I wish to thank all those who have contributed their opinions to the discussion what ways the Church
can/should change in the next pontificate and ways it cannot/should notchange. Some of the responses have come in the form of full blog entries, rather than comments. I’d like now to offer rebuttals and clarifications.
“1. Married clergy. In the UMC the fact that our clergy are married has not prevented our bishops from exercising a good deal of control over where our elders are assigned to serve, or the amount of time our elders they have available for parishioners. Furthermore, the Bible
clearly teaches that everyone should marry, if possible, to contain their sexual desires.”
Strictly speaking, this isn’t entirely correct. First, let’s reiterate what Jesus said about marriage.
“Now when Jesus had finished these sayings, he went away from Galilee and entered the region of Judea beyond the Jordan; and large crowds followed him, and he healed them
there. And Pharisees came up to him and tested him by asking, ‘Is it lawful to divorce one’s wife for any cause?’ He answered, ‘Have you not read that he who made them from the beginning made them male and female, and said, `For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man put asunder.’ They said to him, ‘Why then did Moses command one to give a certificate of divorce, and to put her away?’ He said to them, ‘For your hardness of heart Moses allowed you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so. And I say to you: whoever divorces his wife, except for unchastity, and marries another, commits adultery.’ The disciples said to him, ‘If such is the case of a man with his wife, it is not expedient to marry.’ But he said to them, ‘Not all men can receive this saying, but only those to whom it is given. For there are eunuchs who have been so from birth, and there are eunuchs who have been made eunuchs by men, and there are eunuchs who have made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. He who is able to receive this, let him receive it.’” – Matthew 19:1-12 (emphasis mine)
Clearly Jesus did not expect all to marry. Now, let’s look at what Paul advised.
“Now concerning the matters about which you wrote. It is well for a man not to touch a woman. But because of the temptation to immorality, each man should have his own
wife and each woman her own husband. The husband should give to his wife her conjugal rights, and likewise the wife to her husband. For the wife does not rule over her own body, but the husband does; likewise the husband does not rule over his own body, but the wife does. Do not refuse one another except perhaps by agreement for a season, that you may devote yourselves to prayer; but then come together again, lest Satan tempt you through lack of self-control. I say this by way of concession, not of command. I wish
that all were as I myself am. But each has his own special gift from God, one of one kind and one of another. To the unmarried and the widows I say that it is well for them to remain single as I do. But if they cannot exercise self-control, they should marry. For it is better to marry than to be aflame with passion. To the married I give charge, not I but the Lord, that the wife should not separate from her husband (but if she does, let her remain single or else be reconciled to her husband) — and that the husband
should not divorce his wife.”
“Now concerning the unmarried, I have no command of the Lord, but I give my opinion as one who by the Lord’s mercy is trustworthy. I think that in view of the present distress it is well for a person to remain as he is. Are you bound to a wife? Do not seek to be free. Are you free from a wife? Do not seek marriage. But if you marry, you do not sin, and if a girl marries she does not sin. Yet those who marry will have worldly troubles, and I would spare you that. I mean, brethren, the appointed time has grown very short; from now on, let those who have wives live as though they had none, and those who mourn as though they were not mourning, and those who rejoice as though they were not rejoicing, and those who buy as though they had no goods, and those who deal with the world as though they had no
dealings with it. For the form of this world is passing away. I want you to be free from anxieties. The unmarried man is anxious about the affairs of the Lord, how to please the Lord; but the married man is anxious about worldly affairs, how to please his wife, and his interests are divided. And the unmarried woman or girl is anxious about the affairs of the Lord, how to be holy in body and spirit; but the married woman is
anxious about worldly affairs, how to please her husband. I say this for your own benefit, not to lay any restraint upon you, but to promote good order and to secure your undivided devotion to the Lord. If any one thinks that he is not behaving properly toward his betrothed, if his passions are strong, and it has to be, let him do as he wishes: let them marry — it is no sin. But whoever is firmly established in his heart, being under no necessity but having his desire under control, and has determined this in his heart, to keep her as his betrothed, he will do well. So that he who marries his betrothed does well; and he who refrains from marriage will do better.” – 1 Corinthians 7:1-11, 25-38 (emphases mine)
Paul seems to pretty unambiguosly prefer the single life to marriage. He does not forbid the people of Corinth to marry, but he also doesn’t encourage them to do so. On a side note, I think these instructions from Paul are the clearest indictments of divorce outside of the words of Christ Himself. How any Christian denomination ever made the leap of (il)logic to allow divorce and remarriage is beyond me.
“2. Women, in pulpits and at alters. Methodists have always felt that if a woman is preaching the Gospel, and shows the fruits of the holy spirit, she should be allowed to preach in church. Formal ordination and authorization to celebrate the Eucharist came later, (as early as 1889 in the United Brethren, to as late as 1968, where a number of small groups united with the Methodist church to form the United Methodist Church). I’ve never really understood why people could be opposed to the ordination of women in general- it just doesn’t compute for me- women clergy are showing the fruits of the spirit and leading congregations large and small. Frequently they are preaching the Gospel in places where men are unwilling to serve.”
The issue of male-only clergy is not and has never been about if, given the opportunity, women would be capable of performing the duties well. I would not expect a Methodist to understand or appreciate the real reason because Methodism denies the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist. The single biggest obstacle to ordination of female priests is the question of whether they could validly confect the Eucharist. Every sacrament has a form and matter that must be used in order to be efficacious. The Church must decide (or perhaps has already decided) whether or not humanity is sufficient matter for holy orders or maleness is required.