Women Shepherds?

(this article has been re-written because the original was unclear)

The Church of England (C of E) has decided to move forward toward offering the bishopric to women. The C of E currently ordains women as priests and deacons, but not as bishops. I have often thought that the C of E's position on women's ordination was a clever compromise position. After all they DO allow women to be clergy in charge of a local parish, on the other hand they don't allow women to be the bishop, the truly "senior pastor." But such a compromise is probably only acceptable for the undecided.

Rome (along with the Eastern Orthodox) has said that such a move toward female bishops will further separate Anglicans from the rest of the Historical church and make ecumenical diologue aimed at full communion much more difficult. Naturally, the inovative Episcopal Church in the US has been doing women bishops for a while now, been there, done that (except for a few dioceses that do not ordain women at all). My own United Methodist Church elevated our first woman to the episcopate in 1980 and there are a number of them now. And of course in 2006 we UMs are (most of us) celebrating 50 years of women's "clergy rights".

Now I dislike the language of "clergy rights" for men or for women since I believe that we have no "rights" over against God - only gifts to be recieved from him - among which ordination is a great one. Of course, though God certainly loves all people it does not follow that he gives the same gifts to all - he gives gifts as he pleases. And it is even possible that it may please God to give certain gifts to men and not to women or to women and not to men (consider the awesome gift of carrying children within the womb that God has given to women alone).

I have worked with a number of female clergy on a close basis. And I must report mixed impressions of their theological and pastoral giftedness. Some are very good. As someone who thinks of himself as moderately conservative and Evangelical in theological orientation (with a mean Catholic streak) I must confess that I prefer to see a man behind the chancel if given a choice (just in case the Catholics are right). But I do know of some very prominent Protestant and Non-denominational female-pastors who seem to be quite effective and well-respected - in addition to the women clergy that I have known to be quite gifted. I was pretty much in favor of female clergy when I arrived at my mainline Protestant seminary. On my first day I heard a statistic given by a liberal Episcopal Priest that caused me to quiestion that support. 85% of female clergy, he said, will experience a divorce while in ministry; their families will fall apart (compare this with 1 Tim. 3:4, in which a bishop must guide their family well). That is almost 9 out of 10! - much higher than rates among male clergy (which basically mirror the general population).

I have since heard that women also leave the ministry at a higher rate than men. It is also a fact that the vast majority of churches that are very successful (by any standard that can be measured) are pastored by men (though since the great vast majority of clergy are men, this may mean little). These "red flag" observations have caused me to rethink my support.

It may be that the Baptists and Catholics and Orthodox and many others are right - that God does not intend women to be pastors. Having learned more about the differences in men and women's brains, I wonder if leadership in ministry makes demands that (most) women are simply by design less able to meet (and presumably more than men able to meet other demands for other functions). If this were true it would come as no surprise if God did not call women into ordained ministry at all, or if he did it would be an exceptional case (all women Christians are called into ministry by virtue of their baptism, and many - such as nuns - are set apart to a special consecrated, but not ordained, ministry).

There is also the issue of lack of male church involvment - could it be exasperated by female leadership? If these things are so, I still wouldn't want to rule women out categorically, but maybe a woman who really is able and called to do ministry must be exceedingly rare.

As I was honestly thinking and struggling about this, I ran across articles from 2 of my top ten theologians, both members of the Church of England and both moderate & Evangelical intellectuals, who wrote on this subject (and they disagree with one another!). So if you really want to investigate it, I encourage you to take the time to read these.

C.S. Lewis thought "Priestesses in the Church" were a bad idea when it was first suggested. Yes, he says it seems to be perfectly rational and makes good sense considering the world we find ourselves in, but Christianity is often supra-rational and doesn't always conform to the thinking of our times - there are reasons to believe, he says, that God does not intend women for ordained leadership in the Church Catholic. He also thinks the ordination of women suggests by its symbolic value that we ought to change our metaphors for God as well: that they could just as well be feminine as masculine. But he (rightly) points out that a religion that worships a goddess is not the Christian faith. Presumably, he (following the Apostles, I think) does not have a problem with deaconesses. Lewis was certainly correct that people would leave the C of E if it ordained women, many "went to Rome" when it did in fact happen.

