But Won’t Presbyterians Ultimately Change Their Position on Gay Ordination, Just Like They Did on the Ordination of Women?
By Mark D. Roberts | Thursday, July 31, 2008
One of the most common arguments you’ll hear these days from proponents of gay ordination goes something like this:
Presbyterians used to oppose the ordination of women on the basis of the Bible. But in spite of biblical teaching to the contrary, we now ordain women. So it will be with the ordination of gays and lesbians. In time, we’ll realize that they should be ordained. It’s inevitable.
On the surface, this argument from analogy seems to be convincing. It’s true that Presbyterians once opposed the ordination of women, but now we ordain them. (To be precise, some Presbyterian denominations, such as the PCUSA or the EPC, allow the ordination of women, while others, such as the PCA or the OPC, do not.) And when we see how our culture is moving rapidly in the direction of normalizing homosexuality, it seems reasonable that many Presbyterians will follow suit. In fact, I am convinced that within relatively few years there will be either a Presbyterian denomination or a large grouping within an existing Presbyterian denomination that does, in fact, ordain gay and lesbian people.
But the analogy between the ordination of women and the ordination of active homosexuals is a flawed one. It is quite logical for someone to endorse the ordination of women while opposing the ordination of active homosexuals. For one thing, the “women’s issue” has to do with including or excluding people on the basis of their identity. Women were precluded from ordained ministry, not because of anything they had done or not done, but simply because of their gender. The “gay issue,” on the contrary, is primarily about behavior, not identity. In the Presbyterian Church USA, a person with a homosexual orientation is not prevented from being ordained if that person pledges to live a chaste life. It’s only a person’s intention to be involved in homosexual behavior that prohibits his or her ordination.
Secondly, and perhaps more importantly, the analogy between women’s ordination and gay ordination is flawed because it implies that biblical teaching about women in ministry is more or less similar to biblical teaching about gay people in ministry. But this implication ignores the huge differences between biblical teaching on women and biblical teaching on homosexuals. Let me explain.
The biblical case against the ordination of women depends primarily on three New Testament texts: 1 Corinthians 11:2-16 (veiling of women); 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 (silence of women); 1 Timothy 2:11-15 (silence of women). Opponents of women’s ordination will often point to Ephesians 5:21-33 (submission of wives to husbands) and Genesis 2 (secondary creation of women) to buttress their position, as well as to Jesus’s choice of twelve males as his most intimate disciples. Now I happen to believe that all of these biblical passages, when rightly understood, actually support the ordination of women. But I will grant that, on the surface, 1 Corinthians 12, 1 Corinthians 14, and 1 Timothy 2 appear to oppose this practice. (Photo: A woman praying with a veil on her head. A third-century A.D. painting found in the Catacombs of Priscilla, in Rome. This photo can be found at the excellent website: EIKON – Image Database for Biblical Studies.)
Yet the passages I have just mentioned are not all the Bible has to say about women in positions of authority in God’s kingdom. In fact, there are many, many passages that either portray women in positions of authority or provide theological support for this perspective. Let me mention some of the main passages:
Genesis 1:26-28 - Man and woman created in God’s image; Man and woman given the command to fill the earth and subdue it.
Genesis 2:18 - Woman is created as a “helper” for the man. Ezer, the Hebrew word for “helper,” almost always refers to a stronger person, and, in the Old Testament, usually to God.
Judges 4-5 - Deborah was a prophetess and judge of Israel, with obvious and divinely endorsed authority over Israelite men.
Luke 8:1-3 - Jesus had many women among his entourage of disciples.
John 20 - The resurrected Jesus chose a woman to be the first “evangelist” who bore witness to his resurrection.
Acts 2:17-18 - In fulfillment of Joel’s prophecy, the Holy Spirit is poured out on men and women, and it is stated that women will prophesy.
Romans 16:1-2 - Phoebe is a minister (Gk. diakonos) and someone whose authority should be respected by the Roman church.
Romans 16:7 - Junia is named as a prominent apostle. (Most likely reading, in my opinion, among several options.)
1 Corinthians 7:4 - A wife has authority over her husband’s body, even as he has authority over hers.
1 Corinthians 11:5 - Women pray and prophesy in church.
Philippians 4:2-3 - Euodia and Syntyche are leaders in the Philippian church and Paul’s co-workers.
Titus 2:3 - Older women are “to teach what is good.”
Revelation 2:18-29 - The church in Thyatira accepts a woman as a prophet and a teacher. This acceptance is never criticized, only the content of her teaching.
Of course I could point to many other passages that, in my opinion, support the ministry of women, and therefore their ordination. And, of course, I realize that those who oppose the ordination of women have their own ways of interpreting the passages I have just mentioned. But even the staunchest opponents of women’s ordination would have to admit that some of these passages, at least on the surface, suggest that God can use women in positions of authority in his ministry, even in positions of authority over men.
When it comes to homosexuality, do we find a similar division of the house when it comes to biblical teaching? No, not at all. Here are some basic facts:
Every time the Bible speaks directly about homosexual activity, it regards it as sinful.
When the Bible speaks positively about human sexuality, it always does so only in the context of heterosexual relationships.
Two passages in the New Testament (Romans 1 and 1 Corinthians 6) appear to regard all homosexual behavior as sinful. Several leading biblical scholars show that this appearance is in fact what the biblical passages actually intended (Richard Hays, N.T. Wright, Robert Gagnon, etc.).
Nowhere in Scripture is a homosexual person portrayed positively as a leader in God’s kingdom.
So, whereas proponents of women’s ordination have many biblical passages to call as witnesses for their position, proponents of gay ordination have no specific biblical passages on their side. Thus you’ll find proponents building their case upon arguments from silence, such as: “Jesus never condemned homosexual behavior.” That’s true. But he also didn’t condemn rape or child molestation or fouling the environment or racism. So we’d better be wary of arguments from silence, especially when everything we know about Scripture and everything we know about Jesus’s culture points in the direction of his not approving of homosexual behavior.
The fact that the Bible offers nothing specific to help proponents of gay ordination explains, to a great extent, whey they have stopped trying to interpret the Scripture to their advantage. They just can’t get any traction for their argument. The only way to get the Bible to support homosexuality is to point to passages that commend love or justice, and then to argue that it is loving and just to approve of the ordination of active homosexuals. But this exposition of love and justice flies in the face of Scriptural teaching. It is neither loving nor just to approve of that which the Bible reveals to be sin.
Although I don’t claim to be a prophet or a soothsayer, I think it’s highly unlikely that Presbyterians who confess the full authority of Scripture will ever endorse the ordination of active gay and lesbian people, even though they endorse the ordination of women. From a social and cultural perspective, these two ordination issues might look similar. But from a biblical perspective, they are radically different.
Topics: PCUSA: End of? |
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