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Part 3: The Beauty of Equality

For most of my life the idea that women not only could be ordained ministers, but should be ordained to the ministry, was completely anathema. I grew up “knowing” that God in His infinite wisdom had predestined men to be the eternal superiors to women.  Society, as a part of a vast feminist plot, rejected this divine plan, allowing women to have jobs, take on leadership positions, and even join the military! It was a sad depraved world I heard over and over again. But, the “Christian home” and the “Christian Church” had to hold strong. Because we knew that in the home the husband was the prophet, priest, and king, we had to enforce wifely submission to her God-given head.

In the church, I was told again and again, if women were allowed into leadership any one of several things had happened or would happen (this is not a complete list): God was judging the world because men wouldn’t step up, God would judge the people with disorder and chaos, the people would become secular and would reject faith and probably become homosexual atheists, etc., etc., etc. Furthermore, in both home and church, the husband and the pastor represented Christ to the family and the congregation respectively. Therefore, because Jesus was a man, no woman could ever represent Jesus to someone else.

Volumes have been written on many of these arguments and their lack of biblical basis and their incoherency, and perhaps in another essay I can address my thoughts about the beauty of an egalitarian marriage. However, it was the last one that became the key to my belief that it is critical to have both women and men fully ordained by the church.

As my understanding of the Body of Christ moved toward a more Anglo-Catholic/high church theology, the notion of the deacon, priest, and bishop as representatives of Christ took on ever more serious connotations. Sacraments have real and eternal meaning; they cannot be entered into lightly, and the sacrament of ordination is no exception. If, as I believe, the laying on of hands truly imparts grace from God and demonstrates that the entire mystical Body of Christ is appointing this person as an official and trusted representative of the Body of Christ, and by extension of Jesus Christ himself, then it is of utmost importance who is allowed to be ordained. And furthermore, if only men can represent Christ because Jesus was a man, then under no circumstances should a woman be allowed to be ordained to any position in the church.

For me, the key assumption in that proposition is whether the redemptive work of Christ was dependent on his maleness. And I struggled with this idea, because of the inseparability of the spiritual and physical. If the work of Christ depended on his maleness, then all discussions surrounding the ordination of women were moot.

St. Junia and St. Andronicus - icon by Ellen Francis, OSH

One of the joys and benefits of embracing a theological tradition that looks back in continuity to the apostles is the richness and wisdom of the ancient church. In rejecting the Apollinarian heresy, the early church gained a deep insight – what Christ has not assumed he has not healed. In other words, whatever parts of humanity Christ did not take fully on himself, he did not redeem.  When I learned of these teachings in a Lenten study on the creeds by our priest Brian, I was floored by the implications.

We know women as well as men are redeemed by Christ; therefore, in his incarnation he assumed a humanity that included women as well as men. Therefore his incarnation and redemptive work had nothing to do with his maleness, but everything to do with his humanity. The beauty of my redeemer’s work flooded over me and thrilled me.

Inequality is not based in the Trinity, but is a product of our fallen state that Christ came to redeem and transform. Women and men both share full equality in Christ and can equally represent Christ to the world. My last barrier to and argument against women’s full ordination and ministry was eliminated in the Incarnation and Redemptive work of Christ.

The Holy Trinity - icon by Andre Rublev

This is why it is important, no a critical imperative, that women as well as men, from all races and ethnicities and social classes, be ordained to the deaconate, the priesthood, and the episcopate. The world around us is crying out for hope, and the creeds, sacraments and the liturgy points us to this the transcendent beauty of redemption, life and unity in and through the Body of Christ.  And in the enigmatic words of Dostoyevsky, “Beauty will save the world.”

Click here to read Part 1: The Beauty of Liturgy and Part 2: The Beauty of Experience.