Friday, September 21, 2007

C. S. Lewis: A Sexist?

Nearly sixty years ago, when he argued against the ordination of women to the priesthood in the Church of England, C.S. Lewis wrote:

"We have discovered in one profession after another that women can do very well all sorts of things which were once supposed to be in the power of men alone. No one [who opposes the ordination of women] is maintaining that women are less capable than men of piety, zeal, learning and whatever else seems necessary for the pastoral office" (God in the Dock, Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1970, p. 235. You can read his essay, "Priestesses in the Church?" here).

There are some obvious differences between the context in which Lewis wrote those words and the situation in which members of the Churches of Christ find themselves as we go round and round about "women's role in the church."

Lewis, for example, believed in the priesthood of the priest, not the priesthood of all believers. As he maintained his position on this question, he sensed no need to explain the passages in both Old and New Testaments that speak of women prophets. They were, as Lewis pointed out, prophets, preachers, but not priests.

But here's the connection I want to make. Those who might disagree with Lewis should not call him a sexist; the ideas connected with that word include prejudicial stereotyping against women. He's not guilty of that.

And neither are my brothers and sisters in the Churches of Christ who maintain traditional opinions about this question.

10 comments:

john alan turner said...

I might say, "Neither are SOME of my brothers and sisters."

There are those who have studied the Scriptures, read the scholars and maintain their stance based upon conviction and reason.

There are others, though, who do not and will not and are actually sexists.

The two camps that bother me most, however, are (a) the ones who make up their minds first and then go looking for arguments that support their pre-determined conclusion; (b) those who study it and talk about it and come to a more open view but fail to act on it because of their fear of what might happen to their status or reputation.

It's one thing to be a sexist; it's another thing to be a coward.

Frank Bellizzi said...

Thank you for your comment, John. Well said.

I'm speaking here for the people I talk with and hear and read. Their explicit statements--which I have no good reason to doubt--sound a lot like Lewis. At the same time, I'm sure that there is sexism in our churches, just like there's still racism.

I put together this post and the previous one because it seems like some of the Church of Christ "progressives" intend to make the moderates and conservatives own up to their "sexism" in addition to making some difficult changes. It seems to me that the term just doesn't fit, again, among the people I know and hear.

What DOES feel familiar is the subtle-but-real meanness towards especially those who live under the same steepled roof. I know that some of our leaders have taken it on the chin so many times, they must relish the opportunities they get to, in a Christian way, tell other people where to go.

But someone has to step up and just take one for the team, and not gloat when he comes out on the winning side. We have an example of that.

Adam Gonnerman said...

I don't see how disagreement with women in ministerial leadership could automatically make a person "sexist," and much less can I understand how this term could be applied to C.S. Lewis. Further, though I would disagree with Lewis' Anglican belief in the minister as "priest," he doesn't appear to be too far off in distinguishing between someone in ministerial leadership and a "prophet."

Stoned-Campbell Disciple said...

I think JAT's nuance is a nicely made and probably on target. No all of the folks I run into are "sexist" but some are.

Perhaps more nuance is necessary too. Sexism, like racism, comes in many shades and degrees. Not all racists are in the KKK ... sometimes it is sweet and even "nice."

But I agree that not all who hold to traditional views are sexist in the slightest.

Shalom,
Bobby Valentine

Marianne55 said...

I don't agree. I attended a meeting of 'Credo Cymru', an organisation tht opposes women priests. The vicar began by saying, ''We're not bigots;we're not misogynists;we're traditionalists.'' But when a contributor referred to female ordinands as 'cows', they all burst into appreciative laughter.

They are bigots. They just don't want to take responsibility for it. Ypu might as well say that Mormons who opposed black priets were not racist. We know from his writings tha C S Lewis had a very low opinion of women.If you read 'Does God Hate Women?' by Jeremy Stransrom and Ophelia Benson, you may gt some clarity.

Frank Bellizzi said...

Hi, Marianne.

The point of my post is that one can be a traditionalist without being a sexist per se. I think that was true of C. S. Lewis. If I discover evidence to the contrary, I'll try to get my mind to go along with the new information.

The experience you describe is a bad one. But it's a little like someone saying, "I once went to a gathering of Americans who were clearly all a bunch of racists. Therefore, all Americans are racists." It doesn't work like that.

Frank Bellizzi said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Frank Bellizzi said...

If you're checking the end of this list of comments (early July 2012), it's probably because you are hoping to see your own comment posted here. But it wasn't. Why not?

Because, many months ago, I established and posted a policy here at "Frankly Speaking" that says, essentially, "No comments from anyone named 'Anonymous' or from anyone using an obviously-false name." People are more than welcome to disagree. One reason I blog is to put my thoughts out there so that they can be critiqued or corrected by anyone. My ideas and views have been shot at and hit any number of times in the past. It'll happen plenty of times in the future, I'm sure. As time goes on, I have less and less of myself invested in being right.

However, I accept ownership of my ideas and words. I expect the same from all who would dialogue with me at this blog. Fully be whoever you are (not "Anonymous"), show respect for others, and you can say just anything you want. That's the way it works here.

Frankly,

Frank Bellizzi

mereinkling said...

Playing the "racist" trump card ends a discussion. However, without honest dialog on a subject like this, there's no way we can ever hope to come to an agreement.

The main problem with the fray into which Lewis jumps here, is that the very few directly applicable biblical passages do not support the innovation. That said, they need to be expunged from the discussion (typically by using accusations of "patriarchalism" ).

mereinkling said...

Playing the "racist" trump card ends a discussion. However, without honest dialog on a subject like this, there's no way we can ever hope to come to an agreement.

The main problem with the fray into which Lewis jumps here, is that the very few directly applicable biblical passages do not support the innovation. That said, they need to be expunged from the discussion (typically by using accusations of "patriarchalism" ).