I’ve heard it said that Willow Creek Community Church tries to target middle-class males of about my age precisely because we are the hardest group to reach. As the thinking goes, if you can win them over, reaching others should be a snap. Jews for Jesus makes the same claim about trying to evangelize Jews.
I wonder who might be the hardest group of Christians to reach with the good news that in Christ there is neither male nor female (Gal 3:28), and the (to me) necessary corollary that God gifts both men and women for ministry. The (big-O) Orthodox may not be the hardest to reach, but I’m sure they’re in the top five. They’ve got a view of the church, its ministry, and its sacraments that isn’t just “high,” it’s stratospheric. And they’ve got a nearly 2,000-year track record of not ordaining women. If you can convince an Orthodox believer, you’re probably a long way towards convincing anybody else.
Did you ever wonder what an Orthodox argument for full inclusion of women in ministry would look like? Here is a good place to start.
The writer, Maria McDowell, begins by acknowledging that women’s ordination is a new question for Orthodox theology, and one that has come from outside that tradition as the Orthodox have interacted with western Christians. Even so, she thinks there are precedents in how Orthodoxy has handled other theological (not to mention disciplinary and liturgical) issues.
One thing I genuinely appreciate about the Orthodox is a desire at every point to remain true to the church’s Tradition. This brief essay demonstrates that this Tradition is not static but constantly evolving. Not only that, she believes it may even be able to make room for women’s ordination.
Realistically, the chances of McDowell’s ideas being taken to heart in my lifetime are infinitessimal. One might at least hope, however, for the revival of the female diaconate, which, as I understand it, was never truly abandoned as much as it was permitted to lapse from disuse.
On a related issue, McDowell quotes Gregory of Nazianzus’ Fifth Theological Oration on the issue of using gender-bound language for God:
It does not follow that because the Son is the Son in some higher relation (inasmuch as we could not in any other way than this point out that he is of God and consubstantial), it would also be necessary to think that all the names of this lower world and of our kindred should be transferred to the Godhead. Or maybe you would consider our God to be a male, according to the same argument, because he is called God and Father, and that deity is feminine, from the gender of the word, and Spirit neuter, because it has nothing to do with generation; ?¢‚Ç¨¬¶ It is very shameful, and not only shameful but very foolish, to take from things below a guess at things above, and from a fluctuating nature [a guess] at the things that are unchanging, and as Isaiah [8:19] says, to seek the living among the dead.
In the context of eastern Christianity’s long traditon of apophatic theology, such a stance makes perfect sense.
I found this essay at the website of the St. Nina Quarterly, “a publication dedicated to exploring the ministry of women in the Orthodox Church and to cultivating a deeper understanding of ministry in the lives of all Orthodox Christian women and men.” It’s worth a browse for anyone desiring to defend the ordination of women from any kind of conservative, traditional stance.
Update: This post is now cross-blogged at The CBE Scroll.