Saturday, January 3, 2015

Rethinking Gender Equality

Alice C. Linsley

The egalitarian doctrine held by feminists has made significant inroads in the churches. In this view women and men are equal in function, opportunity, and potential. On this basis women are ordained priests in some Anglican jurisdictions and even elevated to bishop. The gender distinctions observed in the order of creation and recognized in the canonical texts are overthrown.

It does not matter that not a single priest named in the Scriptures was a woman. Apparently, even Evangelicals who claim to uphold the authority of Scripture have fallen into the egalitarian heresy. The Evangelical complementarians accept the ordination of women to the priesthood, but illogically reject having female bishops since this contradicts their headship principle. It would serve them well to consider the difference between their complementarianism and the binary reasoning of the Bible.

They say that a picture is worth a thousand words and that is certainly the case with these pictures that serve as additional clues as to the error of the complementarian and egalitarian doctrines.

Writing about "Priestesses in the Church" C. S. Lewis describes such an innovation as a "wanton degree of imprudence." Imprudence was personified in the person of Ann Holmes Redding who served on Sundays as an Episcopal priest at St. Clement's of Rome Episcopal Church in Seattle while also dedicating her life to the study of the Quran with a Muslim group.

Some advocates of women in the priesthood have completely lost their grip on common sense. Susannah Cornwall argues that women can be priests because Jesus was a woman! This is her way of confronting "discrimination against women" which she believes "is based on the tradition of Jesus having chosen only male apostles." Of course, this is not the rationale for the all-male priesthood as it is revealed in the Bible, nor is this view supported historically, theologically, or anthropologically.

None of the apostles were priests. The three priests who were followers of Jesus were James the Just, Nicodemus, and Joseph of Hari-Mathea who was called "bouleut─ôs" which means honorable counselor. All were men and all were of the Horite ruler-priest lines. The Christian priesthood emerged from the pattern of the Horite priests. In their worldview male and female were not regarded as equals. This was based on their observation of patterns in nature. It is clear that males are stronger and larger than females. They are the best equipped to protect, fight wars, hunt, and sacrifice large, powerful animals. This is the nature of the blood work of males. It mainly concerns taking life so that, through the shedding of blood, life can be sustained.

Females, on the other hand, are created to perform a different kind of blood work: one that concerns giving life. Their work involves the shedding of blood in first intercourse, in their monthly cycle, and in childbearing. In the binary reasoning of the Bible the blood work of males and females speaks of the distinction between life and death.

The male principle involves insemination, protection of the weaker, expansion and uprightness. It is symbolized in the ancient world by meteorites and iron seeds covering the surface of the earth, by the Sun's rays shining down, the lengthening of shadows, and the strength of mountains and pillars. The female principle involves receptivity, birthing, nurturing, fluidity and softness.

In the ancient world of Jesus' Hebrew ancestors, bloods were never mixed or even present in the same space. Men were not permitted in the birthing hut. Women were not permitted where animals were sacrificed. When blood was shed there were priestly rituals for the purification of blood and relief of blood anxiety. Melchizedek performed this for Abraham (Gen. 14). He came to Abraham after a great battle in which Abraham incurred blood guilt. The ritual involved bread and wine. In Church tradition women waited 40 days to return to church, following the ancient custom of purification after shedding blood. The practice is still observed in the Eastern churches.

The biblical view of gender distinctions reflects how the ancients understood what is universally observed, but contemporary dualistic and egalitarian views distort that reality. The distinction between the male principle and the female principle has become blurred so that none consider it odd that women serve in combat or as priests. Mothers kill their babies. Fathers abandon their children and abuse their wives. Men have sex with men. God is cast as goddess, and the fact that Jesus was born a man, the Son of God, is dismissed. All of this begs the question: Who are these women serving? It is not the God who has revealed Himself in Scripture and in the Word made flesh.

Before the ordination of women priests, Anglican orders were more highly regarded by the hierarchs of both the Roman Catholic and the Eastern Orthodox churches. This innovation devalued Anglican orders in the view of those churches and continues to be an obstacle to wholeness within catholic Christendom. The innovation reveals confusion about the nature of the priesthood and infidelity to the received tradition which was embraced by the early priests of the Church. The ordination of women as priests is an accommodation to a culture that does not understand blood covenants or the distinction between the blood work of males and females.

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 would properly have before us an image/icon of Mary, not a masculine form. To place a female form at the altar unravels the fabric of the Messianic tradition. It tells this story: The ewe who gives birth, and nurtures with her milk, is sacrificed, offering herself for the life of the world. It simply does not work! The ewe is a timid creature who stays with her young and seeks protection from the ram when threatened. She embodies feminine virtues and her self-sacrifice is at odds with the order of creation. From the Biblical perspective, a woman at the altar is equivalent to the boiling of a baby goat in its mother's milk, something repeatedly forbidden, because this practice blurs the distinction between life and death.

Here is the message delivered when the female stands at altar: The one who saves is the daughter of God. The divine council agrees to take the life of one who is divinely designed to give life. We no longer have the Gospel. We have a pagan tragedy!

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).


DManA said...

Giant puppets add so much dignity to the Lord's Supper.

ofgrace said...

