Friday, January 30, 2009

Is this Christianity?

My interest in the church is presently that of an outsider who nonetheless has many reasons to believe the revival of Judeo-Christian ways of understanding the human are probably necessary to a revival of our shared Western freedom. One of the debates in today's church that interests me is whether a woman can properly play the role of priest. Of course a woman can be a priest or priestess, in general human terms - history has seen many - but can she be one in a specifically Christian context that will remain coherently and meaningfully Christian (not that I have any firm ideas about any necessary limits of Christianity in relation to any other possible religious positions)?

In other words, can a woman satisfactorily represent Jesus in relation to the church that has been traditionally figured as female (which, by the way, was a tradition continued when the at first Presbyterian and Anglican sons of a somewhat de-ritualized protestantism re-discovered their need for priestly ritual and created all-male priestly fraternities, starting in the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries. On the initial model of the Freemasons, the fraternal lodges that were, until the last few generations, ubiquitous in Anglo-American civil society were figured as feminine: e.g., one used turns of phrase like "our Mother lodge"; "our sister lodge" to refer to one's lodge's relationship to other lodges, though one's fellow priests were definitely fellows or brothers in the craft.)

While I believe we are primarily cultural beings, culture cannot eliminate or make insignificant certain underlying biological natures and these inevitably influence how we play any role, and how it was first "played" before it became the basis of a ritual. Anyway, this is just to explain why this story grabbed my interest:
Clergy Catwalk Show at Westpoint, showing off the cloths form the cloth is - Reverend Wiz Slater, curate at St Michael's CofE Stoke Gifford (Photo: SWNS)
The ecclesiastical event was a showcase of the latest designs of religious gowns in various colours, patterns, shapes and textures.

Several priests acted as 'models' to strut the cat walk in front of hundreds of clergy at the exhibition .

One model, The Rev James Hutchings, said: "I've done nothing like this before. It has certainly caused lots of laughs in the parish.

"My children thought it was hilarious. They probably won't ask me back. My pirouette was terrible."

Designers featured in the show including J Wippell Ltd, of Exeter, Juliet Hemingway and Shinglers of Sutton.

Ms Hemingway, who has designed vestments for George Carey, the former Archbishop of Canterbury, told the Express and Echo: "Women clergy have brought a fresh look to garments.

"They are not as willing to put up with dirty, worn-out robes. I think this has rubbed off on male clergy."

Reverend Hilary Dawson, Church of England curate in the Netherexe Mission Community, near Exeter, modelled various designs. She told the newspaper she had bought four stoles from Juliet Hemingway.

"My stoles say something about my faith, the place in which I am serving and, most of all, point to the gospel of Christ," she said. "My green stole, for example, reflects the water and hills of my new home and parishes."


Dag said...

I see churches as businesses that have to make money to stay in business. Some, like the Anglicans and Lutherans, are supported by the state; but those that count are self-supporting, member-based, accountable like any business to their customers.

I see Protestant churches as being akin to small businesses, like a grocery store or a bowling alley or a doctor's office. One becomes licensed as minister, starts a church, goes to work in competition with others in the business. Some churches are franchises like McDonald's or Albertson's.

Catholic churches I see as more like a major corporation with little offices all over the place, all more or less directed from the head office, various executives placed here and there to keep things running. Still a business.

As businessmen most of these people are going to try to attract and maintain customers. Some will try any gaudy window-dressing they can find, and others will stand firm with the dirty curtains regardless. It's just business. Some win, some lose, some new ones rise up to take a shot at success.

Muslims have their organizations, and they are successful so far because they run their religion like the mafia in a remote village.

Leftists are envious of the enthusiasm of the primitives, and though the Leftists usually don't have the institutions themselves, I'm betting they like some. I suspect they'll simply convert to the Muslim norm when they get sick of standing in the cold all the time while the Muslims are inside the tent having a good Hate. It's a product for sale, and it begs customers. What do Christians have to offer? Pretty thin soup compared to the meat of Islam.

maccusgermanis said...

I try to avoid this issue. It marked the begining of my heresy. But I'll not pretend that I_Corinthians 14:34 says other than it does. It would be very nice to think the passage "out of context," or "misinterpreted."

The fashion show is more clearly aberrant, being in conflict with the more easily embraced Matt. 23:5 But all their works they do for to be seen of men: they make broad their phylacteries, and enlarge the borders of their garments

maccusgermanis said...

Sorry, that quotation really didn't include a complete sentence. The point being that fashion isn't the point of church. Nor will fashion put Christian Churches on a competitive edge for muslims that actually believe the wicked things said in the koran.

Dag said...

