Dealing with dilemmas feminism in a patriarchal church 2012


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Dealing with dilemmas feminism in a patriarchal church 2012

  1. 1. Dealing with Dilemmas Being a male ‘feminist’ in a ‘patriarchal’ faith community Fr Timothy Curtis A personal perspective- not speaking on behalf of the University of Northampton or the Orthodox Church
  2. 2. What am I going to say about sexism and gender? What am I going to say about religion? Write a few notes about your expectations of this session.
  3. 3. Orientation • Religion – Formal – Structured – Communal – Doctrinal • Spirituality – Informal – Unstructured – Individual – Experiential Who am I? Who are you? What is God? Gender Culture Body Biology Communion
  4. 4. OK, Christianity is sexist, right? • I’m a male, that’s limiting • I’m Christian, and that’s a faith full of male priests • I believe in a male God, or do I? • I certainly live in a feminist world • Am I even sure of that?
  5. 5. Starting point • “Do not be conformed to this world, but continually be transformed by the renewing of your minds.” Romans 12:2 • I (as a Christian) stand as a challenge to the norms of ‘the world’ • I (as a Christian) stand not to ‘be natural’ but to be called to ‘be perfect’, knowing that I also fail at that • Raise up the ‘image and likeness of God’ in us This is a complex area- I’m just looking at the principles
  6. 6. The Orthodox Church
  7. 7. The Christian ethical revolution “no imperfect or maimed child should be brought up” Who said this? (A, Politics, Book VII: ch.16)
  8. 8. 100 aborted babies in sewers discovered by archaeologists while excavating a Roman bathhouse in Ashkelon, 1990
  9. 9. Gender imbalance in the Roman Empire • 131 males to 100 females in the city of Rome • 140 males to 100 females in Italy, Asia Minor and North Africa • ‘By prohibiting all forms of infanticide and abortion, Christians removed major causes of the gender imbalance that existed among pagans’ (Rodney Stark)
  10. 10. The status of women in the Roman world • Many girls were married at puberty and often before • Girls received little or no education • A woman was the legal property of some man at all stages of her life • Men could divorce a woman simply by ordering her out of the house
  11. 11. Low sexual mores were reinforced by a male culture that held marriage in low esteem • Men often resorted to prostitutes • Female prostitutes were common • There were many male prostitutes, as bisexuality and homosexuality were widespread
  12. 12. Revolutionary impact of the Judaeo-Christian ethic • It raised the status of women • It gave value to human life • It bestowed on marriage qualities of friendship and equality • It condemned promiscuity in men and women equally • It stressed the mutual obligations of husbands and wives • It transformed marriage into a love relationship
  13. 13. But now……with the help of sociology • The accusation of misogyny comes from, above all, Western feminists referring to the Latin traditions from Augustine to Thomas Aquinas and Bonaventure • Sociologists looking from outside (Weber, Durkheim, Marx) • Focussed on visible power and authority
  14. 14. An old, old question • Genesis 1:27-28 and Galatians 3:27-28 are found at the heart of the Fathers’ anthropological meditation: – "The woman possesses, just as the man, the privilege of having been created in the image of God. Both their natures are equally honourable," • Basil the Great’s (4th century) reply to a woman whose own doubts led her to question him on this topic.
  15. 15. Genesis 1:27-28 • So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. • And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.”
  16. 16. Galatians 3:27-28 • For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus. • Does that mean we ignore ‘female’ in preference for a male ‘normality’?
  17. 17. • Gregory of Nazianzus (also 4th Century) proclaims, • "The same creator for man and for woman, for both the same clay, the same image, the same death, the same resurrection.“ • Being- essentialist biological difference • Becoming- orientation, experience of maleness
  18. 18. So, why can’t women be priests? • This concept of ‘priest’ is a very narrow concept of the Christian life and ministry • It assumes that the only valid form of ministry (cf life) is priest. • A priest exists only to administer some sacraments i.e. sacerdote- to offer the gifts • All Christians participate in all sacraments (more than 7) • Pastoral care is different from sacerdotal function • The priest models (ikon), in place of Jesus, the relationship between God and Jesus, a male relationship • The model of the relationship between Mary and Jesus (mother/woman and son/deity) has a different character and function
  19. 19. I am not relying on these for my argument: • Jesus chose only male disciples • That God had to become a man to operate in patriarchal Jerusalem society • That the bible does not exclude women from ordained ministry • Jesus was male, therefore priests have to be male- why not also Jewish? • It's because ancient people were dumb, we're wiser now.
