We see that, at the Synod, the topic of women’s ordination has come up, as if the rest of the Christian world that has gone along with this innovation—and in the teeth of clear New Testament instruction—has not been pitching itself into deeper and more accelerated decline, and as if the contemporary Church has had anything even worldly to boast of, to attempt to justify her presumption that she knows better than the apostles Paul and Peter did, not to mention the Fathers, the schoolmen, the saints, and the countless faithful men and women before our time.
I have long noticed that in any social situation raised slightly beyond the level of an artificial routine, if you switch the sexes, imagining every male to be female and every female to be male, and having them say and do exactly the same things in exactly the same way, you could not get three seconds into the experiment without laughter at the absurdity of it.
When Rob Petrie tries to model a mink coat he wants to buy for his wife, Laura, and he puts it on and looks at himself in the mirror, unconsciously making a couple of motions that women commonly make, we laugh out loud because it doesn’t “work.” You might as well portray a dog tiptoeing gingerly atop a railing, or a cat with his tongue hanging out, waiting for you to throw a stick so he can fetch it.
Orthodox. Faithful. Free.
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In my lifetime, almost all of the controversy regarding the relations of men and women to one another can be summed up in a sentence or two. It is held that there are not supposed to be any special relations between men and women, that men and women are interchangeable, that each sex owes no peculiar duty to the other, and that their spheres of characteristic action in the home, at work, in the neighborhood, in the larger society, and in the Church are exactly the same. Anything else is held to be but the residue of old and unjust ways, the mulish bigotry of the past.
Anyone who says that there are distinctions between the sexes that are profound and important, and that each sex is made for the other in a relationship characterized by interdependence, hierarchy, and equality all at once, is to be scorned or ignored or accused of being hateful (if male) or stupid (if female).
And, of course, this insistence not so much on equality as on indistinguishability, not so much on each sex’s assuming its rightful place as on neither sex’s having any rightful place at all, not so much on the beauty and wonder of male and female but on their meaninglessness, has played the devil with the Church, too. It is no surprise that the call to ordain (or to pretend to ordain) women as priests comes mainly from people who wish to marry (or to pretend to marry) a man with a man or a woman with a woman, or from people who seem to believe that a man can become a woman by asserting it, perhaps assisted by a mink coat and a full-length mirror.
Yet, even now, I notice that nature reasserts herself when people are distracted by emergency. For example, in the accusations hurled back and forth between the supporters of Israel in the current war and the supporters of the Palestinians, regardless of the sexual politics of the accusers, the targeting of women and children is marked as peculiarly abhorrent and criminal. Imagine the officers on the Titanic keeping women and children at bay at gunpoint, crying out, “Men first!” And imagine a woman gently pushing her husband away from her, as her husband weeps freely, and she says, “Dear, you must go now. Get into the lifeboat. It’s my duty to stay.”
No, we acknowledge that women and children are to be protected because they are physically vulnerable and because they are the hope of the rising generation. Nature herself gives us a clue to this real duty in the high pitch of the woman’s voice, her smooth chin, and—by comparison with a healthy grown man—the childlike softness of her musculature. Protected, not despised; for in the order of ends, that association with children is more centrally important than is the man’s building of roads or digging of mines. And we have Jesus to remind us that unless we become as little children, we shall not enter the kingdom of Heaven.
So, let me try the experiment with that passage from Ephesians that was of no controversy at all for nearly two thousand years, no more than if Paul had recommended that Christians should eat good food and drink clean water:
Husbands submit yourselves unto your own wives as unto the Lady.
For the wife is the head of the husband, even as Christa is the head of the church: and she is the savior of the body.
Therefore as the church is subject unto Christa so let the husbands be to their own wives in everything.
Wives love your husbands, even as Christa also loved the Church, and gave herself for him;
That she might sanctify and cleanse him with the washing of water by the word,
That she might present him to herself a glorious Church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing; but that he should be holy and without blemish.
So ought women to love their husbands as their own bodies. She who loves her husband loves herself.
For no woman ever yet hated her own flesh; but nourishes it and cherishes it, even as the Lady cherishes the church:
For we are members of her body, of her flesh, and of her bones.
For this cause shall a woman leave her mother and father, and shall be joined unto her husband, and they two shall be one flesh.
This is a great mystery; but I speak concerning Christa and the church.
Nevertheless let every one of you in particular so love her husband even as herself; and the husband see that he reverence his wife.
Does that work? Are we members of Christa’s body? Do we hear the word of the Lady? Is a woman to lay down her life for her husband? When danger draws near, is it the woman who says to her husband, “Stay here with the children till I come back,” he and she both fearing that she may not come back at all? Do women actually desire men who submit to them, who give them the leadership of the family, who expect them to be the main providers, to the exhaustion and endangerment of their bodies? Do women want their men to behave like the women Paul has in mind?
Or do women want to do for men what Paul demands of the men here? Why, if it were true, we should be in the midst of the happiest times for grown males and females—I will not say “men” and “women”—the world has ever known! Marriages aplenty, and divorces nearly unheard of; child-rich families wherever you turn; music happier than ever, and the only grouches would be among those who stick to the old ways.
Of course, it is not so.
Yet, there is a greater principle at play here than the neuralgic focus of our time may give us to suspect. It is this. The word of God is always beyond our comprehension and sometimes even beyond our apprehension. We never know all that it means; and sometimes we hardly know what it means at all, or that it means anything at all. It must be so. God is our Creator. We cannot have it out with Him in mere rational debate, as Job seems to want to have done.
We must then wait upon him. We do not see so that we might obey. We obey that we might see: increase of vision and understanding is dependent upon obedience. It is not I who say so. The Lord says it. If we love Him, we will keep his commandments, and then he will dwell within us, making Himself manifest to us (see John 14:15-24). Many of those commandments will be hard for us to understand.
How could you say to the pagan Germans that they were forbidden to engage in personal vendettas and blood feuds? It certainly took them a while to learn that lesson. But if they obeyed the commandment, they would learn, they would see. It is so with all of what God commands—only those things that are best for us anyway; and with all that He forbids—only those things that harm us.
Now, then, is our chance to learn as any pagan tribe had to learn, by waiting upon God, obeying Him, and saying, “Teach us again what we have forgotten, or teach us what we have never understood or even conceived.” For our world has nothing to teach God; and in the specific matter of the sexes, we have quite a few good and beautiful things to recover.