Equal Ordination? Good Riddance!


(Warning: Sarcasm)

Despite all the devastating earthquake scenes on the Turkey-Syria border, February’s headlines weren’t all bad. How could anybody fail to be cheerful – nay, jubilant – when this announcement brightened up our newsfeeds here in Ireland, like the rosy dawn of a Spring day: ‘Presbyterian Church: Next moderator opposed to women ministers.’

More positivity soon followed, as other clerics joined in the pile-on… oops, I mean evangelical, Spirit-infused revival. One preacher in Cullybackey, the rural Antrim village, regaled his flock with such a fearlessly progressive sermon that it ended up in the local newspaper of record.

In this tour de force of a homily, Cunningham Presbyterian Church in Cullybackey heard why church eldership is a male-only role. How could any Christian who respects the biblical doctrine of imago dei – taken from Genesis 1 and reinforced throughout scripture, that everyone is made in God’s image – fail wholeheartedly to concur?

It was a flawless argument in favour of a male hierarchy, well-informed and even-handed, which exposed equal ordination in the Church and its regrettable history: ‘sadly, to appease the prevailing feminist movement of the day,’ states our latter-day Moses, unshakeable defender of all decency, ‘the Church took an erroneous decision in the Seventies to turn away from the traditional teaching of the Bible on this issue.’ (Just ignore Deborah, the prophetess from Judges 4-5.)

What is more contrary to the Protestant way than to stray from long-established practice – to reform it, if you will? After all, Presbyterianism has been around in its current iteration since Christ, possibly before. Mary Magdalene oversaw hospitality for the first ever General Assembly. She had seven demons, though, hence why she put cream cheese and cherries in the sandwiches: an evil the Presbyterians never have been able to cast out since…

‘You see,’ continues our tireless bastion of truth, ‘whenever we begin to change the Bible to fit the contemporary demands of Twenty-First Century society, then we begin to tread on very dangerous ground.’ I couldn’t agree more. A woman in the pulpit? Extremely dangerous.

Anyone who’s not a Guardian-subscribed intersectional feminist with argon-blue hair can see that. In fact, I cannot imagine, in our post-covid world, a year after war broke out in Europe, a greater menace to human safety than a woman armed with a Bible. Industrial chainsaws under the pews would involve less risk.

Now, before you jump to the conclusion that such a stance is a kick in the teeth to the many women who trained in good faith to serve as Presbyterian clergy, take a moment with me to reflect. In what’s left of today’s article, I pore over the job description of a minister – as detailed in the Presbyterian Church in Ireland (PCI) Code. There can be no conclusion, all things considered, other than that equal ordination has failed. Allow me to spell out exactly why…

To begin, the new Moderator’s comments require some historical context. Only with a view to history do we see how little his female colleagues have done for this country, hence how well-grounded is his unease with equal ordination. Presbyterian clergywomen, the record shows, absented themselves entirely from the peace process of a troubled Ireland.

Only because male Presbyterian clergy stepped up to the plate in conflict resolution efforts, never saying anything unhelpful, are this land’s Troubles over. All the recipients of recognition for such endeavours in the conflict’s aftermath were, thus, male. The notion that a female minister could earn an honorary doctorate, for her mediation work spanning decades, is laughable. Here’s a relevant Wikipedia page as proof:

Oh yes, only the male clergy deserve any credit. In the real world, women don’t win civic honours like OBEs for peacebuilding. On the other hand, every male minister has a cupboard rammed with British Empire Medals. Even the least accomplished, were he to wear them all at once, would resemble a Prussian general or C-3PO from Star Wars for all the bling on his chest.

Almost as risible is the idea that a woman could preside over a Nobel prize winner’s funeral. Utterly delusional. For starters, how could a woman write a eulogy which expertly ties the life of a Northern Ireland First Minister together with aptly chosen words from Scripture, let alone deliver the thing in front of Irish and British premiers? No, better call the wee man from Cullybackey…

The problems only get worse on Sunday mornings. ‘The special calling of the minister is the ministry of the Word,’ the Code says. That alone, any thinking person can see, disqualifies women from ordination. To read out words on a page is way beyond any woman I know. Biblical interpretation is off limits as well. I mean, it’s not as if a woman ever studied a theology degree, never mind excelled in the discipline!

Another crucial aspect of leadership in the Church is to celebrate sacred ordinances, ‘the administration of the Sacraments,’ to cite from the Code. Reader, is careful conduct of ancient rite, basic emulation of instructions, within the grasp of a mere woman? Forget it. Why? Because men said so! Females can pass out bread all right, as long as it’s from the kitchen.

Involvement in the local community comes with being a pastor too. ‘The minister’s calling is exercised in the service of others,’ enjoins the Code. A public-spirited female minister? Are you kidding? It’s not like we men would ever trust a clergywoman to be the Prisoner Ombudsman for Northern Ireland. Absolutely not! Why, that’s too great a responsibility for any woman to handle.

There are many more instances I could cite, cases aplenty where Presbyterian clergywomen have let down their profession. I’ve only got so many words, however, so the shameful examples of underachievement above will have to suffice. Whenever women are left in charge of a congregation or other ministry, the results are disastrous, as I have illustrated.

Things have gone far enough, and women’s ministry has to stop. To see why, scroll back over the screenshots in this article: a dismal photobook of underperformance: university doctorates, royal honours, public appointments... I couldn’t be happier, therefore, that Irish Presbyterians will have a top dog who sees equal ordination for the disaster it is. Now they might as well go the distance: ban this unholy stain on the tablecloth of orthodoxy for good!

3/13/2023 7:29:50 PM
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  • Matthew Allen
    About Matthew Allen
    Matthew Allen is a writer and musician based in Northern Ireland. He is a graduate of Queen’s University, Belfast, where he studied Theology and Liberal Arts.