In 1936, The Archbishops’ Commission on the Ministry of Women, which had been considering whether the church should begin to ordain woman, issued the following report:
We maintain that the ministration of women…will tend to produce a lowering of the spiritual tone of Christian worship, such as is not produced by the ministration of men before congregations largely or exclusively female. It is a tribute to the quality of Christian womanhood that it is possible to make this statement; but it would appear to be a matter of simple fact that in the thoughts and desires of that sex the natural is more easily made subordinate to the supernatural, the carnal to the spiritual than is the case with men; and that the ministrations of a male priesthood do not normally arouse that side of female human nature which should be quiescent during the times of the adoration of the almighty God. We believe, on the other hand, that it would be impossible for the male members of the average Anglican congregation to be present at a service at which a woman ministered without becoming unduly conscious of her sex. Or, as Virginia Woolf commented, because women are more spiritually minded than men, they should not be ordained to the priesthood!
Ridiculous? Of course. But it also seems to be true, at least in England. The news reported late yesterday afternoon that the Church of England had, once again, failed to approve the ordination of women to the episcopacy. If any of our CEO’s were to say, on principle, that women were not fit to exercise leadership in their companies, the public outcry would be deafening. If our teachers were to say that boys are less adept than girls in science, math, or reading, school boards would remove them. But in the Church of England, it is, apparently, still acceptable for people to be more concerned with the appearance of a Christian than with the gifts he or she has received from the Holy Spirit or with the calling that he or she may have received from Almighty God.
I am writing about this because it is deeply offensive. It is offensive not only on a human level, but on a divine one. We believe that God blesses each Christian with the presence of the Holy Spirit at the time of their baptism. We believe that we are created in the image of God: “male and female he created them.” We, in the United States, have seen first-hand the rich blessings that have been brought to us by the ministry of such women as Jane Dixon, Carlyle Gill, Mariann Budde, or whichever female priest has comforted you when you were mourning, challenged you in her preaching, led you gently when you were in spiritual confusion, or organized your hands to do good in the world. When we deny women who are called to certain tasks the right to do them, we deny the very action of the God who created them.
More than that: we make the church a mockery in the eyes of the rest of the world. When Jesus came to Galilee, he did not ask us to adopt the customs of the Hittites, the Arameans, the Philistines, or any of the other peoples who used to inherit those lands. He spoke in the idiom of his day to bring the Gospel to the people of his day. That was what made his his witness credible and his words transformative. He was a man calling us into the future, God’s future.
Today, all those people who won’t go to church because it is “so yesterday,” so stodgy, so out-of-date, so backwards, have been given even more reason to believe it is so. We have lived into their worst expectations.
But we do not need to continue to do so. Wherever we live, whatever roads we walk, we can speak the Gospel to today. We can find fresh ways to show Christ’s love to all those we meet, and to those who most need to hear it. All around us, people are trapped in despair, in addiction, in selfishness, in self-contempt. Whom do you know who needs to hear that God loves them utterly, even as stuck or broken or dead-ended as they seem to be? Whom do you know who needs to see that God will help them turn their lives around? For that matter, do you know anyone who does not need to hear that God loves them?
Go speak those words. Do those acts of kindness. Show the stodgy folks one better.