N.T. Wright, on the other hand, thinks much of our (male-only) tradition is simply a misunderstanding of the scriptures because we have lost touch of the context in which Paul was writing these letters that seem at first glance to exclude women for leadership. That is to say, the traditional view is, in his opinion, un-biblical. He examines the relevant Biblical texts in context and proposes that we mis-understand them because we don't know the context and that this mis-understanding has affected the translation history so that translators are now even more likely to choose English wordings that reflect the mis-understanding, whereas an alternative translation that is equally faithful to the Greek would be suggestive of his reading that actually encourages women leaders in the church. The article is quite challenging if you hold the traditional view because he makes some compelling arguements. Wright does not address the "qualifications for bishops" in 1 Tim. 3; but presumably he would argue that the use of masculine pronouns should be taken as generic.

So I honestly am torn and feeling a bit agnostic over the issue. I can see good arguments both ways. If I follow my "paleo-orthodox" theological method that reads Scripture through the lens of the ecumenical Church's living tradition, emphasizing that which is most commonly held (oftentimes, that which is earliest), then I am tempted to side with Rome on this issue. On the other hand, Tom Oden, the theologian from whom I learned my paleo-orthodoxy to begin with, makes an argument in favor of women's ordination in his excellent book Pastoral Theology - which I appreciate since so many of the arguments I hear in favor of women's ordination are simply some vague, thoughtless, and un-warranted jump from "since God loves everyone" or "since the new covenant of salvation is available to everyone" (often pointing to Galatians 3:28 as if Paul was speaking about ordination) it therefore follows women ought to be ordained. But this does not necessarily follow.

If our church wants to defend the practice and continue to hold that the Bible is indeed the final authority for our faith and practice (as The Book of Discipline repeatedly asserts), then sharper, deeper, and more thoughtful Biblical arguments need to be made (and N.T. Wright's article above may be a good place to start thinking through these things).

What do you informed readers think on this one?

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

First, let me say I am conservative and am not sure I would be "for" women as priests/pastors. However, I would never stereotype all women into the catagory of "psychologically" unable to meet the demands of priesthood or full time pastor. Do you have any idea what a woman does? Who is the center of the family unit? Who is the person in the family that takes care of the house, children, pets, elderly parents/grandparents, often holds a full time job outside the home, attends their children's extra-curricular activities, and still manages to have a smile for the tired husband after a day at the office where he talks golf with his cronies while the secretary does all of the work? It's the woman. Some women probably do leave the ministry because of the demands placed on them. However, it could be that when a hard decision had to be made about elder care or a chronically sick or disabled child; the woman had no other alternative than to leave the position of full time ministry. Keeping in mind the many other ministeries women can be involved with as well as the daily demands on their time, the role as pastor is probably not one women should aspire to.

10:27 PM, August 03, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm glad you are finally coming around to the realization that women should not be head pastors! I have to agree with Wright that the masculine usage in Greek could be generic...but I'm more in line with C.S. Lewis' view. I have no problem with women being deaconesses if we hold to the biblical view of deacons as servants and not as an "office." Otherwise, I don't even think women should do that. --From you favorite girl at NOBTS!

3:40 PM, August 04, 2006  
Blogger Daniel McLain Hixon said...

Anonymous #1:
I didn't stereotype all women into the category of physchologically unable, though perhaps I wasn't clear enough, I felt I had explicitly ruled that out. I simply suggested that maybe, just as women are by design able to do things that men are not (bear and nurse children for example) so it may be the case that because we are psychologically (and I would say spiritually) "put together differently" there are some things, perhaps including "bishoping," that men simply are more suited for.
I do not disagree with you that women do all of those things you mention (probably better than we men could which may strengthen my own suggestion), but in any case proficiency in those activities have no bearing at all on whether or not they can "bishop." What really concerns me is that if all of those statistics (that I have heard from PRESUMABLY reliable sources) are true, it may be damaging for women to try to do something they are not designed for.
Now, I am not saying that I have chosen to accept this position that I have just described, I am only saying it IS possible and the emperical evidence seems to nod in that direction.

