Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Can We All Get Along?

I recently came across an argument about whether or not Catholics should ordain women as priests.  One point raised was that men and women have different roles/abilities and that the inability of women to be priests did not diminish them because they have other roles.  Now I am not an expert in Catholicism and so I have no intention to try and sort out what it is about a priest that makes them need to be male.  I also would agree that a call to ordained ministry does not make one more important or more loved by God than a call to any other form of ministry (teaching, cleaning, child-raising, farming, etc).

The question I want to ponder is whether different views on a topic like ordination can actually be hurtful and incompatible.  The relativist in me would love to say that if the Catholics or Baptists are all happy not ordaining women then that is fine and that is something we can respectfully disagree on.  But does it really end there.  It is one thing to disagree on something like Communion ... does it really become the Body and Blood of Christ.  I believe it does not literally transubstantiate but the Catholics do.  For that reason out of respect for them I do not take Communion in a Catholic church and I would understand if they did not feel that elements blessed by me were not the same as those done in a Catholic mass.  But the ordination of women seems to point to something deeper.  By refusing to ordain women, some denominations are saying that they do not believe women can adequately perform these roles OR are not called by God to do so.

Obviously the ordination of women is important to me ... after all I was baptized, confirmed, married, and ordained by women.  If they are not really called by God then I have a serious problem.  Maybe I am over-reacting and it does not bother women but it does seem like differing views on the ordination of women are not something that is easy to just respectfully disagree on.  I like to try and see things from other people's viewpoints but I am struggling to see how such a view of ordination does not diminish women ... or at least say that we how believe women can be ordain are wrong about God's call in their life.

Ordination of women is just a simple lens for larger issues.  One might raise the same questions about the roles of women (or other minorities) in other parts of society.  If I am right and there is a lack of compatibility, does that make it our obligation to seek to change things?  We push for fair treatment of children in other countries, the rights of women in general, is it the place for Methodists and Lutherans to be pushing for Catholics and other denominations to ordain women?  This feels like a murky issue to me and one that it is hard for me to totally sort because I am neither a women nor one who does not think they should be ordained, so in some ways I am an outsider to the questions I pose.  Still it is one that I am struggling with ... any thoughts?

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

The Church and Sexuality

Over the last couple of weeks, issues around sex and sexuality keeping coming to my attention.  Some of it may be that I have been reading through Leviticus with its chapters on sexuality.  A recent program on MPR talked about the sex and teens, and a Glee episode recently highlight three of the characters losing their virginity.  Through it all what became clear to me is that the church has lost its voice when it comes to sex.  I do not believe this is simply because society has passed us by or that we no longer hold a position of power in culture.  Both of these are true but I think they are actually effects, not causes.  I think the cause is the fact that we have not tried to say anything.  Okay, maybe we have tried to say something but it basically seems to amount to saying "NO" really loudly and then sticking our fingers in our ears.  I am young, so I do not feel I am in a position to make generalizations about older generations BUT I do know that lots of people my age have had sex and most did not wait until they were married.  It could be the case that this was true of older generations but while it happened in older generations I suspect it was flipped around, most waited until after marriage and a few did not.

So what can we do in the church about this?  I think we need to do some serious thinking about how sex fits into our theology.  As I have been reading Leviticus I am reminded that there are two really strong concerns there 1) incest is bad ... even without a modern understanding of DNA, the Israelites knew that it was bad to sleep with close relatives 2) knowing the father is important ... again, without the benefit of DNA the best way to determine paternity in a child (and thus inheritance) was to have there be only one option for who the father was, the husband.  If everyone had multiple partners it could quickly become hard to decide who was the child of who and therefore who inherited what.

So what can we learn from this?  One response could be to simply maintain the prohibitions as put forward in scripture.  Unfortunately for many, myself included these seems unsatisfying.  There are lots of aspects of scriptures that we disregard today, like the purity laws.  Some of these can be said to have been modified in the New Testament (Peter is told that no animal is unclean to eat) but others are never really addressed (don't where a shirt made of two fibers).  I do not do well with senseless prohibitions, I want to understand the rule so that I can whole-heartedly follow it.  This is where I believe the church fails.  We do not do a good job of explaining why we think it is spirituality better to wait until marriage to have sex.  Too often we reduce things simply to God/Bible says so.  I think it is our task as theologians to look for more.

It is clear that more and more people are not waiting to have sex.  More and more people are having sex earlier and earlier.  If this is a bad thing, and I am inclined to think it is, then I think we need to a better job of talking about it.  It is not easy, for many it is awkward, but I think our silence on the issue has its own effects.  Too many young people believe the primary concerns about sex before marriage are based around issues of safety (STDs) and pregnancy.  If we believe there is something more to the issue, a value in having a single partner for example, then we need to find a way to talk about that and express it.  For some people the simple understanding that it is wrong to have sex before marriage will work.  But increasingly for both those within and outside the church it seems to be failing.  If we want to maintain our stance I think we need to do some serious thinking and theologizing about why if we ever expect society to listen to what we have to say on the matter.