Church unity and the Virgin Mary


Thursday, January 17, 2013

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THE octave of Christian unity this year begins tomorrow and continues until Friday, January 25. For more than a hundred years, it has been a custom in certain parts of Christianity to have an octave (eight days of prayer) for Christian unity.

The custom was started in the United States of America by Father Paul James Wattson, who was first an Anglican (or Episcopalian) priest. He eventually became a Roman Catholic priest, bringing his entire order with him, the Franciscan Friars of the Atonement.

The custom was introduced in Jamaica in the 1970s. In Jamaica, the clergy from each church denomination get along quite well with each other. The problem is with the rank and file church members. This is similar to what obtains in our two major political parties.

In the last 50 years or so, ecumenism (the churches working together) has borne rich fruit in terms of bringing about a greater sense of unity. But some churches have been trying to force unity with others on grounds that would compromise the principled positions that they take.

The Roman Catholic Church, although accounting for 66 per cent of the world's Christians, is less than three per cent of the Jamaican population. The Roman Catholic Church in Jamaica has never recovered from the ban placed on Roman Catholicism between 1655 and 1791 (add a year for Catholic priests to arrive in 1792 and we get 137 years of total obliteration in Jamaica).

In his January 3 column in The Gleaner entitled 'Mother of God and women priests', the Reverend Devon Dick, a Baptist minister, wrote: "This high regard for Mary, a woman, seems to make a farce of the ban on the ordination of females as priests..."

Dick wrote that despite the clear case that the Roman Catholic Church makes that it has no authority from God to ordain women priests, as Jesus chose only men to be apostles. Where does the authority come from in the other churches that ordain women?

Regarding Reverend Dick's position, Roman Catholics like me could argue the reverse. The acceptance of female ministers in the Baptist and many Protestant, Fundamentalist and Evangelical churches seems to make a farce of the rigid refusal to honour the Blessed Virgin Mary, even when there is a strong scriptural basis for doing so (Luke 1:48): "And from this day forward, all generations shall call me blessed".

True respect for women should not have to depend on them getting any position to be regarded as great. Similarly, a poor man should not have to become rich to be respected, although it is a good thing for a poor man to work towards wealth.

Certainly, a black man should not have to become white to be respected. And women should not have to become men to be respected. We certainly need Christian unity on these issues because the gender lines have become crossed in recent times, especially in the western world where the cultural influence of North America is felt far more than it is in the eastern world.

To argue that the Roman Catholic position that Jesus only chose men "is problematic" because Jesus did not choose Jamaican men is like arguing that the Baptists' position on immersion only for baptism is problematic because Baptists do more baptisms outside of the River Jordan (and Jerusalem for that matter) where Jesus was baptised, than at the Jordan itself.

Reverend Dick seems to be appealing to populist sentiment, especially from women, and apparently in his view, divine authority, logic and common sense are secondary to that. Some argue that the Roman Catholic Church should ordain women to be in line with ecumenical unity since many Protestant churches have women in their clergy. But the mistake here is in believing that Catholics and Protestants, Fundamentalists and Evangelicals make up the whole of Christendom.

Some 23 per cent of all Christians belong to the Orthodox churches, where the main difference with the Roman Catholic Church is political (who should lead) rather than doctrinal. The Orthodox churches, like the Roman Catholics, absolutely refuse to allow women ordinations and they honour Mary even more than Roman Catholics as far as I can see.

The combined percentage of Roman Catholics and Orthodox churches is 89 per cent, leaving 11 per cent to Protestants, Fundamentalists and Evangelicals. If one extracts from the 11 per cent these Protestants, Fundamentalists and Evangelicals who have only male clergy, the percentage of those churches with only male clergy is even greater, so the true ecumenical position is really male clergy only.




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