`Ecumenical Deals' That Leave Women Out: When Men Negotiate Relations between Churches, Women Often Pay the Price. (Columns)

By Ruether, Rosemary Radford | National Catholic Reporter, December 14, 2001 | Go to article overview

`Ecumenical Deals' That Leave Women Out: When Men Negotiate Relations between Churches, Women Often Pay the Price. (Columns)


Ruether, Rosemary Radford, National Catholic Reporter


Ecumenical relationships between different religions are an advance toward greater understanding between cultures, overcoming past attitudes of intolerance and hostility. But like all good things they can be misused for questionable purposes. Marc Ellis, a Jewish liberation theologian, has denounced what he has called "the ecumenical deal" between Western Christians and Jews that sells out the human and civil rights of the Palestinian people.

For over 50 years, Western Christians, in the name of repentance for the Holocaust and respect for the sensitivities of Jews, have refrained from questioning Israeli mistreatment of Palestinians. This "ecumenical deal" has been backed up by fear that they would be attacked as anti-Semitic if they raised questions about injustice to Palestinians. For Ellis, it is time for Jews themselves to end this fallacious "deal" and recognize that Jews can recover their own ethical traditions only by defending the rights of Palestinians.

I would like to explore some other "ecumenical deals" that typically result in the betrayal of women. One such ecumenical deal has gone on for many years in the name of ecumenical relations of Christians with each other. In 1939 the merger of the Methodist Protestant and the Methodist Episcopal churches was negotiated through a vote that sold out the ordination of women. The Methodist Protestants had ordained women from the 19th century, but those who defended women's ordination were outvoted in an agreement not to ordain women in the new denomination. Although this decision was turned around in 1956 when the whole denomination voted to ordain women, it is illustrative of a pattern that has happened again and again. When men negotiate ecumenical relations between churches, it is often assumed that women should be willing to pay the price, rather than be an "impediment" to the merger.

This kind of ecumenical deal was in evidence last summer when the Vatican was determined to block the international women's ordination conference in Dublin. Not only did the Vatican threaten Joan Chittister with expulsion from her order if she spoke there, but Vatican representatives also put pressure on the World Council of Churches to prevent the head of me Women's desk, Aruna Gnanadason, from speaking. The Vatican threatened to withdraw from joint Catholic-World Council of Churches committees if she spoke. Under tremendous pressure from leaders of the World Council, Aruna Gnanadason withdrew, although she sent her speech to be read at the meeting. Thus the Christian world was treated to the strange sight of Catholic women successfully resisting Vatican orders while Protestants capitulated to them. Again male church leaders assumed they should defer to the churchmen who reject women's ordination, rather that "offending" them. Offending and betraying women of one's own church apparently is not a matter of concern.

Another arena for ecumenical deals and the betrayal of women takes place in the discourse between First- and Third-World men over questions of "culture" and religious tradition.

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`Ecumenical Deals' That Leave Women Out: When Men Negotiate Relations between Churches, Women Often Pay the Price. (Columns)
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