J. I. Packer And The Logic Of Patriarchy -- By: Curt Purcell

Journal: Priscilla Papers
Volume: PP 11:1 (Winter 1997)
Article: J. I. Packer And The Logic Of Patriarchy
Author: Curt Purcell

J. I. Packer And The Logic Of Patriarchy

Curt Purcell

Curt Purcell is a doctoral candidate in Philosophy at Fordham University.

Even if they appear to be otherwise, oppressive situations… are inherently unstable.

Patricia Hill Collins1

Some time ago, J. I. Packer published a short piece in Christianity Today, titled “Let’s Stop Making Women Presbyters.”2 As the title suggests, this piece is a straightforward example of the age-old attempt to justify the treatment of women as second-class and substandard— an oppressive gesture, even if unintended as such. However, if Patricia Hill Collins is correct in saying that oppressive situations are inherently unstable, then it stands to reason that somewhere in Packer’s argument there will be instability or contradiction which undermines his argument. That is not to say that the contradiction will be obvious or easy to spot. Very possibly because they do not see themselves as oppressors, many apologists for oppression are very good at dissimulating, obscuring, or even ignoring the contradictory nature of their positions. Nevertheless, through a careful reading of Packer’s essay, I hope to point out and explain the way in which his argument betrays itself and comes undone.

Packer begins by asking: “Why has so much of the church in our time come to think that introducing women into the presbyterate is good, right, wise and pleasing to God?”3 He then considers five factors which, according to him, have contributed to this situation. One is “the feminist ideology that demands equal rights everywhere.” Another is the fact that women have been excelling at jobs that traditionally have belonged exclusively to men. His next reason (in perhaps a sort of oblique and grudging nod to the accomplishments of biblical feminism) is that it is not clear that the New Testament texts usually invoked to refuse women’s ordination have present-day relevance. Fourth, God has blessed the ministry of ordained women. Fifth and finally,

The Anglican and Presbyterian restriction of leadership at the Lord’s Table… to presbyters has spread the sense that presbyter status is an enviable privilege, without which Christian professionals do not have a fully satisfying ministry. This feeling, however unjustified (and it seems to me unjustifiable), is widespread, and makes it seem churlish to deny to all the church’s professional women the job-satisfaction that those whom Anglicans call priests are thought to get from their sacramental ministrations....

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