Sunday, November 29, 2009

RPCNA and women in the military

In 2004, the Orthodox Presbyterian Church and the Reformed Presbyterian Church of North America, among others, jointly issued this statement regarding women in combat:

Reading this document is quite remarkable as it suggests that the primary reason that women should not serve in combat is that they might be carrying a fetus unawares thereby putting that fetus in danger. Also, women are described as being more "vulnerable" though to what it is not exactly clear.

The 1998 RPCNA synod encouraged women considering military service to "take counsel of their Sessions."

This document reinforces the view that women are chiefly to be valued as child-bearers, and that the idea that they indeed might have another vocation, such as serving in the military, is to be questioned. One wonders if Reformed chaplains were advised to counsel men considering military service the dangers of fathering a child unawares. And if the temptations are too great, should men really consider whether to pursue a career in the military?

This document reflects yet again gender essentialism which is breathtaking. One wonders if there is any situation where a man might be warned from certain career choices because they are not suitable or biblical? Or does a man have complete freedom? In this recession, my hunch is that some male breadwinners have lost their jobs, and their wives are the chief source of income. Is this situation unbiblical? Again, I suspect that even if some think that women should not work outside the home, that no session has counseled a family to do otherwise.

Perhaps the RPCNA could take on as a ministry helping those women veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan with PTSD, rather than stating that their original choice was unbiblical.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

N. T. Wright on women in ministry

Many evangelical Christians think very highly of N. T. Wright, Bishop of Durham. In this clip he sets out a biblical argument for the full inclusion of women in the ministry of the church.

Here is a paper he presented on the subject:

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Scripture, hermeneutics and women

I have just finished reading Professor James D. G. Dunn's The Living Word (2nd ed 2008). He is a New Testament scholar and Professor of Divinity at the University of Durham. As I read it I realized how uninformed and simplistic my reading of scripture has been through the years. His book has provoked some questions regarding the RPCNA's view of scripture and its teaching on women. I am simply going to put the questions as they come to mind.

1) How does the RPCNA deal with the fact that the New Testament is both a collection of historical documents from the 1st century and scripture? In other words, how does the "historical conditionedness" of the NT inform exegesis of scripture? Dunn notes that the New Testament writings are "occasional writings," that is, writings addressed to a particular situation. So, for example, I Corinthians was focused on problems at the church in Corinth.

It seems that the RPCNA accepts the "historical conditionedness" of texts dealing with slavery, but not with verses dealing with women's roles in the churches and families. It is interesting how frequently verses about women are then followed by verses about slaves obeying their masters. The assumption is that the verses about slaves were for that time and place, a time and place that accepted slavery as a given. As a child I did hear a rather bizarre sermon preached by a RP pastor about how the slave-related verses applied to employer-employee relationships. I guess the pastor was no supporter of unions! What hermeneutical principle allowed a leap from the 1st century to 20th century workplace relations I'll never know.

2) Why are the verses about women keeping silent in the churches, exercising no authority over men still applicable and head coverings are not? I suspect that there will be some mention of the creation order but then the question is which creation account, the one in Gen. 1 or Gen. 2-3?

Dunn writes, "A properly historical exegesis will ever recall how limited a particular author's horizon must have been and seek to respecct that limitation when enquiring [sic] what the author intended to say and what his first readers heard him say."

3) Acts 8:27 mentions an Ethiopian man. Here is a hypothetical. What if I Cor. 14:34, I Tim. 2:11-12 contained the word, "Ethiopian," rather than woman/women? So the verses would read, "Ethiopians should be silent in the churches.For they are not permitted to speak, but should be subordinate, as the law says." Or "Let an Ethiopian learn in silence with full submission. I permit no Ethiopian to teach or to have authority over a man; she is to keep silent. For others were formed first, then the Ethiopian." Would the response be, 'well, that is what the Bible says" ? In other words, does the entire doctrine about women rest on a creation account which may be metaphorical?

4) Jesus and Paul and their attitude to the Old Testament--Dunn points out that the New Testament "relativizes" the Old Testament. For example, Jesus sets aside the 'eye for an eye' and laws about unclean foods. Paul sets aside food laws, sabbath law, circumcision. Dunn writes, "For there is actually no clear word in the New Testament that validates the abandonment of the sabbath law or the transformation of it into a Sunday celebration." In Rom. 14, Paul speaks of some Christians who regard all days alike. Dunn poses the question that the same dynamic is at work--that when some New Testament regulations become restrictive of God's grace they are no longer applicable, e.g., verses dealing with slavery and, as he writes, "the scriptural subordination of women."

