Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Just Asking for It

At the top of my "Blogs for Faithful Churchmen" is Mere Comments, the blog for Touchstone magazine, to which I've subscribed since 1999 and which I often read cover-to-cover. I list it first because it is explicitly ecumenical in perspective. The others have varying ranges of ecumenical content, but also have a more particular perspective -- Anglican, Catholic, and Lutheran. I believe all of them are worth reading for anyone, even non-Christians, but Mere Comments/Touchstone specializes in "mere Christianity" that crosses churchly boundaries.

Ecumenical does not, however, mean mealy-mouthed or watered down -- to which the slogan shown here on their coffee mug attests. No, it's "caffeinated Christianity" and, like the Lord and his Apostles, it's bound to occasionally offend those of delicate sensibilities.

Today's post by Touchstone Executive Editor James M. Kushiner is one of those entries. Upon reading it might wonder how it would come to pass that an ELCA pastor would even make reference to it, much less do what I'm about to do here. Well, his initial reference to St. Barbara reminds me of the lovely city near my home named after her, the California Mission in that city named after her, and my association when I was in seminary with the Franciscan School of Theology (founded with that Mission) -- run by the St. Barbara Province of the Franciscan Friars. And when reading the article I just had to put it somewhere where I could never lose it.

Some of you may object to it; others will give a rousing "Amen!" Either way, I post this in its entirety and intend to just leave it at that. It is worth pondering, though.

Women Who Are Equal

Scholars have discounted the existence of St. Barbara, an early Christian martyr, according to the stories, traditionally commemorated on Dec. 4 in the East and West. Hence she was "supressed" in the West in 1969. This is not the place to discuss the details of her case, but in looking at her story and reading a recent article about female saints, I was struck once again by the role of women saints in the history of the church. The sheer number of them belies claims that women were generally suppressed or oppressed in the Church, second-class citizens so to speak. I'd like to focus on one bit of phraseology that I find suggestive, one that has informed my own view of the place of the fairer sex in the company of the saints.

The phrase "equal to the apostles" is used of certain figures in church history considered of great importance in the spread of the Faith: hence in the Orthodox churches we find Prince Vladimir "Equal-to-the-Apostles," enlightener of the Russian land (July 15), for example.

This phrase also has been applied to women saints: Mary Magdalene (July 22) "Equal-to-the-Apostles," St. Nina Equal-to-the-Apostles, (Jan. 14) enlightener of Georgia. The martyr Rhipsime (Sept. 30), while not given this title, is still credited with helping to introduce Christianity to Armenia. Women are found in the calendar throughout, from various times and places: There is the Prophetess Huldah in the Old Testament (2 Kgs. 2:14) (April 10); Mary of Egypt (April 1) is featured in some of the Lenten services. Six women are included in this partial list of those Equal-to-Apostles.

The role of women in the "patriarchal" church has been robust, if not as visible as that of men. So why not just allow them to be Apostles--or bishops? When it comes to "office" and the wearing the uniform of headship in the church, only men are given that role because--in my opinion--men need uniforms, a defined office, a duty to take on, to put them in their place, to keep them in line. Experience shows that when you start giving the uniform to the fairer sex, the men start to drop out (e.g., the dearth of altar boys when girls are included). That's just the way it is, and I don't see how any re-education would ever change that. Besides, there are some churches now with female bishops and do we really want to go there? A happy breakthrough? An inspired innovation? Hilda of Whitby would be appalled.
Yeah. I'm just asking for it. Read the responses here. Or make your own here or in private.

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