“Christianity snatched women from a condition that was the equivalent of slavery.”
Madame De Stael ( 1766-1817, French author)
It’s always the first question that comes up during open discussion in religion class. Why is the church sexist? First of all, I love how teens ask the why questions. They want to know the reason things are the way they are and they’re still open minded. I find it much harder to discuss this issue with my friends however, because they never ask, WHY is the Church sexist? Instead, they state, in a matter of fact tone, that the Church IS sexist and you know their ears are closed to anything you might have to say on the contrary. Our youth are still forming their opinions and thus they are much more open, it would seem to me, to new possibilities than older people.
It would also make sense that it would be the first question my students ask, since they are all girls, and this is an issue that speaks largely to them. While I fully believe that the Church is anything but sexist, and fully understand why a male priesthood is an infallible teaching, the issue certainly isn’t a one word answer. In fact, there are books and books on the subject of the male only priesthood, but the problem is a lot of that information will go over the heads of 15 year-olds. So how do you answer this question in 15 minutes or less?
First of all, I usually explain that the Church is not a man made institution, but was founded by Jesus Christ. There is significant scripture support that tells us Jesus only wanted males to be priests. He picked 12 Apostles and they were all males, and there were also only males present at the last supper. Also Jesus said a lot of radical things for this time period. For instance, Jesus talked with women, sinners, Samaritans, tax collectors etc. If Jesus had wanted women to be priests I’m sure he would have done it. After all, the culture, of that day and age, was very familiar with priestesses and he had many women in his inner circle that he could have appointed.
Secondly, I try and explain that we, as women, shouldn’t feel like Jesus thought women were less worthy than men to be priests. Consider that not all of the twelve apostles were holy men. One even betrayed him! So, clearly that isn’t the reason women can’t be priests and there must be another explanation. If they aren’t looking at me with glazed eyes, I then move into this next part.
The third point I try to emphasize (and this part I find the most difficult to explain to young people) is how Scripture constantly gives us the imagery of a bridegroom and bride. That Christ is the bridegroom and the Church is the bride. He lay down his life for his bride the Church is a familiar verse. It would then be impossible to have a women as a priest, because it would destroy that important image of Christ and the Church. A male and female come together to bring forth new life. This is the part where I lose many of them. If anyone can help me articulate this most important point, it would be greatly appreciated!
So to engage all of them again, I finish with this point, the importance of women. How much Jesus loved women, such as his mother, Mary and Martha. We discuss how God loved women so much that he let one carry his Son. He did not give that important responsibility to a man. There are also so many examples of great women saints throughout the history of Christianity, from Catherine of Sienna to Joan of Arc. Just because things aren’t always equal doesn’t mean it’s sexist. Is it fair that God didn’t give men the ability to carry a baby and give birth? Was God being sexist towards men? In my opinion, I think it would be boring if God had created us all the same and I’m sure there are many people out there who feel the same way. I am also happy that our diocese has added the theology of the body unit to our religion classes. This teaching does so much for helping teens see how beautiful God’s design for the sexes really is.
I’ll end with the following excerpt from the new YOUCAT text (which I just received today and looks awesome!) on this topic.
[2331, 2335] “Both men and women are human beings created in God’s image and children of God redeemed by Jesus Christ. It is just as unchristian as it is inhumane to discriminate unjustly against someone because he is male or female. Equal dignity and equal rights, nevertheless, do not mean uniformity. The sort of egalitarianism that ignores the specific character of a man or a woman contradicts God’s plan of creation.”