5) In the end, probably one of the major issues, if not the major issue, is the view of Scripture. Dunn i s a believer; however he also recognizes the limitations of a 1st century text. He sees three basic issues with inerrancy which really is at the heart of the issue about women, in my mind.

a) Inerrancy ends up a sort of Pharisaic legalism. "It is possible, is it not, as Paul warned us (Rom. 7:6; 2 Cor. 3: 6, 14-17) to be so concerned for the letter of scripture that we actually miss what the Spirit seeks to say to us through it; to stifle the life of the Spirit by concentrating on the incidental forms through which he speaks?"

b) Inerrantists may engaging in biblolatry. "By asserting of the Bible an indefectible authority, they are attributing to it an authority proper only to God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. If we say the biblical authors wrote without error, we attribute to their writing what we otherwise recognize to be true only of Christ. We do for the Bible what Roman Catholic dogma has done for Mary the mother of Jesus; and if the charge of Mariolatry is appropriate against Catholic dogma, then the charge of bibliolatry is no less appropriate against the inerrancy dogma."

c) Inerrancy is "pastorally disastrous." Dunn writes, "Integral to the inerrancy position is the all-or-nothing argument, the slippery slope mentality, the repeated reasoning that if we cannot trust the Bible in all, we cannot trust it at all. That may be an argument which appeals to the over-simplifications of spiritual infancy; but it is hardly an appropriate expression of the spiritual maturity defined by Paul as the enabling to discern the things that really matter, to approve the essential (Phil. 1:10)."

Some thoughts on a Saturday evening.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

How the Reformed Presbyterian Church of North America Impoverishes Itself

Because the RPCNA does not permit women to be either pastors or elders these are the situations that can arise:

1) A woman with a Ph.D. can chair an academic department at Geneva College, be a spiritual mentor to her students, be a member of an RP church, but cannot be on the session of the congregation to which she belongs.

2) A woman with a Master of Theological Studies from the Reformed Presbyterian Theological Seminary cannot be an elder; a man who does not have such a degree can be an elder just because he is a man.

3) A woman with a Missionary Training Certificate from the Reformed Presbyterian Theological Seminary cannot be an elder; a man with no formal theological training can be an elder just because he is a man.

4) A woman with a Servant of the Church Certificate from the Reformed Presbyterian Theological Seminary cannot be an elder; a man with no formal theological training can be an elder just because he is a man.

5) A woman who spent years on the mission field, who taught and probably 'preached' to both believers and non-believers, could not be an elder once she returned from the mission field; a man with no such experience could be an elder just because he was a man.

6) A woman with a Ph.D. or M.D. cannot be an elder; a man with a G. E. D. can

7) A woman with a M. Div. from Gordon-Conwell Seminary or Calvin Seminary cannot be an elder; a man who has not finished high school can.

8) A woman who is a spiritual director and who has led spiritual retreats for both men and women and who belongs to a RP church cannot be an elder; a man who has no knowledge of spiritual formation and who may not be a good public speaker can.

9) A woman who has a M. Div. from one of the most respected divinity schools in the country, who has become one of the most respected preachers in the country, and who has authored several books on homiletics (Barbara Brown Taylor) could not even be a guest preacher in a RP pulpit; a second year male student from the RP seminary could preach just because he is a man.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Top Ten Reasons Why Men Should Not Be Ordained

This list has been circulating for several decades now. On the first read, it does make one chuckle. But then after a couple more reads one sees the several of the arguments that prevent women from exercising fully their gifts in some denominations, including the RPCNA.

Top Ten Reasons Why Men Should Not Be Ordained

10. A man's place is in the army.

9. For men who have children, their duties might distract them from the responsibilities of being a parent.

8. Their physical build indicates that men are more suited to tasks such as chopping down trees and wrestling mountain lions. It would be "unnatural" for them to do other forms of work.

7. Man was created before woman. It is therefore obvious that man was a prototype. Thus, they represent an experiment, rather than the crowning achievement of creation.

6. Men are too emotional to be priests or pastors. This is easily demonstrated by their conduct at football games and watching basketball tournaments.

