A white paper written and distributed by JSS Patterson, “Ordaining Women As Deacons“, was written a few years ago and sent to many of the influential bishops and clergy in the conservative movement of the Episcopal and Anglican churches. In my opinion it has done damage to the church by refusing to acknowledge that God calls both women and men into ministry.
As a seminarian I have tried to have this rebuttal published in some of the places where Rev. Patterson’s white paper has been published, but have had no success, so I’ll publish it here. Anyone who agrees with me is invited to link to this page from your own blog to help counter this harmful opinion.
Note: This rebuttal was written before I began seminary and so should be read as coming from an average layperson, which it is. I will append some seminary-era notes and corrections at the end. The full text of Rev Patterson’s paper may be found here. Patterson’s points & comments are in regular text, my responses are in bold.
Informal response to “Ordaining Women as Deacons”
Foreward, page two, paragraph one: “If the ordination of women deacons is a godly and wholesome doctrine, the church that does not allow women to be deacons is sinning against God and man.”
That’s right. The church needs to be very careful and prayerful about this subject, and be sure it is not calling ‘unclean’ what God has called ‘clean’.
Introduction, page 1, paragraph 3 – The author raises two factors against women’s ordination in this paragraph: (1) the teaching of scripture, and (2) the practice of the historic church.
(1) Scripture as I understand it does not specifically command the ordination of women, nor does it specifically prohibit it. Scripture references can be found to support arguments both pro and con.
(2) In talking about “the historic church”the author points to the 1662 Prayer Book. The main purpose of this book was to correct inconsistencies and injustices found in Roman Catholic practices, not to address the issue of ordaining women (which would have been socially unthinkable at the time.) At any rate it is important not to put the Prayer Book (1662 or any other) on an equal footing with scripture.
Introduction, page 1, paragraph 4 – This paragraph quotes from the AMiA Report, which refers to “the historic threefold ministry” and calls the ordination of women an “innovation”.
It is my belief that the church’s hierarchy and structure (as we know it today) is in itself an “innovation” – one that began to be introduced by the Roman Catholic Church in the 300’s A.D. It was never used in the Celtic Catholic Church. As someone who conciously chose the Anglican/Episcopal Church as an adult, I appreciate certain aspects of the structure but I put no faith in church structure where it comes to matters of salvation or scriptural accuracy (look how far the Roman church, with the same structure, had fallen into error by the beginning of the second millenium). It’s a nice set of customs – but that’s all.
Introduction, page 2, paragraphs 3 & 4 – Here Patterson hints that the ordination of women is a cultural, worldly thing brought on by modern influences, and that scripture must be “interpreted” in a certain way in order to admit women to the clergy (that is, to make the church fit the world).
This argument is essentially a red herring, but since many people get taken in by it, I’ll address it briefly. The “world” has been right, and the church wrong, many times. How many ‘heretics’ were burned at the stake before the church admitted the earth revolved around the sun? (After all, it says in the Bible that “the sun stood still”.) How many Africans were sold into slavery before the church admitted slavery was wrong? (After all, people in the Bible owned slaves, and even St. Paul commanded slaves to “obey their masters”.) How many people were martyred before the church admitted that the Bible should be translated into the language of the people, and belonged in the hands of the people and not just the clergy? (After all, God only knows what heresies the people would come up with if they were allowed to read scriptures for themselves!) What’s happening culturally has no effect on God’s eternal truth… but sometimes the culture recognizes the church’s untruths and injustices long before the entrenched interests of the church’s institutions do.
Introduction, page 3, paragraph 4 – “Because the ability to function as an economic provider conveys a sense of paternal moral authority, modern womanhood bears a far greater resemblance to traditional manhood than ever before in human history.”
Good heavens!!!! This is either misogyny or utter ignorance. Earning a living doesn’t make a woman paternal, authoritative, or manly any more than being able to cook makes a man maternal, wussy, or womanly.
Here’s the scriptural answer. From Proverbs 31, vs. 10-11, 16-18a, 26:
“A wife of noble character who can find? She is worth more than rubies. Her husband has full confidence in her and lacks nothing of value. She considers a field and buys it; out of her earnings she plants a vineyard. She sets about her work vigorously; her arms are strong for their tasks. She sees that her trading is profitable… She speaks with wisdom, and faithful instruction is on her tongue.”
So the Godly woman provides economically for her household, does real estate deals, works with strong arms, earns a profit, and teaches with wisdom. What would Patterson add to this list if he were describing “traditional manhood”? Proverbs isn’t modern but it calls this woman “noble”.
Introduction, page 4, paragraphs 2 & 3 – Re: “liberationist” movements.
I am not a feminist or a womens liberationist. Those terms (and the implications that go with them) belong to the generation before mine. There is no need to liberate someone who is already free. What I am is a woman created by God, of equal value in His sight to any other human being (male or female) and gifted for ministry according to His plan and purpose.