  20. 20. Society at the time was not misogynist • It is unhistorical and simply false to say that in Jesus' day priestesses would have been unacceptable to people at large. • Jesus never hesitated to violate cultural taboos (John 5:1-18). • He spoke to women in public (John 4:4-42; 8:3-11). • The first witnesses of his Resurrection were women (passim). • Furthermore, the lands around the Mediterranean teemed with religions with priestesses. – The famed Vestal Virgins of Rome were priestesses. – There was a priestess functioning at Delphi. – The Sybil was a priestess and the many temple prostitutes were priestesses • Existence of priestesses in nearby religions was not exceptional
  21. 21. St Paul understood… • There have always been queens and princesses, and now there are female prime ministers and presidents. • BUT • In terms of human functions, a woman can no more be a priest than a man can be a mother (biological function). • So the ‘priest’ pertains to the essential biology……..his ‘being’ not his ‘becoming’…???
  22. 22. Bad St Paul, the misogynist • Women be submissive and silent in church (1 Timothy 2:11-15 and 1 Corinthians 14:34-35). • Yet Paul honours many women in active ministry, like the deaconess Phoebe (Romans 16:1). • And he hails Euodia, Synteche (1 Corinthians 4:2-3) and Prisca (Romans 16:3) as synergoi (fellow-workers) in the gospel. • Vocal prophetesses are found everywhere in the Bible, from Moses' sister Miriam (Exodus 15:20) to the four daughters of St. Philip (Acts 21:9). • The prophetess Anna spoke out in the temple, telling everyone about the child Christ (Luke 2:36-38). • cf Silence = hesychia
  23. 23. It’s a question of scale… • We have some semantic confusion here, because many things people think are restricted to clergy are done by Orthodox laity. • We have women saints who were missionary evangelists, church-planters, teachers, healers, preachers, apologists, spiritual mothers, counselors, miracle-workers, martyrs, iconographers, hymnographers, and theologians. • Holy women do virtually everything men do, except stand at the altar (and men are excluded from adult female baptism preparation- deaconesses). • That leaves the rest of the world—which is where most of God's work gets done.
  24. 24. St. Theodora the Empress • Actress, sex worker and empress • Joannes Laurentius Lydus, remarked that she was "superior in intelligence to any man". • Justinian clearly recognized this as well, allowing her to share his throne and take active part in decision making. • exercised authority over both men and women, • brought a triumphant end to the destruction of icons.
  25. 25. • St. Nina, a 14-year-old slave, evangelized the entire nation of Georgia.
  26. 26. • St. Mary Magdalene, St. Helen, and others are called "Equal to the Apostles." • A common title in the Orthodox church, never used in the west
  27. 27. • St. Catherine and St. Perpetua were brilliant debaters. • put to the sword. "But Perpetua, that she might have some taste of pain, was pierced between the bones and shrieked out; and when the swordsman's hand wandered still (for he was a novice), herself set it upon her own neck.
  28. 28. But on the other hand......... • The Fathers of the Church’s egalitarianism is “situated in the ..completeness of the end of time, when genital sexuality will be transcended”. Women in the Orthodox Church Elisabeth Behr-Sigel • Monasticism anticipates this completeness: transcending genital sexuality • Even married life is expected to ultimately transcend genital sexuality
  29. 29. Fr Alexander Schmemann • “This priesthood is Christ's, not ours. None of us, man or woman, has any "right" to it; it is emphatically not one of human vocations, analogous, even if superior, to all others.” Rev. Dr. Schmemann
  30. 30. Tatiana Goricheva: • "Here I had to exert all my efforts in trying to explain how our Russian "feminism" became religious and why it is that only in the Church can today's Russian woman find freedom and consolation; only there does she receive strength for life and spiritual struggle. Even now it is the Church alone which takes on problems unique to women. • “We saw that social changes would not liberate either men or women unless they were connected with the main thing, with the spiritual revolution which was taking place in every soul and throughout society. We said that women could only be free in the Church. • • doctoral student of philosophy at the University of Leningrad, exiled to Vienna 1980
  31. 31. Implications for social work • Do we follow our own interpretation of a faith community’s beliefs? (i.e. our beliefs are superior & universal) • Or do we follow their own account of those beliefs, because all beliefs are equal? (relativism) • Is sexism an intrinsic part of the belief of Christianity, or are Christians, in practice, about as sexist as everyone else? • How do you balance belief and practice?
  32. 32. Other ‘faith’ perspectives • Exorcisms, possession and witchcraft (Climbie) • Race and sectarianism (race majority churches, Protestant/Catholic in Belfast) • Marriage and same sex civil unions and partnerships • Discuss other ‘boundaries’