5. Some men are handsome; they will distract women worshipers.

4. To be ordained pastor is to nurture the congregation. But this is not a traditional male role. Rather, throughout history, women have been considered to be not only more skilled than men at nurturing, but also more frequently attracted to it. This makes them the obvious choice for ordination.

3. Men are overly prone to violence. No really manly man wants to settle disputes by any means other than by fighting about it. Thus, they would be poor role models, as well as being dangerously unstable in positions of leadership.

2. Men can still be involved in church activities, even without being ordained. They can sweep paths, repair the church roof, and maybe even lead the singing on Father's Day. By confining themselves to such traditional male roles, they can still be vitally important in the life of the Church.

1. In the New Testament account, the person who betrayed Jesus was a man. Thus, his lack of faith and ensuing punishment stands as a symbol of the subordinated position that all men should take.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

What the RPCNA has in common with Islam, Hinduism, etc.

At the moment that the RPCNA wants to distinguish itself from liberal Protestants, Catholics, Arminians, etc., it is interesting to note what it has in common with major world religions and other faith traditions, viz., its view on women's role in the church.

As women cannot be pastors or elders in the RPCNA (ordained offices), neither can women be imams in under Islamic teachings. Women cannot lead Friday prayers or preach the Friday sermon.

Although nothing in Hindu scriptures specifically say that women cannot be priests, the tradition arose that only men could be priests. In the early 1980s this changed when two schools were opened in the Puna, India to train women to be priests. However in some regions in India, women priests are still considered a violation of Vedic law.

Catholics, of course, do not permit women priests. Nor do Mormons ordain women. Orthodox Jews do not permit women rabbis. Nor do the Eastern Orthodox churches.

So the RPCNA does share common ground with Islam, Catholicism, etc.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

The closing of the RPCNA mind--Part 2

Reports about the RPCNA Synod's vote to withdraw from the NAE noted that the delegates sang Ps. 133. The first verse of this psalm in metrical translation is: "Behold how good a thing it is, And how becoming well, When those that brethren are delight In unity to dwell." Since delegates to Synod can only be male, the gender-specific language here is appropriate.

One of the least attractive characteristics of many who adhere to a rigid Reformed theology is hubris. Everything is neat and tidy; all the doctrines are succinctly lined up. All the i's are dotted and the t's are crossed. And they sometimes remind one of the Pharisee in Luke 18 who, with the tax collector, goes to the temple to pray, only their prayer might differ: "God, I thank you that I am not like other people: [liberal Protestants, Catholics, Muslims, Arminians, Pentecostals, etc. etc."] I grant that some would say that by withdrawing they do not imply superiority. But let's be real. The message is, "We cannot and will not associate with you because we have the truth." I guess one of my bottom line questions is, Can the RPCNA only learn anything of significance about God, faith, spirituality, about what it simply means to be human from Reformed Christians?

The rain falls on the just and the unjust, doesn't it? Knowledge comes to the just and the unjust. Insights come from the just and the unjust. Rather than hubris, I Cor. 13:12 suggests there should be epistemological humility. Miroslav Volf writes: "Consider what happens when a person becomes a Christian. Paul writes, 'So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation.' When God comes, God brings a whole new world. The Spirit of God breaks through the self-enclosed worlds we inhabit; the Spirit re-creates us and sets us toward becoming what I like to call a 'catholic personality,' a personal microcosm of the eschatological creation. A catholic personality is a personality enriched by otherness, a personality which is what it is only because multiple others have been reflected in it in a particular way."

That the RPCNA seems to be saying that 'the other' can't possibly enrich it as a denomination is very sad. But I guess I should not be surprised. Within three blocks of my RP church there was a United Methodist church and a Presbyterian church. Not once did my church initiate a project, a common service with those other two CHRISTIAN churches. I don't know if those other two churches ever tried to initate anything with us. Oh, we had joint services with the other RP church down the block; that church was safe.

How are differences to be negotiated? What differences ought to keep believers separate from each other? Because let's face it, this withdrawal results in separation, distancing. But there seems to be another move made in the early church: "There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus." (Gal. 3: 28) "For when one says, 'I belong to Paul,' and another, 'I belong to Apollos,' are you not merely human?" (I Cor. 3:4) Differences, groups become suspect. In light of these verses the unity of Ps. 133 seems to be much more inclusive, not exclusive.