Anonymous #2 (Bethany): Before you agree with N.T. Wright too far, you should read his article, since he essentially says that your whole denomination has mis-interpreted two or three passages of scripture that relate to this issue. This of course brings of the whole issue of hermeneutics that I think very interesting, but I will avoid returning to my soapbox here.
I think the New Testament makes no distinction between Deacons/Deaconesss as "services" or "offices" (or "orders" for that matter). It is simply obvious to me that the NT itself speaks of the existence of Deaconesses during the Apostolic age (a fact which extra-biblical writings of the 1st and 2nd century confirm) though in most modern English translations they are ussually not translated that way, except in the note at the bottom of the page.
So Wright thinks it unbiblical to disallow female bishops...I am (as you noted) no longer decided one way or the other, but I agree that it is unbiblical (and un-apostolical) to disallow female deacons. This is one part of the tradition that only the Anglicans, out of all the "apostalic succession churches" seem to have gotten right.
Does all that make sense to everyone?

4:33 PM, August 04, 2006  
Blogger Daniel McLain Hixon said...

and I'm sorry i just mis-spelled "Apostolic" like 10 times!

4:35 PM, August 04, 2006  
Blogger Stephen said...

I suggest you start deciding before seeking ordination in a denomination that does allow female bishops and has for several years. :)

But on a more reflective note...do you think the basis of this is the thinking that females cannot function as bishops or females are not allowed by God to be bishops. Aren't these the major barriers?

6:10 PM, August 05, 2006  
Blogger Daniel McLain Hixon said...

To be honest Stephen, I dont have a problem with being in a denomination that ordains women, even as bishops, since the issue is so ambiguous (Wright's case is very compelling). I can see good arguments either way and at this point cannot decide one way or the other. It would only be a real problem for me if I became a bishop and even still hadn't decided. But that isn't too likely. I just thought it would be neat to hear what folks think. To address your question, I would assume that since God designed the sexes then that "God doesn't allow women to be bishops" and "women can't really do it" might turn out to be the same thing in which case any "rule" against it (on God's part) would simply be an exhortation to "be who you really are, not something else" since that would be dangerous anyways. But I see the force or your question if women had the ability but were barred by God from exercising it, since this would seem (to our sensitivities) rather arbitrary. One reason I am not a Calvinist is because I don't think God makes arbitrary laws or commandments. I think God has reason behind his actions or commands that can usually be discerned (not always though) through common sense. Thus if it were the case that women were barred, I would expect that it is also the case that it is bad for them or bad for the church if they exercise this episcopal office. This is why I point to the (hearsay) "empirical" evidence, which, as I have said, seems to favor Lewis' position, though I see how there could be other factors behind all of those trends besides "women can't do it." Did that make sense?

1:36 AM, August 06, 2006  
Blogger Stephen said...

Yes, I guess it kind of makes sense, but I was wondering what Lewis would say in present time with a real life situation (i.e. Methodist Church) functioning and for the most part flourishing with female bishops. That is part of some of my own understanding knowing a little about Bishop Huie from the Texas Conference and present President of the Council of Bishops. She is a strong presence for evangelism, church planting, etc. So does the empirical evidence hold up in today's situations? Using Lewis's own arguements we need to asses if female bishops are bad for themselves or bad for the church or both. Using my own representative of Bishop Huie I could make a case that it is good for both. Others could nominate a different bishop and receive a different view, then I could nominate several male bishops in several denominations that are not good for the church and not good for themselves.(See RC church for sex scandal problems) If a bishop is called to be the episcopal leader or the shepherd (as represented by their insignia - Methodist) could a female be that shepherd. For me it seems like it is a personal thing, can we as a body of elders follow the guidance of a female shepherd.

10:00 PM, August 06, 2006  
Blogger Daniel McLain Hixon said...