When I read this piece the first things that came to mind were, first, a scene from "Fellini: Roma," in which a fashion show unfolds, hand-holding priests in thick make-up roller-skate in increasingly obscene costumes for the delight of an increasingly obscene higher clericy, mitered hats decked out in neon and so forth. and my second thought was of Gramham Greene's account from "A Sort of Life" in which Greene recounts his formal conversion to Catholicism, taking a lunch hour break to go to the church's side door where the priest, whose vestment are stained from his eating pizza, goes through the motions, and then both men, finished with that, step out for a cigarette on the stoop.

It ain't the dress-up.

truepeers said...

What do Christians have to offer?

Well, a good deal of human truth, for those who know how to access the still living tradition. What you call "hate", i.e. still somewhat pagan ideas about the primitive sacred and sacrifice, are not the keys to survival just becaue they are signs of the eternal primitive. Survival requires some human self-understanding. I think you should try to talk more to Muslims. I think that you will find many who, once the bravado or distance is breached, will give off signs that they know their homelands or cultures are in a death spiral. Hence the desperation of the Islamists.

I've bee reading "Spengler": Islam parodies Christianity. Christianity proposes to incorporate all of humanity into the new People of God, by effecting an inner transformation of every individual. By this transformation, Christians believe, all of humanity can become holy. Islam offers a universal religion not of inner transformation, but of obedience. Precisely this form of surface universalism ensures that Muslims carry the baggage of traditional life into the new religion, for it offers no point of departure from traditional society. As a universal religion, Islam can only universalize the aspirations of the tribes it assimilates, rather than transform them, and cannot rid itself of its pagan heritage. Instead, it lashes out against the encroachment of more adaptive civilizations: Western, Chinese and Hindu.

truepeers said...

t ain't the dress-up.

-that's the conclusion many people come to, but often only after indulging in a life of dress-up, i.e. in aesthetic pleasures.

In other words, you may be in search of some hard ethical truths but in getting there isn't it too simplisitic to highly discount the aesthetic or liturgical traditions that work to put people in a certain frame of mind where we might gain greater ease of access to ethical truths?

You have an arch-Protestant disposition, and yet you like Opera!! You may be more catholic than you know!

Dag said...

Ye, I'm a Puritan in matters religious; but I do spend more time in church than the Pope for the simple reason that I am captivated by the aesthetics. That's a whole range, though, not simply pot-glass and rubies, not simply the alter-pieces and the frescoes and the and so on: I go often, if not mostly, for the Gospel, for the sound of Humans rejoicing in their own beautiful voices to resounding music. And that I can do in a basement.

Eowyn said...

Sound and fury, sound and fury, *restlessly pacing back and forth*

Ockham's Razor: Simplest is best.

What would Jesus Do? Remind everyone that His message was pretty much ... wait for it ... BASIC.

Immutable truths. Self-evident. Same as in ALL religious traditions.

The Golden Rule. Geddit? Assigning ~caveats~ and ~conditions~ to this rule instantly dilute it.

*Sigh.* Thinking out loud --

Christianity OUGHT to be all about living together, as Christ taught. Trouble is, we always assign "Yes, but" tags.

There is only one truth, as Christ (and others) have said:

Love one another -- without conditions.

Consequences will come, but the overall energy will conquer.

ebt said...

Didn't Jesus tell Mary Magdelene "Go! Tell the others that I have risen, and that I shall come again!"? I don't see how you can be ordained more clearly or authoritatively than that.

And didn't Paul's disciple Thecla perform all the sacraments at one time or other in her career? My point is not that the Acts of Thecla are historically reliable; it's that they show that Paul's own church was willing to regard women as capable of acting as priests.

Ordination of women, as of married men, is a matter of church discipline, not theology. If your church doesn't want them, you don't have to have them; but they're still legit.

Dag said...

Thanks for that comment. It' a pleasure to find someone willing and able to add to the discussion for a change.

Dag said...

My comment referred to the lunatic plagiarist we had plaguing us recently, not to anyone above. I hope there was no momentary confusion over that.

truepeers said...


thanks for your comment, and being a curious person I'd like to hear more of your reasoning...

"a matter of church discipline, not theology"

-I'm not clear how it cannot be a question of theology, whatever one's church decides. The central ritual of Christianity is the re-enactment of Jesus' passion and resurrection. To the extent Christians have priests, that is the ritual that they must perform. It seems inevitable to me that Christians would ask to what extent a male nature is or is not fundamental to the kind of (divine) sacrifice that founds the Eucharist.

I'm also not to sure about your argument about Mary: clearly women do have certain fundamental roles in the church but, again, how you think these relate to or encompass the Eucharistic ritual is not clear from the recognition that Mary was called to spread the news of resurrection.