Saturday, April 11, 2015

Gender and the Liturgical Distinction

The fact that men and women are physically different seems lost as a distinction worthy of note today.  The push is on an equality in which no distinctions are allowed or in which distinctions there is no inherent difference to prevent one from being interchangeable with the other.  Just as GLBT equality has taken the stage today, so did feminism push an equality in which distinctions were always suspect and therefore no real distinguishing characteristics were allowed.  In this way different but equal is refuted even though the anatomy of male and female insist upon such difference.  Just as the GLBT community has insisted that their cause was the next logical step after women's liberation, so did the voice of feminism insist that its cause was the next logical step after racial distinctions were bridged -- although the male and female dichotomy of our existence offers an obvious reality that no racial distinction can justify.

For too long we in the Church have been limited to either liberation or misogyny.  If we hold to orders for male only, it would seem that women are not equal nor are they valued.  If we hold to orders for either male or female, we are left with the inescapable conclusion that the Church and Scripture (at least the catholic tradition on Scripture on this point) were always wrong in the past and are wrong now with respect to the ordination of women.  So we have struggled with creative ways to say what we did not want people to think was in any way offensive to women.  We have mostly failed in that regard and nearly everyone is embarrassed of confounded either by the choice to ordain or not to ordain women.

Peter Leithart is a writer with whom I do not always agree but he has written briefly on the First Things Blog about a liturgical distinction as part of God's creative order in which complimentarity and equality fit together in a way that is fresh amid the stale old arguments pro and con the ordination of women.  You can read it all here but I will quote a couple of paragraphs.  It makes you want for more from this author -- not always a feeling you get by reading anywhere (including here!).  Leithart is not absolutely unique -- what he is saying has been said before by others -- but how he says it is the key.  He speaks clearly and winsomely for the ordination of males only and I would love to see how he would handle a fuller treatment both of the concepts and the texts:

First Timothy 2:12–14 is one of the texts most commonly cited in debates over women’s ordination: “I do not allow a woman to teach or exercise authority over a man, but to remain quiet. For it was Adam who was first created, then Eve. And not Adam was deceived, but the woman being deceived fell into transgression.”

Some inside and outside the Church regard this text as prime evidence that Christianity is inherently misogynistic. Even for Christians who take the text at face value, it seems a thin reed. What hath Adam to do with the pastoral ministry?

Paul knows what he’s about. In Genesis 2, the human race starts out in God’s house, the garden-sanctuary of Eden. Nearly every feature indicates that the garden is a temple. Like other biblical sanctuaries, it’s oriented to the east. It’s a well-watered spot, a place of life-giving food, a sacred place where Yahweh is present to his creatures. After the fall, cherubim are stationed at the gate, anticipating the cherubic guardians of the tabernacle and temple. Later sanctuaries are reconstituted gardens; the garden is a proto-sanctuary.

Adam is created first and commanded to “cultivate and keep” the garden—or, better, to “serve and guard” it. Both terms describe priestly ministry. Priests are guardians of holy places and household servants of the Great King of Israel, and Adam is the first of the line.

Yahweh’s “It is not good for the man to be alone; I will make a helper suitable for him” should be understood in this context. What Adam needs is not a friend, but a liturgical partner—a hearer and speaker to converse about the word of Yahweh, a singer to harmonize his praise, a respondent to his versicles, a table companion to break bread with him in the presence of God. Once Yahweh forms Eve, Adam is to guard and serve her too. He speaks Yahweh’s word to her and shares fruit from the tree of life. Paul says elsewhere that the woman is the glory of the man, and, in guarding Eve, Adam guards a bright radiance of glory.

Satan’s temptation is a perverse liturgy: first the serpent’s deceptive word, then “sacramental” food that opens Eve’s eyes. Instead of guarding Eve, Adam stands passively “with her” (Genesis 3:6), watching in fright as the serpent seizes Adam’s liturgical role. Adam falls in that he forsakes his priesthood.

Men and women are biologically different in ways that used to be obvious to everyone, but Genesis isn’t about biology. Churches are confused about ordination because we are materialists who identify the order of creation with biology, who assume that everything but physics is cultural construction. Liturgical differences aren’t imposed on the more basic physical differences. For Paul and Genesis, differences between male and female are essentially symbolic, fundamentally liturgical.

1 comment:

Janis Williams said...

I also like what Leithart says.

Part of the curse on Eve was that, "her desire would be for her husband." (from my memory of the KJV). Many scholars take this to mean her desire would be for his place/headship. I think all we have to do is look around us to see it in full flower. In addition, who among us as fallen is content with his/her place?

Biology cannot be ignored in the realm of the sexual. Plumbing is different, and parts don't fit. Also, our own Lord was circumcised on the eighth day, and is even now in human flesh (male) glorified.

C.S. Lewis' assessment of differences in his science fiction That Hideous Strength hints at the liturgical/heavenly sense of this. There is a difference between male and female vs. masculine and feminine. This "liturgical" difference can be seen from the "top down" so to speak. Compared to the masculinity (not maleness) of God, we are all feminine, whether man or woman. Our propensity to label things masculine or feminine (even inanimate objects) remains even though English lost what the Romance Languages retain.

So we can't ignore male and female differences, but neither should we ignore masculine vs. feminine. I know there are those (who believe we are born, not made - see previous post from Fr. Peters) who could take this argument and run with it against distinctions. This is why we cannot ignore either the physical or spiritual/liturgical sides of the issue