Friday 24 May 2013

Should men OR women dominate the church? (Since neutrality and equality are impossible it must be one or the other)


"Should men, or should women, dominate the church?" is the properly-formed question on this topic - the question which sets into proper perspective the mass of comments and reflections and policies which have clustered around the topic of sex roles in churches.

(Note that for Christians this is essentially a question of the church as an organization, and not the religion itself - it is a mostly question of good order in the institution. At a spiritual level this discussion melts away; or, at least, transforms qualitatively.)

This is only an active question in some religions, of which Christianity is one - because there have been a wide range of balances between men and women in domination of the Christian church, and in different areas of church activity.


I had been reading a Mormon blog in which a woman complained that - in terms of the LDS church - she, and her daughter - felt (ahem) hurt by the maleness of the priesthood; given that the priesthood was of such vital importance: for her nothing could make-up for this fact of inequality, of non-sameness.

Musing on this, I realized that the premise of this debate was mistaken and dangerous; because when the question is properly framed there are only two valid perspectives.

Either 1. the Mormon church should remain dominated by men, or 2. it should instead become dominated by women.

And this is a question to which empirical evidence can be brought - because there are examples on both sides. There are Christian denominations and specific churches that are dominated by men; and there are those which are dominated by women.

In between there are many Christian churches in which the balance is towards either men or women and where the situation is clearly moving in one direction or the other.


So there are men-dominated churches in Mormonism, as mentioned, and Eastern Orthodoxy, and some Conservative evangelicals.

And there are women-dominated churches in all liberal Protestant denominations. (Woman dominated means not that there are no men, but that male leader must primarily be compliant to the agenda of being ever-more women-dominated.)


I see the Roman Catholic church as being a mixed state and moving towards woman-domination since Vatican II. Despite counter-currents I do not believe that this this movement has stopped. So, the male priesthood has become increasingly feminized and compliant (conducted according to principles derived from women) for several decades; a situation which happened earlier and more completely in the Romanized Anglo-Catholic wing of Anglicanism


From the above, I think there are sufficient example to infer the necessary medium- to long-term consequences of men versus women domination of churches in terms of the size, vitality and growth of the institutions

So, the discussions on sex roles in denominations should not occur in a vacuum of abstraction and at a theoretical level. The consequences of changing a church from male to female domination are indeed known hence predictable.

For instance, we know that the nature of an institution is fundamentally shaped and changed by a shift from male to female domination.

And we know that there are no long-term-viable examples of mixed male/ female domination - there are only transitional states as a church moves in one direction or the other.


The long-term-viable examples (I mean church institutions which survive and are strong for several generations) seem to be either male-dominated or female-dominated institutions, tending very much towards single sex institutions, or rather sub-institutions within churches (like church schools, nunneries, nursing sisters, the Mormon Relief Society).

Things are actually very simple - once transitional situations are understood! Either an church is organized around the principle of domination by men or by women.

In practice this domination will always allow for exceptions, to varying degrees; but since equality and impartiality are impossible - we have here an apparently immovable principle in human affairs: either/or.



Orthodox said...

Men dominate the church or they leave.

Bruce Charlton said...

@O - Yes, that is what happens. Of course, for some people this is a feature not a bug! But as Thomas Sowell says: What Happens Next?

So the question is what happens to the denomination/ church *after* the men leave.

But I believe that the answer to this is already known from multiple examples: Over the medium (decades) to long term (generations), that church always *collapses*. I don't know of any exceptions.

JP said...

Orthodox, that is true writ large -- any institution that becomes female-dominated becomes low-status, and men leave.

A small sign of life in the Catholic Church (when was the last time anyone in the C of E said anything like this?):

Women should stay at home and have three or four children to help solve Germany's predicted population crisis, according to a cardinal.

Cardinal Joachim Meisner, the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Cologne, has criticised German Chancellor Angela Merkel's policy of trying to attract immigrants to work in the country.

He said women should be encouraged to produce more children to increase the German population and said Merkel was using immigration to solve Germany's demographic problems.

Cardinal Joachim Meisner said women should have more children to boost Germany's dwindling population and said German Chancellor Angela Merkel is relying on immigration

In a wide-ranging attack on Merkel's policies, the cardinal told German newspaper Stuttgarter Zeitung: 'We are a dying people but have a perfect legislation for abortion. Is not that the suicide of society?'

Bruce Charlton said...

@JP - Aside from conservative evangelicals, the CoE is en route to collpase and extinction within a generation. The true rate of decline in age-adjusted active membership is now staggering.

But for the advocates of liberalism (knowing what they now know this *must be the case) collpase is a feature not a bug; because collapse of any large institution offers great opportunities for asset-strippers - and the Left are nothing if not asset-strippers...

But the Anglican communion worldwide contains some extremely impressive bishops in Africa, South America, Asia etc.- so there remains some slender hope of renewal from without.

Wurmbrand said...

If one broadens the perspective to look outside the UK, where adherents of the Lutheran Confessions are few indeed, one may see that there are millions of Christians who recognize the divine restriction of the pastorate to men, but who are not members of the Orthodox, Roman Catholic, or (in the current sense) Evangelical affiliations.

I believe that this would be true of the member churches of the ILC:

This association doesn't include all Confessional Lutherans, such as the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod, etc.

These Lutherans enjoy Biblical, credal, orthodox, sacramental Christianity and the ignorance and prejudice of the rest of the world who, having invoked a few cliches about Luther, feel they may write off the Lutherans.

The Great and Powerful Oz said...

In Buddhism women were originally banned from joining the monastic life. After being asked multiple times by one of his closest associates, Gatauma Buddha finally relented and allowed that they may join under very strict rules, including that all women in the order were subordinate to even the most junior monks.

So, the issue goes back till before the founding of Christianity.

Anonymous said...

The Catholic Church is formally run by celibate men but as a practical matter by post-menopausal women. Catholics barely interact with priests so most religious matters are mediated and enforced by older women, often bitter and cruel. The idea of women as moral exemplars is Victorian and not biblical. The NT is pretty clear on men running the church.

Wm Jas said...

The question your Mormon blogger was addressing was whether or not women should be ordained to the priesthood; this is not the same as the question of which sex should dominate the church. You see the Roman Catholic Church as increasingly female-dominated even though it still has an all-male priesthood -- so in theory the converse ought to be possible as well: a church with priestesses could still be male-dominated if its female priests complied with principles derived from males.

Is such an arrangement possible in practice? Well, that's an empirical question. Are there any churches which have female priests/ministers but are still male-dominated in spirit? I can't think of any, but parallel cases from the world of politics (i.e. male-dominated polities ruled by females, such as England under Victoria) suggest that it should be possible.

Bruce Charlton said...

@WmJas - these issues cluster, and a specific issue (e.g. ordination) has typically being a stalking horse for a much bigger agenda. This we know...

"in theory the converse ought to be possible as well: a church with priestesses could still be male-dominated if its female priests complied with principles derived from males."

The trouble is that 'in theory' these principles are not reversal, there is not a symmetry here because there is functional difference.

However, and to cover your point about Queen Victoria - Elizabeth I would perhaps be a better example, temporary and exceptional exceptions are certainly possible in human systems, and may work well.

The Crow said...

'Dominate' seems a curious word to use, in reference to something like The Church.
But humans are a curious bunch.