Introduction, page 5, entire – Re: deaconesses becoming deacons
This is all about church tradition and has no parallel in scripture. But if we must talk about church tradition, even in the Roman Catholic tradition there are women saints and there have been women abbesses who had authority over men.
Introduction, page 6, paragraph 1 – Re: secularization in the church
I agree there is a great deal of secularization in the church – particularly in areas like catering to the wealthy, powerful, and popular, as well as sexual permissiveness and sexual aberrations. Male dominancy might also be seen as a form of secularization, albeit a longstanding one – it certainly wasn’t taught by Jesus.
As mentioned earlier, the church has been wrong before… if the church has been wrong about this issue, it is not “secularization” to admit it and take corrective action.
Introduction, page 6, paragraph 4 – Re: “not… framing the discussion in terms of what women can do, but what they should do”
The correct frame isn’t about “can” or “should”. It is: “what is God’s calling and purpose for a person’s life?” The answer will be different for every individual.
Introduction, page 7, paragraph 1 – Re: The 1662 Ordinal, etc…
I like being Anglican as much as Patterson does, but there comes a point where we need to get over ourselves. If all traces of the Anglican Church disappeared tomorrow, how would we worship? Our first loyalty must be to Christ, not to ancient ordinals.
Introduction, page 7, paragraph 2 – Re: deaconesses & deacons being traditionally distinct
Might this have something to do with the fact that many deaconesses and deacons back in the day were members of religious orders (convents/abbeys/etc), and therefore had separate living quarters, different spiritual directors, and different mission statements?
Introduction, page 8, paragraph 3 – Re: “an office with authority”
Do we not believe in the priesthood of all believers?
Introduction, page 9, paragraph 1 – Re: “women are not to have authority over men in the church”
Yes, St. Paul said this. The quotation in context is as follows:
“A woman should learn in quietness and full submission. I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she must be silent. For Adam was formed first, then Eve. And Adam was not the one deceived; it was the woman who was deceived and became a sinner. But women will be saved through childbearing—if they continue in faith, love and holiness with propriety.”
This passage raises a lot of questions. Setting aside the ‘authority’ issue for a moment…
- If a woman is to be silent, what if she has questions? In another passage St. Paul answers “she should ask her husband later” – but what if she has no husband? Who does she ask and when? Does the church make provision for this?
- What if a male teacher/preacher is in error, or knows less than a woman does? Is it a loving thing for a woman to let a man to fall flat on his face in public when she could prevent it?
- Does the church really teach that a woman is saved through childbearing? What if through no fault of her own she has no children? And more to the point, what then becomes of salvation by faith alone – is this only for men?
Back to the authority issue, Paul says “I do not permit…”. Paul does not say “God does not permit…”. In another passage he says: “There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”And in another he says: “For as in Adam [not ‘as in Eve’] all die, so in Christ all will be made alive.” These passages must be given equal weight with the original passage quoted.
Here’s another example. In another passage St. Paul says: “Every man who prays or prophesies with his head covered dishonors his head. And every woman who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonors her head—it is just as though her head were shaved… Does not the very nature of things teach you that if a man has long hair, it is a disgrace to him, but that if a woman has long hair, it is her glory? For long hair is given to her as a covering. If anyone wants to be contentious about this, we have no other practice—nor do the churches of God.”
So, based on Paul’s teaching, do women cover their heads in church? Do we shame men with long hair? Isn’t it the accepted teaching that Paul’s instructions were for that time and place in order that the name of God not be maligned among non-believers? And perhaps more to the point of this debate…Paul says “every man who prays or prophesies… and every woman who prays or prophesies…” – Paul has been talking about what they’re wearing, not what they’re doing – the men and women in this passage are both doing the exact same thing. In church.
Getting back to Paul’s argument re: Adam and Eve – in Genesis it says:
“To the woman he said, “I will greatly increase your pains in childbearing; with pain you will give birth to children. Your desire will be for your husband, and he will rule over you.”
This passage takes place after the fall – “he will rule over you” is a result of sin, not part of God’s original perfect plan. It describes life in a fallen world. So should the church just shrug its shoulders and say “oh well, that’s how life is in a fallen world, tough luck ladies”? Is this a Christian attitude?
One other comment on the authority issue. It is my personal rule of thumb, and I think it’s soundly based in Jesus’ teaching, that Christian authority has its foundations in love… not in hierarchy or rank, and certainly not in establishing one’s own position at the expense of another. (by the way, many people who oppose the ordination of women call their position “tough love”, which is a twisting of the original concept of tough love. I don’t buy it for one moment. Real love is patient, kind, open-hearted, generous, and trusting even when disagreements arise.) I recognize the authority of anyone, man or woman, who loves Jesus with their whole heart and loves their neighbor as themselves; without that love I do not recognize anyone’s authority, no matter what position they may hold in the church.
