Now About That Vow of Silence…

Every Catholic schoolkid knows one thing: you don’t tell a nun to shut up. At least you don’t if you wanted to avoid rapped knuckles and the more long-term problem of eternal damnation.

Yet one man is finally doing what so many students have always dreamt of: Pope Benedict XVI is telling 1,500 nuns of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR), who represent over 40,000 nuns, “You don’t make the rules here. I do.”

It seems the nuns made the mistake of not speaking out forcefully enough about abortion and gay marriage, and then they actually contemplated the possibility of the ordination of women priests. If the Pope would read his Bible a little more carefully, he would find that someone else didn’t speak out forcefully, or at all, on these issues: a guy named Jesus of Nazareth. We all remember him, right?

This papal bitch slap (N.B. To every nun who worked so tirelessly to educate mischievous little me—with very little pay and even less gratitude—forgive me for using this politically incorrect yet emotionally very correct phrase) is being euphemistically called “renewal” by the US Conference of Catholic Bishops. Using the term “renewal” for this major rebuke is like a new dictator’s claim that he overthrew the government in order to “restore order.”

And who was appointed to tell the nuns what they can and can’t say? Archbishop Peter Sartain of Seattle, who is (in)famous for being the guy who ordered anti-gay marriage sermons be preached in all of Washington’s Catholic churches, in an attempt to defeat same-sex marriage legislation.

Interestingly, many churches refused to repeat Sartain’s political/religious opinion, to the approval of many churchgoers.

If Sartain and Benedict are looking for biblical justifications for this ecclesiastical crackdown, they won’t have to search very hard.

Women should remain silent in the churches. They are not allowed to speak. —1 Corinthians 14:34

It is disgraceful for a woman to speak in the church. —1 Corinthians 14:35

I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she must be silent. —1 Timothy 2:12

Theologians note that Paul himself very likely never wrote these quotes that are attributed to him. But thanks to some misogynistic, mischief-making forger who lived 2,000 years ago, these sentiments made it into the most revered holy book in Western culture.

Usually it’s fairly easy to find Bible passages that would contradict other passages, but when I searched for verses that speak positively about the rights of women, there were slim pickings:

Husbands, live with your wives in an understanding way, showing honor to the woman as the weaker vessel. —1 Peter 3:7

The next closest thing I found were the many occasions where Paul addresses the following female leaders and other important women in the early Christian church:

  • Apphia —Philemon 2
  • Euodia —Philippians 4:2
  • Junia —Romans 16:7
  • Mary —Romans 16:6
  • Nympha —Colossians 4:15
  • Persis —Romans 16:12
  • Phoebe —Romans 16:1
  • Priscilla —I Corinthians 16:19
  • Syntyche —Philippians 4:2

So you see, religious women have a long tradition of being active in the church and following Jesus’ call to serve the needs of others. The Vatican, on the other hand, has a long tradition of holding onto power and keeping its concentration of wealth restricted to a relatively small group of increasingly conservative men. Maybe it’s a force of habit, as it is a part of evolution: men feel threatened by forces that could potentially lower their social status—so even priests who may never reproduce (ideally) still possess the genes from their forefathers who behaved and successfully reproduced with this mentality. Let’s all just breathe a sigh of relief that the fathers of the church have not yet started quoting this biblical gem:

If anyone deliberately disobeys the priest who serves the Lord your God or the judge, that person must die. —Deuteronomy 17:12

Meanwhile, I’ll start searching for those quotes from Jesus’ Sermon on Gay Marriage. I think it starts “Blessed are the straight.”

Michael Morris is the author of Bible Funmentionables: A Lighthearted Look at the Wildest Verses You’ve NEVER Been Told!, which features all of the shocking and hilarious verses that your minister, rabbi, or charismatic cult leader is afraid to preach.