Fr Lawrence Farley and his articles

edited December 1969 in Faith Issues
Hello all, I am starting this thread to express my objections with Fr Lawrence's articles on feminism. I will also explore what feminism is and isn't and why should we care.

This first post will deal with Fr Lawrence's articles. The first one is Labelling the debate and the second one is An Old Article on Feminism. The first article is much better written and thought through. As mentioned in another thread, the second article, by Fr Lawrence's own words "was written quickly, and accordingly bears all the marks of a pastoral piece written in such haste.  I re-post here with reservations." While he acknowledges short-comings in this article, he doesn't describe what those short comings are. It actually plays into the deficiencies of the first article. I also want to point out that I have not read his book yet. I assume he may have worked out the short comings in his book. But I can not comment on it now.

Let's discuss the first article. Fr Lawrence makes a good point about having the courage to label a sickness so we know how to manage it. He does point out that feminism "is a very large tent, and contains under its roof a large variety of movements and demands—some political, some theological. Certain of its demands, such as the right of women to equal pay for equal work, should be granted by all concerned, since they are matters of simple justice. But the theological feminism which effectively is at war with traditional gender roles is another matter."

The first issue here is that feminism is not an umbrella label that is claimed to be the cause and reason behind all diseases. Fr Lawrence actually uses the example of medical diagnostics. Just like we can't call cancer the reason and cause of all deaths in America, we can't say feminism is the source of all heresy.

However, Fr Lawrence does claim that feminism, specifically theological feminism, is the antithesis of traditional gender roles manifested in all diseases ranging from "divorce rates go[ing] up, the number of common law unions go[ing] up, there is increasing acceptance of casual sex, and of prostitution (now euphemised as “the sex trade”, as if schools offered training and certificates), violence against women increases, and the use of pornography is increasingly normalized." He has given no real reason on how feminism, and even a specific label -  theological feminism - is the cause of all these diseases. If there is a causal relationship, one must have logical and systematic evidence. Similarly, no physician who actually uses proper scientific methodology will say neurofibrosarcoma is the cause of all mental diseases including depression. If Fr. Lawrence wants to accurately begin the process for labeling feminism, he should at least avoid non-conclusive causal relationships as the basis of a labeling system or process.

Secondly, Fr Lawrence spends some time detailing the history of the Anglican Churches approach to legitimizing female bishops under the catalyst of theological feminism. From there, he introduces another causal relationship with no evidence. If female ordination is ok because gender roles don't matter in feminism theology, than homosexuality and same-sex marriages are ok because of the same feminism theological groundwork. While there may be a causal relationship for the introduction of homosexuality into certain Christian theologies due to feminism theology, there is not one single feminism theological concept or theory referenced. We're back to generalizations. In another post, I will try to define feminism theology from feminist theologians. It is not what Fr Lawrence describes.

Now I understand that this article, which really is a blog, is not meant to be exhaustive or even "scientific". However, without real definitions, the reader is left to define feminism as the source of all evil among men and women. A non-critical reader will simply agree with Fr Lawrence's conclusion that feminism theology is heresy. It may be heresy. But without actually defining or referencing any feminism theology, the conclusion is weak at best. Hopefully, Fr Lawrence's book addresses this shortcoming.

His second article, "An Old Article on Feminism" is even more far-fetched. Again I acknowledge Fr Lawrence was reluctant to write, but his so-called proofs are not developed satisfactorily to reach the conclusion he has made or wants you to make. First, I would like to point out what I did like about this article.

1. Headship (or Leadership authority) and subordination goes hand in hand with equality. Wherever there is subordination, there is subordination of equals. This is not misogyny. Misogyny assumes subordination because men are superior to the women. Thus a man can have his own bank account, but a woman cannot. A man can do what he wants, but a woman must obey his every word. I hope this is clear. Those who endorse some sort of favoritism simply because of male dominance is endorsing misogyny, not equality.

2. Speaking of ritual uncleanliness, he points to the fact that what is natural can still be fallen. "Certain things make one unfit and unready for contact with the Divine power through sacrifice...It was not a question of being considered “sinful” but simply of certain ceremonial disqualification for religious rites." After illustrating some eschatological arguments for ritual participation, he concludes, "And as such, we all, women as well as men, transcend the categories of this age (such as the prescriptions of the Jewish Law with its categories of clean/unclean) so that women may of course receive Holy Communion anytime.  The deciding factor is not their ritual cleanliness but the presence of the Holy Spirit within them, which causes them to transcend this age."