Actually Stephen, I am not sure why you say we are "flourishing" unless you mean over seas. It seems to me that we are at each others throats in the US, have little or no doctrinal unity (officially established Doctrinal Standards notwithstanding), we are suspicious of one another (good "hermeneutic of suspicion" that we were taught in school I guess) and are shrinking in terms of membership, church attendance and societal influence. This started of course before the days of female bishops (shortly after the days of female presbyters, but I am not suggesting a causal relationship there).
Actually if what my professor (The Rev. Father Dr. Schmidt) told us about those divorce statistics are true, I think that would outweigh your experience of a single bishop as a positive example. After all "a bishop must lead his own family well, if he cannot, how shall he lead the church of God?" (1 Tim. 3, paraphrase). I think it might be worth suggesting a study be done by a General Conference commission - or better yet, and independent non-UM related, non-biased organization, and the "professional" health of female clergy in comparison to men offering explanations for any significant differences that we could then use to re-evaluate the issue. However, I suspect that most American UM Christians are not interested in re-evaluating the issue (except for a traditionalist here and there and except for any old-fashioned sexists that are still around) because we have already accepted that our society's values about the utter equalness in every way of men and women (nevermind that our church includes people from non-Western, non-American societies) regardless of any sociological or neurological evidience to the contrary. It is a dogma that cannot be challenged, even if it needs to be. Though I am not certain that it needs to be challenged, I am simply saying that if it is true, as our professor tells us it is, that for women being clergy has a direct correlation with relational and professional deterioration, we ought to look into that and ask some hard questions for the sakeo of us all, most especially including the female clergy themselves. Dont you think?

12:01 PM, August 07, 2006  
Blogger Stephen said...

While you may be correct in pointing to "statistical" evidence such as divorce rates for female clergy. Should then we not also look at the divorce statistics for male clergy? I would estimate that male clergy or clergy in general have some of the highest divorce statistics among professions. If we are saying that a divorce male or female clergy clearly cannot keep their own house in order, maybe it is time to defrock a few thousand ministers in all denominations or maybe we need to better understand the underlying causes that being a clergy person puts on any of their family relationships. I am sure pastor's wives, husbands, and children have some horror stories they could share.

As for statistical evidence of the health of the church...one minute you state that we cannot base the health of the church on numbers alone and the next moment numbers have to be an indicator. So how do you want it? If you want to base it on numbers I could point out that a lot of those mega churches have slowed in their growth. Joel Osteen out of Lakewood admited on a tv show that I was watching the other day that his church as big as it is doesn't reach the percentage of houston's population that a methodist church in a small town in east texas might. (But this argument about numbers is off topic)

I do think we should ask hard questions, BUT we should ask the hard questions of all people not just pick a gender to blame as Adam did and say, "It's the woman you GAVE to me who did it."

3:21 PM, August 07, 2006  
Blogger Daniel McLain Hixon said...

Accoriding to the same lecture, male clergy divorce rates are about 51%, (1 or 2 percent higher than the population at large) which I still think is shameful, but not quite as alarming as that among women.

I think maybe we should re-evaluate the sort of expectations we have for our ministers all around - I am sure you must be right about how bad some of their (non-divorced) family situations may be. I was not suggesting that we should defrock ministers for having bad situations, but perhaps work toward healing them (healing seems more in keeping with the Good news than simply casting people off, wouldn't you agree?). I think there are a number of other ways we can get a feel for (though not measure exactly) church health, but SURELY a church that lives in a post-Christian society, that is unable even to retain the children born into it, much less attract many of the non-believers that are all around it, cannot be said to be the picture of health? Surely you agree on this point?
As I said, I am not deciding on women one way or the other (I thought the "lean" of my article actually favored women's ordination, just in a qualified way). There are other reasons we might postulate that account for supposed alarming statistics among women clergy. I can think of several. But if these things are true (that women are FAR more likely to divorce, to leave the minstry etc. than male clergy), surely we ought to ask these questions without ASSUMING that to do so is to BLAME women. That is exactly the sort of reaction I expect from the Church though. "If you are even raising the question, you must be anti-woman." Unfortunately, through this medium I cannot tell if you are confirming my expectation, or simply being the devil's advocate (which I have come to expect and appreciate about you, Stephen). Keep it coming, this is fun.

4:19 PM, August 07, 2006  
Blogger Stephen said...

