I write in response to Muniini K. Mulera’s article Time to ordain women bishops in the Church of Uganda, published by the Daily Monitor of March 3, 2020.
In this article, Mulera argued for ‘the elevation of women to the priesthood and episcopal ministry’ which he contends ‘must be part of society’s larger agenda to promote and uplift women of all ages and social stations to full citizenship and equality.’
In writing, I am aware that Mr Mulera’s intentions are noble. It is not the nobility of those intentions I dispute, but both their biblical basis and their logical consequences.
What Biblical Equality Means
Mulera is correct in advocating for ways in which the Church should highlight the equality of men and women. I think, though, that his argument is flawed in so far as it sees vocation as the source of such equality. The consistent Biblical teaching is that our worth is not determined or defined by what we do or the positions we hold. That is, in God’s economy, male and female are not equal because they do the same things. Instead, they are equal because God made humankind ‘in his own image’ (Gen. 1:27).
But this verse, which, with clarity, teaches the equality of all human beings, also insists that ‘male and female he created them’ (Gen. 1:27). Thus, in God’s eyes, equality does not mean sameness or interchangeability.
We must also notice that God’s creation is beautiful, precisely due to its inherent unity in diversity. The secular ideal seeks to flatten out design differences by decorating them with devilish colours. The spirit of the age seeks to slash down all mountains, filling up every valley to make the whole world a plateau. Thus, UN Women suggests that we forego words like ‘husband’ and ‘wife’ for ‘partner.’
Now, I am not a great fan of hiking. Thus, the joy of hiking does not motivate my argument for maintaining mountains or conserving valleys. I speak as a lover of beauty. And a world with no hills and valleys, in short, a world of no differences in design played out in the drama of life is an ugly one. But most importantly, this is not the world that God made.
Mulera, like others of his view, appeals to Galatians 3:27-28 for his egalitarian position. But one notices that this text says nothing about Church polity. Paul’s argument in Galatians 3 does not concern how to run the local church, but how one finds justification before God.
If one wants to know Paul’s view on church governance, the Pastoral Epistles of 1 Timothy and Titus, not Galatians, is the place to go. It is thus remarkable that Mulera passes by those epistles which concern church polity in favour of Galatians which says nothing about such. For, it is in those Epistles, where we see God’s good design for Church eldership as an unfolding drama of male-female relations (1 Tim. 2-3; Titus 1:5-16).
A Brief Look at Church History
Mulera’s view that ‘time’ has come to ordain women elders leads him to cite Bishop Festo Kivengere’s position on this point. Now, one must agree that ‘time’ has nothing to do with this matter. It is neutral as far as human affairs go. It neither makes wrong right nor lies true. Time is neither friend nor foe.
But if history is to arbitrate, it appears to me, that instead of Kivengere (whom I respect), Mulera should consult the Great Church Tradition. One must show that the Roman Catholic or the Greek Orthodox Church (two of the oldest Christian Traditions) ‘elevated women to the priesthood and episcopal ministry.’
Yet, when we search the corridors of history, whether we use floodlights or candles, we do not find women priests or pastors or bishops, not even in the first 300 years of the Protestant Tradition. That, though not final, must place a large chain on our hasty legs, I think.
As such, whether biblically or historically, I struggle to see any basis for the ordination of women elders or bishops. That, however, should not at all suggest that women are inferior to men. Such a conclusion only comes when we misunderstand the source of our worth.
Once we promote the idea that one’s station or vocation or even gender is determinative of their worth or equality, we must be prepared to flatten out any distinctions not only in gender but in occupations as well, which is where Mulera’s argument logically leads.
Where Mulera’s Argument Logically Leads
I said before that my dispute with Mulera’s position also considers its consequences. One of those consequences is the fact that an egalitarian hermeneutic inevitably leads to the embrace of homosexuality and transgenderism. The gender confusion in the world thrives on the blurring of gender distinctions, especially in the Church. For, if the Church ignores the male-female differences in its theology and practice, who then is a transgender person?
I do not suggest that all those who advocate for the ordination of female bishops or pastors support homosexual unions, far from this. But the interpretive method used to support Mulera’ position is precisely the same used to advance homosexuality in the Church.
If one doubts this, they should consider that the first step for every church or denomination that now embraces homosexuality was a provision for women ordination, a historical fact. Or, let them read Preston Sprinkle’s Two Views on Homosexuality, the Bible, and the Church and consider especially the hermeneutic of those in affirmative.
Or, think of a recently published ‘Pastors’ Views on Marriage’ by LifeWay Research in which 64% of female pastors support homosexual unions compared to 26% male pastors. Such is not because women are weaker than men, but that the argument which ignores the imperatives of 1 Timothy 2-3 inevitably embraces the cause for homosexual unions in the end.
As such, we must rediscover and maintain a robust theology of biblical manhood and womanhood if we are to stand firm for the truth of the gospel. We might start by undoing the superficial and lethal cord that binds worth and work. In a world where professions and job titles define us, Christians must remind themselves that we are not what we do. God, not our vocation, gives us identity.
And when we find freedom in God, not titles, we will joyfully embrace the drama of diversity that desists from defining progress as sameness.