

Genesis 3:15, the earliest Messianic reference in the Bible, is the most striking example of the mystery of gender reversal. The Hebrew says, "He will crush you a head and you will crush us a heel." The subject of the verb is the third person, masculine, singular (he) and the imperfect tense of the verb indicates action yet to be completed. The suffix ך identifies the object of the verb as second person, masculine, singular (you). This would be translated as "he will crush you" and the message is directed to the serpent.

In the Vulgate, St. Jerome gives "ipsa" as the nominative feminine singular of ipse though ipsa is sometimes the nominative neuter plural. Jerome's rendering of Genesis 3:15 reads: Inimicitias ponam inter te et mulierem, et semen tuum et semen illius: ipsa conteret caput tuum, et tu insidiaberis calcaneo eius. God says to the serpent, "I will put enmities between you and the woman, between your offspring and her offspring. She will crush your head, and you will lie in wait for her heel."

In his Commentaria in Scripturam Sacram the Jesuit priest Cornelius a Lapide (1567-1637) recognized the significance of gender reversal in the Hebrew Bible. He resolved the problem of the verb in the masculine (yashuph, conteret), citing the interplay of gender in Hebrew: the masculine being used in place of the feminine and vice-versa when there is some mystery, anomaly, or singularity. Lapide wrote, "frequent exchange of gender in Hebrew: the masculine being used in place of the feminine and vice-versa, especially when there is present some cause or mystery."

5. Women priests represent rejection of the authority of Scripture and Tradition

The fact that the gender exchange involves only male and female indicates that the biblical view of humanity is binary, not transgender, not homosexual, and not a spectrum.

Though the interplay of male and female language in Scripture hints at the mystery of the Godhead, it does not pertain to God. In Christianity, God has self-revealed as Father of the Son, Jesus Christ. As Fr. Thomas Hopko recognized, "In his actions in and toward the world of his creation, the one God and Father reveals himself primarily and essentially in a 'masculine' way." (Women and the Priesthood, p 240.)

The Church's relationship to God is expressed in the language it uses in prayer and the language it uses in speaking about God. That is exactly why we preserve the biblical language for God Father and God Son. The language is not negotiable. "Whoever denies the Son does not have the Father; whoever confesses the Son has the Father as well." (1 John 2:23) This is the kerygma, as John makes clear: "And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent His Son to be the Savior of the world. If anyone confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God." (1 John 4:14-15)

The language of God Father and God Son is as essential to the Gospel as the dogmas of Jesus' two natures and the Trinity.

Those who applaud women priests acknowledge that women at the altar change the way we think about God. The Rev. Serene Jones, the first woman president of Union Theological Seminary, said exactly that: "When the people who are representing God, making God present, have female bodies, that inevitably changes the way you think about how God is."

This revisionist language represents a rejection of the Bible's authority. Setting aside the language of the Bible is preliminary to replacing holy men at the altar. Females and persons who identify as "other" claim presidency at the Eucharist. They change the traditional prayers according to their whims and dismiss the formularies of the catholic Faith. They invent narratives to work around Scripture and Tradition since they have dismissed the received Faith as sexist, patriarchal, and outdated.

6. Women priests cause confusion about the Eucharist.

When Anglicans contemplate reception of Christ's Body and Blood in the Eucharist, it is appropriate to see before them a masculine form. Likewise, in contemplation of the Annunciation and Incarnation we properly have before us an image/icon of Mary, not a masculine form. The narrative of gender equality at the altar changes the sign of His sacrifice, resurrection, and promise of immortality to the baptized. It reframes the Eucharist to avoid the reality of Jesus, the Male God. The product is sadly inferior as it resembles pagan commemorative feasts.

7. Women priests represent a denial of the Fathers' teaching.

The invented narrative also represents a denial of the authority of the Church Fathers who urge diligence in maintaining the received Tradition. Ignatius of Antioch adjures, "Be diligent, therefore, to use one eucharist, for there is one flesh of our Lord Jesus Christ, and one cup, for union with his blood; one altar, even as there is one bishop, together with the presbytery and the deacons who are my fellow-servants, to the end that whatever ye do, ye may do it according unto God. (Philadelphians 4.1)

Women priests are evidence of the Western church's love of innovation. Speaking against this tendency, St. Basil the Great wrote, "The dogmas of the Fathers are held in contempt, the Apostolic traditions are disdained, the churches are subject to the novelties of innovators" (Letter 90, To the Most Holy Brethren and Bishops Found in the West). The Great Schism of 1054, and the lesser fractures that produced a plethora of denominations, come from pride and innovation.

