Women in the Ministry
Friday, October 28, 2011
New Church Perspective in Joel Glenn, love, male vs. female, ministry, ordination, priests, wisdom, women

Joel presents an argument for why women should not be ordained in the General Church. He draws passages from the Writings that support his opinion, while admitting that the Writings are absent of a clear position on this issue. This is the third entry in the series: Women as Ordained Priests (or Not). -Editor.

This article addresses the question of whether women should be ordained into the Ministry of the General Church of the New Jerusalem. This can be a very complex and frustrating debate. My own position, that I have come to after much uncertainty, is that it is better to have an all male priesthood. This is based on my understanding of how men and women operate and on the role that the priesthood is to play in the church. My hope is that in this article, I can share with you a little of how I believe that this position is consistent with the truths we are taught in the Word and in the Heavenly Doctrines.

The place to start is with what the Writings teach about the differences between men and women. It is easy to limit this to saying that men are wisdom and women are love, but this is an oversimplification. The Writings are clear that men and women have both a will and an understanding. What the Writings say is that in men the understanding predominates, and in women the will does, and what predominates determines the character (Heaven and Hell 369). So we may say, while men and women have both will and understanding, men in general are defined by their understanding and women by their will. These tendencies are described more completely elsewhere in the Writings, which talk about men as the love of growing wise, and women as the love of that wisdom (Conjugial Love [90, 91], 159, elsewhere). This seems very abstract, but one way of making it more concrete is to think of it as men have a strong desire to live a life that is shaped by truths, and women, from those same truths, are inspired to express and live a life of love towards others. The result for both sexes is a life of love to the Lord and the neighbor, but with men the process is more based on understanding and with women more on will.

If it is the case that men are more oriented towards expressing good through truth, this does not answer the question of whether this is a quality that should exist in all priests. The clearest and perhaps most well known teaching in the Writings of what a priest should be is that a priest should teach truth, specifically truth from the Word, and through that truth lead people to live good lives, and so to heaven and the Lord (Doctrine of Life 39, Arcana Coelestia 8121, 10794, True Christian Religion 422). Furthermore, Heaven and Hell describes the nature of Angelic Preachers: “All the preachers are from the Lord's spiritual kingdom, none from the celestial kingdom. They are from the spiritual kingdom because the angels there are in truths from good, and all the preaching is done from truths” (225). From all of this, I think it is possible to conclude that the primary role of ministers is to teach, or express, truths. This does not just mean preaching from the pulpit; for example, it can be very useful to privately take your problems to a minister, and have him teach you truths that are not just abstract, but relate to your specific situation; but even in these kinds of situations, he is still teaching or expressing truth, albeit on a very personal level.

I don’t want to suggest that women cannot express truth. As already mentioned, men and women have both a will and an understanding, capable of knowing and understanding the Lord’s truth. It is more the general approach to expressing truth that matters. Men have a tendency to express truth out of a desire for wisdom, just as ministers, in general, are expected to teach the truth that comes from good. Women have more of a tendency to express the love that truths can lead to or express. This is a wonderful thing, and should be embraced. But it does not fit as closely with the role of the ministry, which seems to be primarily to teach truth and focus on order in the church and in the church's doctrine. Were women to be ordained into the priesthood, I do not think that the church would die or anything as drastic as that. I would hope that all priests, men and women, would strive to serve the Lord and increase His kingdom on earth. However, I think that the priesthood would drift to some degree away from it’s primary role. In my view, one of the greatest uses of the priesthood is to have people set aside within the church who are specifically defined by their adherence to teaching truth, clearly and in a structured system, and having an all-male priesthood helps foster this.

There are two final points I want to make. First, although I think my position is founded on the Doctrines of the New Church, the Writings do not necessarily clearly state that women cannot be ministers. The Lord Himself warns against “teaching as doctrines the commandments of men” (Matthew 15:9). While I hope that the General Church continues it’s policy of not ordaining women, I am not troubled by other New Church organizations that do so, knowing that while I may disagree with the practice, it is possible to ordain women and still be founded solidly on the Doctrines of the New Church. Second, I think perhaps the most compelling argument for ordaining women is those women who have felt a call to the ministry. While again I disagree with the practice, I have a great deal of respect for anyone who listens to the Lord, and strives to act accordingly. This is what the Lord asks of all of us. If a woman truly believes the Lord is calling her to the ministry, and she strives to attain this goal, then she is in essence striving to serve the Lord.

Joel Glenn

Joel recently graduated from Bryn Athyn College with a degree in History/Religion. He loves conversation about religion, and enjoys finding common ground and understanding within disagreement.
Article originally appeared on New Church Perspective (http://www.newchurchperspective.com/).
See website for complete article licensing information.