Introduction, page 12, paragraph 3 – “I still feel free to encourage women to take on positions of leadership within their local churches…” but “women are forbidden to ‘teach or have authority’ over a man…”
Name me some positions of leadership in the church that don’t involve having ‘authority’ over men…? I’d like to see a list. I’d also like to see the church put as much effort and resources into seeking out and equipping women leaders as it puts into seeking out and equipping male leaders.
An Appraisal of the AMiA’s Report, page 16, paragraph 1 – Referring to womens’ sense of call: “The sense or the feeling of a call must not be equated with the call of God.”
Interesting. So how do men know when they are called?
An Appraisal of the AMiA’s Report, page 17, paragraphs 1 & 2
As far as I can see the AMiA’s report is correct, as is the author’s evaluation – it’s wrong to stop with just ordaining women to the diaconate. The only reason I can see to stop there – and it is a sound reason, but only temporarily – is to avoid further divisions within the church.
Re: “Does the author of this comment think that ordained people are more gifted than the laity? Why would ordaining a woman be a sign of her gifting?”
I should hope the people being ordained in the church are the most gifted people the church can find! The role of the ordained clergy is to tend to people’s eternal souls – why on earth would you not put the most gifted people possible in this role? The issue where women are concerned is not giftedness, but lack of opportunities to use their gifts. On Judgement Day, if the Lord asks “why did you not use the gifts I gave you?” I can’t imagine He would accept “because the guys wouldn’t let me” as an answer.
An Appraisal of the AMiA’s Report, page 19, paragraphs 1 & 2 and also p. 23
This is an issue of scripture vs. church tradition again. If the church’s diaconate is not what the New Testament’s diaconate is, which needs to change? The formality of a “deacon” in the Anglican church has its roots directly in the Roman Catholic church, not the Bible.
An Appraisal of the AMiA’s Report, page 20, Re: Phoebe
Questions: What did Phoebe do? How and why was she considered equal to the apostles? What services did she render to the church? And by what authority?
From An Appraisal of the AMiA’s Report, page 27 – “Phoebe, then, was probably a woman of high social standing and some wealth, who put her status, resources, and time at the services of traveling Christians, like Paul, who needed help and support…”
In other words, men have no problem using women’s money, they just don’t want to listen to our words…?
An Appraisal of the AMiA’s Report, page 32, paragraphs 1, 2, & 3 – “Let deacons each be the husband of one wife, managing their children and their own households well. (3:12)” and “Because he has made the issue of marital status and fidelity an explicit requirement for the bishop, the deacon and the widow, if Paul were
writing about women deacons in v. 11 the reader would expect comments about the necessity of the woman deacon having a marital life that was above reproach.”
Is Patterson saying that scripture says all clergymen must be married? If so, this goes directly contrary to St. Paul’s teaching that it is better to remain unmarried unless one simply can’t.
As for women – must we also be married? Is there no place in the church for the woman who devotes her entire life to the Lord rather than dividing her time between the Lord and a husband?
Historical Considerations: An Abbreviated Summary, page 46, paragraph 2 – Re: “exercise the sacred ministry”
Having just finished a quick study of the early church, this phrase is used in the writings of the early historian Bede and others – always in the context of serving communion. In other words, the Novellae is describing what we might call a Lay Eucharistic Minister.
Historical Considerations: An Abbreviated Summary, page 50, paragraph 1 – Re: women historically not being permitted to serve communion
Yes, this is for the most part true – because of the teaching of the Roman Catholic church, to which this piece of history belongs. In the RC Church, communion has to do with “the altar” and “the sacrifice”, that is, transubstantiation… and women were not permitted to perform “the sacrifice”. As far as I understand it, the Anglican church does not teach transubstantiation, so the Roman Catholic objection to women serving communion doesn’t apply.
Postscript: In my studies since this rebuttal was written, I have discovered who Phoebe was. She is mentioned in Romans 16:1 where Paul calls her “sister” and uses the Greek word “diakonon” (deacon) to describe her. Patterson’s paper goes to great (and convoluted) lengths to get around Paul’s plain words.
Furthermore he completely ignores Romans 16:7 in which Paul calls the woman Junia an “apostolos” (apostle) – someone who was an eyewitness to Jesus’ death and resurrection. Junia is probably ‘overlooked’ because certain translations of the Bible after the mid-1800s have insisted that Junia was a man (Junias). This view was not shared by the churches down through the ages, and indeed was not even suggested until the 1200s. Early saints such as Origen, John Chyrsostom, Jerome and Abelard make reference to the woman Junia, and Chyrsostom comments that it was a significant thing that Paul recognized her as an apostle.
Historical studies have shown that while Junia was a common name in ancient Rome, the male form (Junias) was never recorded in any books or inscriptions. In other words, it was a name invented by the church 1,000 years later.
For more information on Junia see Junia: The First Woman Apostle. This book is very deep and is not an easy read — most laypeople will find what they need to know in the introduction — nonetheless I recommend it highly as a resource of impeccable scholarship.