Pope Benedict on Respecting Gender

Before Cardinal Ratzinger was Pope Benedict XVI, he began a series of interviews with Peter Seewald.  Since assuming the Papacy, he has continued this series, with the most recent talk being published as Light of the World: The Pope, the Church and the Signs of the Times.  I have begun reading through his older interviews, and came across this passage in God and the World.

In discussion the creation account, Peter Seewald asked whether men and women are fundamentally different kinds of beings.  The heart of Benedict’s response warned against two errors society falls into concerning gender roles.

I think we  should be equally concerned with false theories of equality and false theories of difference… It is false when people want men and women to be cut to the same measure and say that this tiny biological difference has absolutely no significance.  That tendency is dominant nowadays.   Personally, it still horrifies me when people want women to be soldiers just like men, when they, who have have always been keepers of the peace and in whom we have always seen a counter-impulse working against the male impulse to stand up and fight, now likewise run around with submachine guns, showing that they can be just as warlike as the men.  Or that women now have the “right” to work as garbage collectors or miners, to do all those things that, out of respect for their status, for the different nature, their own dignity, we ought not to inflict on them and that are now imposed on them in the name of equality…  Basically this ideology of equality is a kind of “spiritualism,” a way of despising the body that refuses to recognize that the body itself is the person.  Because of this, it seems  to me, this kind of egalitarianism does not exalt women but diminishes their status. By being treated as male, they are dragged down to being undistinguished and ordinary.

But there is also of course a false ideology of difference.  Through that it became customary to regard women as lower beings, who are only there to do the cooking and the cleaning, while the lords of creation talk and make war and regard themselves as a superior caste with a superior field of activities.  From that standpoint, women are regarded as being [merely] physical, sensual, not open to spiritual things, not creative… thus the ideology of difference developed into a caste system.

Taking seriously Christian doctrine would lead us to walk between these two equal but opposite errors.

Ads urging for the ordination of women met the Pope during his August, 2010 visit to London

But the difficult part is envisioning that in practice.  I, for my part, do not find egalitarian marriage (that is, marriages of mutual submission and no particularly male leadership) to fall into the first category.  But some Christians do.  For that matter, my reading of the New Testament would allow for women to engage in church leadership roles (and require them to when they are called by God to do so), but B16 would certainly disagree with me there.

What do you think?  What does a Christian perspective that takes gender seriously look like in practice?


4 responses to “Pope Benedict on Respecting Gender

  1. Paul says women aren’t to be in leadership over men at church. I don’t see how that could be read differently.

    • In a lot of ways, it’s the same way we read passages that tell us that women shouldn’t speak in church, or braid their hair, or wear jewelry. (Of course, all of those passages have their modern-day adherents as well. The church movement I’m part of had a group splinter over the issue of wedding rings.) But the issue is made more complex because women may have been (I believe certainly were) in early church leadership. Phoebe, Priscilla and Junias are the names usually thrown around.

      Here is a pretty decent summary of the case from the New Testament for women in ministry: http://www.gregboyd.org/essays/essays-church/women-in-ministry/

      Still, I understand the complementarian model, and while sometimes its hairsplitting seems a bit ridiculous (women can teach this Sunday school class but not this other one), I don’t think anyone is being harmed or is being disobedient in holding to a complementarian model like the one the Catholic Church uses.

  2. The Church knows that men and women are meant to serve different roles, including in the church. But, in addition to that, the Church has no authority to ordain women. It’s an authority that Jesus never gave the Church. I love the Holy Father’s examples in that excerpt.

  3. Let’s just face it: the Bible is sexist.

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