You know me too well. For the most part I love to play the devil's advocate. (A very interesting role in RC history)
1. I believe that women clergy are not the downfall of the church. I have another arguement for another day that inneffective clergy are a better way to look at things.
2. For me as a UM the issue is settled in our episcopal system we allow people of both genders and all races to be bishops, so its a moot point. As you mention several times, it is not about who is bishop, but how effective their leadership is.
3. In my humble opinion we as a "mainline" denomination need a voice that is every bit as loud as the evangelical voice. It is easy for churches like saddleback, lakewood, hagee's church, or the roman catholic church to have a voice because they have a central figurehead(Warren, Osteen, Hagee, the Pope). The figurehead for the UM is the general conference as I believe it should be, but that affects our voice in the world. So the voice needs to be that of the local pastor whether male or female.
4. If we are going to keep looking at Bishops, maybe we should completely clarify their role in the church as the episcopacy because that role is different in different denominations. (Some denominations have bishops in every church)
5. I am out of ideas tonight (just finished my second set of questions for the BOM)

9:12 PM, August 07, 2006  
Anonymous Raggedy Ann said...

I am not sure about women as Bishop's, but I wonder if the stress put upon pastors is why there is such a high divorce rate? You are pretty much on call 24/7 which can cause pressure even in the best of relationships. Do you think women go into the ministry wearing rose colored glasses and too late realize the enormity of the position? You and Stephen seem to be on to something, not sure what yet, but something.....

11:11 PM, August 07, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

First of all -- I love your clear thoughts on this matter. So what if you haven't made any true decisions on the matter? At least you are giving it thought.

Secondly -- As a female UM in a ministerial position, I tend to be more traditionalist. I think it is very biblical for a woman to be a deacon. In fact, the most effective women I have witnessed in ministry (in a variety of denominations) have not been elders or senior pastors, but deacons. Of course, I will admit that I have not done as much research into the matter as you have. However, if I rely solely on experience (which I don't do), my experience would dictate that women are more effective as deaconesses.

Thirdly -- I believe that God created men and women deferently. We were made to complement one another: physically, emotionally, and spiritually. That may be why men are able to maintain their family life as well as their ministry better than women.

Anyway, these are my late night thoughts on a pretty deep matter. -- MV

11:44 PM, August 09, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wow.. this really shocked me. Read the latest COSROW publication. There you will find a list of why men shouldn't be clergy. (It is a satire to show how ridiculous some of these claims are) I am sad you feel that women shouldn't be bishops.

7:50 PM, August 13, 2006  
Blogger Daniel McLain Hixon said...

Dear Anonymous,
I am afraid you have mis understood my post, please re-read it along with the links and with the subsequent comment-exchanges (which I suspect you have not done). I have not said that I think women should not be bishops. In fact, I thought that NT Wright's article in FAVOR of women clergy was very compelling (as I have already said more than once).
I was simply raising the question in light of recent discussions and pointing out some difficulties with the issue that most Methodists, because women's ordination has become a Dogma that can not be questioned, are not even willing to address (even though to do so would by no means necessarily threaten the legitimacy of women's ordination). But again, I have already said that too.
I dont see how you can engage in fruitful dialogue on this or any other ecclesiological issue if you put words in my mouth and then label them "ridiculous."

9:50 AM, August 14, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

There is no reason why women's ordination should be questioned any more than men's ordination should be questioned. The fact that you feel that it is your role as a male to sit around and ponder whether women should be ordained without questioning the validity of your own ordination proves that you are a bigot. Please leave the UMC.

4:10 PM, August 22, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Same anonymous person here-I'm a male by the way.

4:10 PM, August 22, 2006  
Blogger Daniel McLain Hixon said...

Dear anonymous,
I cannot engage in a fruitful dialogue with you if you are content to stick with name-calling whenever you disagree with someone.
It sounds to me (though it is hard to tell online) like you may be angry/defensive. I respect that you may have good reasons for feeling that way, and I have no way of knowing what you may have been through.
If you want to actually talk through this issue shoot me an email. In any case, please refrain from calling me or anyone else a bigot just for asking searching questions - that creates the sort of atmosphere that stifles honest debate and growth and rather creates animosity and division.

9:22 AM, August 30, 2006  

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