Wednesday, 4 June 2008
On the Ordination of Women Part IV(i): Headship
Headship is used as an argument against the ordination of women. The essence of the headship argument is that women are not to have authority over men, and should be submissive because that is what the Bible says. This is a pretty thin argument, especially given how much weight some attach to it.
There are only two passages that speak directly of headship, and neither of them use it to prevent the ministry of women. In 1Cor 11:2-16 Paul uses the idea that man (or husband) is the head of woman (or wife) to enforce the practice of women (wives) wearing veils when they pray or prophesy in church. This is not about ministerial authority in the church. Indeed, upon reading the passage again we can see that Paul's intention is to safeguard and affirm the right of women to pray and prophesy in the church, and highlights the interdependence of men and women in the Lord. (See also 1Cor 7:3-5) If this passage is seen to be important in the debate it seems to me it could only be used to require appropriate head wear on the part of women priests (seems like an argument for the consecration of women bishops!, or perhaps only those women priests who are married (and whose husbands are present).
As an aside, it is said by opponents of the ordination of women that the headship of men over women cannot be a cultural accretion because it is based by Paul on the order of creation. So, for example, in vv 8-9 Paul uses the second story of creation in Gen 2:21ff to explain the need for women/wives to wear hats in church. But most of us would think that the wearing of hats is a cultural accretion that can be shed. So the argument that headship is more than a cultural expression because it is grounded in other parts of Scripture needs to be approached with discernment.
Also notice that in 1Cor 11 headship is first about origin. God is the origin/head of Christ, man is the origin/head of woman. (Again, Gen 2:21ff is in the background.) If Paul's purpose were to enforce a rigid order of ministerial authority, or intended that this passage might be a bulwark of such a notion, he is making a strange argument. He mentions the descending order of origin, but then says that , 'in the Lord', men and women are not independent, and that men come from women, and that in any event, all come from God. (vv11-12) His purpose is to safeguard the right of women to prophesy and pray at church, and is ensuring that the origin-authority nexus is not overdone.
And what authority are we talking about? Whatever it is, it is not ministerial authority, and whatever the theology, the submission of women/wives is achieved with a hat.