Alice, could you briefly explain the difference between "dualistic" and "binary."

It sounds like you are saying both "egalitarianism" and "complementarianism," which are opposite models of how men and women should relate to each other in the debates outside Orthodoxy, assume a similar non-biblical, non-Orthodox understanding of men and women. This resonates with me, but could you elaborate a little?

Alice C. Linsley said...

The ancient biblical writers saw a binary pattern in the order of creation. Binary refers to perceived sets of opposites like dark-light; male-female; Creator-creature; life-death, etc. Not everything that we regard as opposites represents a binary set in the Biblical sense, however. Tall-short; hot-cold are relative to the person judging. At 5 feet 5 inches, I would be considered short by a Watusi warrior, but a Pygmy would consider me to be tall.

The difference between the binary view and dualism is significant. In dualism the entities in the set are regarded as equal. Think Ying-Yang. However, the biblical writers understood that one entity in the binary set is superior in some way to the other. Males are larger and stronger than females. The Sun is greater than the moon. In Genesis we read that God created two great lights in the heavens: the greater (Sun) to rule the day and the lesser (moon) to rule the night. The superiority of the male and the Sun are not value judgments. These represent empirical observation of a universal pattern. The binary worldview is found throughout the Bible and is especially evident in Genesis. Sometimes the binary distinction is rather subtle and easy to miss. Consider, for example, the binary set of hot and cool encounters with God. Abraham was visited “in the heat of the day” by God in three Persons (Gen. 18:1). The binary opposite is “in the cool of the day”, the time of God’s visitation to Adam and Eve in Paradise (Gen. 3:8). We have encounters with God described as hot and cool. We must always pay attention to such distinctions. In the first God has come to punish Sodom and Gomorrah, and in the second God has come to enjoy fellowship with the Man and the Woman.

Men and women are ontologically equal in that they are both created in the image and likeness of the Creator. Nevertheless, it is universally observed that males are larger and stronger than females and that they naturally perform quite different tasks. The male-female binary set was employed by Paul in his exploration of the nature of the relationship between Christ and his Church. It is like the relationship of the sun and moon. In the ancient world the sun represented the masculine principle and the moon the feminine principle. These gender assignments are evident, for example, in Spanish - el sol and la luna, and in other languages that share a common proto-Afro-Asiatic system of roots. When Genesis 1 describes the sun as the greater light this pertains not only to its size, the strength of its light and the intensity of its heat. The reality is that it is the source of all light and warm. The moon merely reflects the light of the sun (refulgence). This is another way to describe the relationship between Christ and his Church. Paul says that he is exploring a mystery. Christ is the great light and source of life. His people reflect His light and life. Heaven is greater than earth. God is greater than humans. Were it not so, God could not stoop to save us. In emptying Himself (kenosis) Jesus Christ shows Himself to be the greater and the only one able too save. Without the binary view the Gospel would be meaningless. Christ's kenotic act would be senseless.

The study of philosophy tells us that the binary feature of reality allows for greater complexity. The human anatomy, for example, has a bilateral feature which allows for greater range of motion. The human brain has a binary feature - two chambers - which allows for greater complexity of thought. Binary language is the basis of the enormous complexity that has become possible with computers. Binary points us to a greater mystery. It seems to be God's way of inviting us to come closer and discover!

ofgrace said...

A great mystery, indeed. Thank you very much, Alice!

Rick Lobs said...

Sensational article. Quite instructive. Rick+

Alice C. Linsley said...

Ofgrace, I hope you will explore other binary distinctions in the Bible. Here are two that pertain specifically to male-female: Deborah sitting under her tamar tree. A tamar is a date nut palm and was associated with the female principle. (Many Old Testament women were named Tamar.) The prophet or "moreh" consulted by Abraham sat under an oak. This tree was associated with the male principle.

There are two "passovers" in the Old Testament. The passover associated with Moses involving the lamb's blood streaked on the lintel and door posts. Because of this blood, death passed over these houses. Likewise the scarlet cord hanging from the window of Rahab's house preserved all those within when death came to Jericho. It is interesting that the blood and blood symbol in these two stories - the horizontal streak on the lintel and the vertical red cord form a cross + - binary distinctions point us to Christ!

Alice C. Linsley said...

We have a cross also when we consider the location of the two trees. Judges 4:4-6 says that the Palm of Deborah, was between Ramah and Bethel in the hill country of Ephraim (a north-south axis). Genesis 12 that tells us that the Oak of the Moreh was between Bethel and Ai (an east-west axis). The intersection of east-west and north-south provides another image of the cross.

Alice C. Linsley said...

The point of intersection of the north-south axis and the east-west axis was regarded as the sacred center. Sacred centers were marked by trees. Genesis 2:9 says that the Tree of Life was in the sacred center of the garden. The Church fathers understood this to be an allusion to the Cross, which is also called a “tree” in Scripture. Deuteronomy 21:22-13 is an example: “If a man guilty of a capital offense is put to death and you hang him on a tree, you must not leave the body on the tree overnight. Be sure to bury it that same day, because anyone who is hung on a tree is a curse of God. You must not defile the land the Lord your God is giving you as an inheritance.”