The Church Fathers have a clear consensus on the question of women and the priesthood. St. Epiphanius, in "Against Heresies" (79.304), wrote: "If women were ordained to be priests for God or to do anything canonical in the church, it should rather have been given to Mary. . . She was not even entrusted with baptizing. Although there is an order of deaconesses in the church, yet they are not appointed to function as priests, or for any administration of this kind, but so that provision may be made for the propriety of the female sex [at nude baptisms]. Whence comes the recent myth? Whence comes the pride of women or rather, the woman's insanity?"

In his treatise "On the Priesthood" (3.9) St. John Chrysostom wrote: "Divine law has excluded women from the sanctuary, but they try to thrust themselves into it."

St. Augustine, "On Heresies" (27) refers to the heretical Pepuzians mentioned by St. Epiphanius. "They give such principality to women that they even honor them with priesthood."

8. The Ordination of women to the priesthood undermines women's ministries.

The Episcopal Church's top-down corporate model of leadership has not encouraged lay women in local ministries. Instead, the Episcopal Church proudly elevates women to the episcopacy. In 2019, seven women were elected as diocesan or suffragan bishops. Women with leadership gifts are needed to organize and lead vital ministries in the parishes, in prisons, and to oversee outreach to the poor, elderly, and sick. They are not needed as priests and bishops, roles that isolate them from other women and from grass root ministries. The priesthood by its very nature is isolating. Women priests often feel doubly isolated from parishioners and from a church leadership that regards them as a social justice issue.

9. The feminization of the clergy discourages men's participation in the church.

In his 1999 book The Church Impotent: The Feminization of Christianity, Leon Podles looked at attendance trends in Roman Catholic and Protestant churches and noted that the more liberal Protestant churches saw a decrease in male attendance from 47% to 40-35% between 1952 and 1986.

The trend is evident in the Church of England. In 1994, thirty-two women were ordained as priests in the Church of England. A February 2014 report in The Guardian states that between 2002 and 2012, the number of female full-time clergy increased by 41%. During the same period, the number of full-time male clergy dropped from 7,920 to 6,017.

The 2018 report reveals that the number of female clergy in the Church of England continues to rise with more women than men preparing for ordained ministry for the second year running.

From 2017 to 2018, the proportion of senior posts such as dean or bishop occupied by women rose from 23% to 25%. The figures do not include the six new female bishops in 2018, bringing the total number of female bishops in the Church of England to 24.

The 1992 decision to ordain women to the priesthood in the Church of England has been followed by the stated objective of having a 50%-50% census. To accomplish this means pushing women forward and denying some men.

Perhaps of greater importance is the number of fathers who regularly attend worship. Studies have shown that fathers are the greatest influence on whether their children also attend church. Writing on the importance of fathers in church, Robbie Low said, "To minister to a fatherless society, these churches, in their unwisdom, have produced their own single-parent family parish model in the woman priest."

10. A female at the altar blurs the biblical distinction between life and death.

Speaking from the perspective of Biblical Anthropology, the priesthood of the Church stands in continuity with the Hebrew priesthood that was known to Abraham and his ancestors. As the author of Hebrews attests, Jesus is the perfect embodiment of that ancient priestly office (Hebrews 7:17). The priest's office is unique, deeply rooted in archaic religion, and stands as an ensign of the hope for immortality.

Anthropological research indicates that the priesthood originated among people who observed the binary distinction of male and female blood work. The priesthood is about blood sacrifice and blood covering. Consider the context of blood work in traditional societies. Men do the blood work that involves taking life: combat, hunting, and animal sacrifice. Women do the blood work that involves giving life: the monthly blood flow, and blood from the birth process.

Women were never priests because women were not permitted in the place of blood work that involves death. Likewise, men were not allowed in the birthing hut. The gender roles reflect the distinction between life and death, a distinction that God warns the covenant people not to blur. "This day I call the heavens and the earth as witnesses against you that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life, so that you and your children may live..." (Deuteronomy 30: 15-20). A woman at the altar represents confusion about the binary nature of blood work in the biblical context.

The blood work of Jesus, the Son of God, is unique. His work on the Cross is both condemnation to those who are perishing and life to those who are being saved (Romans 1:16; 1 Corinthians 1:18-21). The faithful priest is a man whose life is a testimony to the reality of the blood of Christ, the cup of salvation.

Alice C. Linsley lives in North Carolina. She has been pioneering the field of Biblical Anthropology for nearly 40 years, and she is a regular contributor at VOL.

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