Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Women Priests and Bishops

As the anonymous writer who in the latest issue of the CWO August news quotes an article from his/her parish magazine tells us “The Bible teaches that men and women equally are made in the image of God” (Genesis 1.27) and that we are equally redeemed in Christ (Gal.3.28). – Furthermore, St. Paul taught , that “there is neither male nor female: because ye are all one in Christ Jesus”. Evenso St. Paul does not allow about half of these, namely the women to be leaders in the Church. He thus seems to be contradicting himself - how can they be equal, when only half of them can be leaders? And what about the relationship between Christ and His Church = a man and his wife. Are only women Christians the “spouse of Christ”, or are the male Christians, too? - Christ chose 12 apostles, and they were all male. He never said to one of them, or to any other man “Thou art a priest”. When he instituted the eucharist, who are the ye, he is speaking to? Is it only the Apostles, or is it all his disciples? One of my pupils, a son of an Ethiopian orthodox priest and himself a priest-monk, once told me, that no woman was ever allowed to touch the body of Christ. My reaction was, that not only have women always been allowed to receive holy communion, but the first human being who touched Him must necessarily have been his mother, the Holy Virgin Mary.
Priests in Judaism. Jewish priests are never ordained, they are born priests. They are always male, but they must be born by a mother belonging to the family of Aaron. No other men can ever become Jewish priests - Kohanim in Hebrew.
A rabbi is not a priest (unless he is born one). A French Catholic priest once said to me, “But surely, you cannot imagine, there will ever be women rabbis”. “No, I said, I do not have to imagine that, for there already are several women rabbis. The first of them, rabbi Regina Yonas, died in Auschwitz.” – Only late it has become possible  for women to study Jewish theology, in as far as Judaism has a theology. While instead in Christianity it should long ago have been a very normal thing. And it was not “the Church” which instituted such a thing. It was Jesus Himself, who taught women about God. What was Mary, sister of Martha, doing at the feet of Jesus? Exactly the same as her male co-disciples were doing there. And when Martha asked Him to send her to the kitchen, He refused to do so, saying that “Mary hath chosen that good part which shall not be taken away from her.” (St.Luke10:38). When I look at Church history, it seems to me that the male disciples of Jesus have not been following Him in that, but rather have continued preaching, that the place of women is in the kitchen rather than in the school of theology.
In Judaism it was of course not better, but rather worse for the women. Yeshivoth, higher theological schools were for men only. I had the privilege in the Hebrew University to be a companion of a lady who later founded the first yeshiva for women, Professor Dr. Hanna Safrai, professor  (after our graduation) both in Jerusalem and in Amsterdam. Some faithful traditional rabbis were horrified. “What are you doing, Hanna, they asked. Why establish a yeshiva for women? Your mother did not need a yeshiva, nor did your grandmother!” I would have answered them, that her Mother never was asked. But Hanna, instead,  said
“Well in the case of my grandmother it was rather impossible. She was illiterate”. Hardly, I must add, because she wanted to be illiterate. Rather because certain rabbis needed her to bear them too many children and prepare food for a huge family, and often also to earn enough money, they all could live from, while their husbands were busy in the yeshiva.
And we have absolutely no reason to think we are any better than the Jews. My dear grandmother very much wanted to be a teacher, but her father had got it fixed in his head, that girls should not go to school any longer than till they were 14. My heart still aches when I remember her trying  in her seventies to learn a little English with the help of the radio. Her oldest son became a priest – a Lutheran pastor in the Danish State Church – and it was from his books I began to learn Hebrew at the age of 13.
At that time there were no women priests in that same Danish Church. Three years later there were three, and today half of the Danish priests are women. Three of them have become bishops. For the time being, the one and only bishop of Greenland is a lady.
Concerning Church unity, our Anglican writer wonders, if having women bishops would help or hinder the quest for reunion with other parts of God’s Church. The answer is, that of course it would make it more difficult to unite with the Orthodox and the Roman Catholics. Of other groups only the Methodists are mentioned. What about Lutherans – Denmark, Norway, Sweden, Finland, Greenland, and many others. Are they not Christians?
Jerusalem, September 2nd, 2011
Dr.Kirsten Stoffregen Pedersen