A Reply on Women Participation in the Church
by Yuhanon Mor Meletius Metropolitan (Thrissur)
I have been following postings in ICON on the subject of women’s participation in the Church. I am a student of Bible and theology. I have been so for the last three decades. I have never seen any passage in the Bible or any statement in the writings of our fathers that will stop us from giving equal participation to women. I certainly was not reading the Bible or the writings of the father from a prejudice on behalf of women. There are people who bring a statement from Paul who said, “Let women be silent in Church” to argue their case. They say that as if they have fulfilled all other directives from Paul and this is only one left to be implemented. Paul was talking to a specific situation and it was not meant to be taken as a universal law. Again Paul also has said, "there is neither male nor female, neither Jew or Gentile before God" ( Read the Epistle to Romans). We can see Jesus’ attitude on this when people asked him about the question of divorce. To answer that Jesus took the creation story from Gen. chapter 1 and not from ch. 2 (only a biblical student will understand the difference – sorry about that). His statement categorically rules out any kind of sex discrimination. If we look at the kind of followers Jesus had we can understand how much He honored the participation of women. However He was wise enough not to include women among his twelve disciples since He knew that in a male dominated society of His time, that will not help spreading of His Gospel, on the contrary will only adversely affect. However, he made them apostles to the apostles after his resurrection to tell the disciples about his resurrection (John 20:17). The fact that Jesus did not have any woman apostle to go to the world is no reason for us not having women in Church general body. Let me state that once again: there is no reason ethical, biblical, social, legal or practical to segregate women from equal participation in the Church administration.
Coming to the practical side of the issue; first our women themselves have to be educated on this. I have seen women who hold very important positions in the service sector of the Church saying “what is their problem, why do they want to be part of the general body? These are all western ideas. Now they ask this, once they get it, they will ask for ordination”. I have seen people addressing women as Mrs. Mathew or Mrs Nair. I think this should be changed. Women need to be seen as they are and not as appendix of some other person. I have seen wedding anniversary prayer requests in H. Qurbana with names like Mrs. and Mr. Thomas or Mr. and Mrs. Abraham. Why can’t they mention the name of the wife also? This happens on memorial- day of the departed too. These people have to be educated. Ours is a democratic administrative system. It has its merits and demerits. Our constitution was framed in 1934. Those days, at-least in our community there was no question of equal participation. Then we were in the court ever since and any kind of change on the constitution was looked up on with fear of losing the battle. So we could not take up this question.
In the 1995 judgement of the Supreme Court there was a reference to this issue. The Hon. Court said, ‘you say that all baptized members are part of the Church but do not give equal voting right to women, is it not a contradiction?’. But at that stage we were not able to do anything. After the 2002 Association Meeting, when the new Rule Committee (for the constitution amendment) was constituted, I submitted a petition to them giving eight reasons to make necessary changes to the constitution to include women voting right. But it was not taken up since question of authority of H.H. Catholicos was again brought up in the court by the Jacobites (I do not think that it could not have taken up then itself. But when some say it is risky, people do not venture). Now that all general court cases are over, time is ripe to take up this.
Once again, we should remember that ours is a democratic system of government. It is not just for the H. Synod to decide on this. The Rule Committee has to bring this up to the Managing Committee and then it has to approve this. In both these bodies we have only men members. We need to educate them too. That is why I said in my posting, ‘women should keep raising their voice’. Unless there is continuous voicing of the need people may conveniently forget it. Those who receive Bishops, Achens and prominent members of the Church in your Churches and homes should take up this question with them. It is sad and shameful that the wisdom Moses had, some seventeen centuries before Christ, is still lacking in our post modern community (Ref. Num. 27 with regard to the question of the daughters of Zelophehad. This is particularly in regard to the question Mr. Abraham Joshua of Baltimore put before me). To Mr. Abraham, it is not proper on my part to say who is against it. This has been a deep rooted injustice in our system. It can be removed only slowly and through steady and patient handling of the matter. So let us continue to struggle with this, not only women but also all men with a sense of justice and equality should address this question. The Synod has already shown its green signal (thanks to Barnabas Thirumeni who brought this up). Concerned individuals and congregations write to the Rule Committee to take this question up in its next sitting. Let this come in congregation General Body Meetings. Let the Samajam committees send appeals to Church General Body Meetings and let them be an agenda in the meetings. Let them pass resolutions and send them to the Rule Committee. Let them continue to write about it in all forums. This is the only way in a democratic system any change could be brought in.
Let us be led by the wisdom of the Holy Spirit which our Lord said ‘will lead us to all truth’(John 16:13).
Yuhanon Mor Meletius Metropolitan (Thrissur)