What then is the main problem with this article?
His scriptural evidence is not strong. He has 2 main scriptural arguments against the ordination of women. (Now just because I disagree with Fr Lawrence's evidence, it doesn't mean I endorse female ordination. More to come later)
1. In the story of creation, as St Paul says in 1 Corinthians 11:9 and 1 Timothy 2:13, woman (Eve) was made for a helper for Adam because Adam was created first, not the other way around. His argument is that Adam was given authority over Eve as men have authority over women because this is God's design. The conclusion is correct, the reason is wrong. Just because something is created first, doesn't necessarily require the second to subordinate to the first. In Genesis 1, Adam was created last, yet in Genesis 2 he had authority over all animals. If we believe authority is contingent on chronological creation, than Adam must subordinate to plants, beasts, birds, fish, etc.

2. All the Apostles were men. Fr Lawrence puts this very nicely. He says, "Secondly, Christ not only re-enforced the Old Testament teaching of woman’s essential equality with men, He also re-enforced its teaching of woman’s subordination.  That is, He gave spiritual authority  to men only,  not to women.  Though He had women disciples available to Him, He chose only men as His Apostles and as bearers of His authority.  This was significant, for He could have chosen women...." In this passage, he reiterate equality with subordination or subordination of equals. But he continues with a weak claim, namely, "It is difficult to believe that He would have balked at a lesser “revolution” like women apostles, were such the Father’s will.  He had already outraged His contemporaries by teaching women in public—why would He stop at making them teachers—unless such were not His will?" The omission of explicit authority does not necessarily imply something is not God's will. Monasticism is not explicitly mentioned in the Bible (at least not the word itself) while marriage is. This fact doesn't imply that monasticism should subordinate to married life or that the monasticism is not God's will. 

I will return to this validation of "the apostles were all men" after I introduce some concepts of feminism theology.

I am anxious for any comments and objections, just no name calling or divergent attacks.


  • No responses?

    I think we can have a fruitful discussion now instead of a heated discussion that hijacks other threads later as this topic has in the past.
  • I personally have nothing to say thus far, but I'll post here to subscribe to future comments.
  • Feminism does not worry me as a whole because I know there is iniquity in the world and it is only to get worse. I believe our church has no need for too much consternation.

      In regards to Father Lawrence's letter' labelling the debate my thoughts are general than to be tied down in opposing what I think is fear.

      This except from the letter sum up the general thinking behind the letter:

        I think that it is time to recognize that debate is not legitimate if it is debate over things long uncontroversial in Scripture and Tradition. It is time to recognize that the present debate over gender in our Church is a symptom that we are dealing with an underlying heresy. It is not enough, of course, simply to cut off debate and to tell people to shut up and sit down. Thoughtful answers need to be provided—as they were provided to Arians in the fourth century. There is a difference between debating and answering. We debate to arrive at the truth. We answer when we know what that truth is.

    The historic Church has long known what the truth is about human sexuality. It is time that these answers be authoritatively given.

      Father Lawerence has asked for answers from the church itself here but this is my answer:

    I have read Father Laurence's letter and one answer I can give is that the church is not perfect.
    If the church was perfect we would not need repentance.

      What is more, that if we find what we believe to be a truth. How righteous is it to put a yoke on the church that the one putting it does nothing to remove the burdon? It is saying the church has an underlining heresy which it is doing nothing about.

      Our life is in trying, seeking, and searching for purity, perfection, and truth. Not that we say it is the answer without the striving for it.

      Some say I sound like a protestant, but I know what the truth is, that the Holy Spirit goes through our church fathers and that I know that I can't quote them. My enermy is time, so no research but that I'm left with where the Holy Spirit takes me. Does it match the church fathers? No. This is my shame, but it is because of my enermy.

      I do know that I would not shame the church. I have had people try to decieve, and the way they did it was to fool me into protecting myself. So when someone says protect the church against what they see as an underlining heresy. I have doubts because of one; the shame involved, two; are we going to be made to look foolish?

      Yes truth is the answer, but it is something we strive for so does need debate.
      Also, if a claim is made, it should be supported by statistical evidence. Of which I would like to know how it was corillated as well. It is not good to just to say there are victims. That is just suspicion and fear only fit for appealing to gossip.
      If statistics are provided, then I would like to know if it is anything out of the ordinary with society. As I have said the church is not perfect.

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