“No longer at my age can I accept a subordinate role; not for myself, not for my daughter, not for my sisters, my nieces or friends,” the 61-year-old current affairs presenter declared.
She added that other women had walked out of the church a long time ago.
“Maybe I just kept hoping,” she added.
She was provoked to a recent, detailed on-air explanation by an interview with American Catholic theologian and intellectual George Weigel. She was unimpressed, explaining:
“He [Mr Weigel] gave the same old non-reasons for the refusal of the church to ordain women, ‘we have different tasks, different gifts’ . . . ‘God made men and women different for a reason’.”
Ms O’Leary continued: “At this stage I don’t feel rage so much as weariness — that ‘difference’ is still latched onto as a reason to discriminate; weariness and, for me, relief, that it’s all over now. I’ve moved on out.”
She now attends the Church of Ireland (part of the Anglican Communion) where “I can stand tall because the Church of Ireland, whether I join it or not, accepts my full humanity. It ordains women.”
The pursuit by women of equality where it is denied them appears to be as sweepingly nondenominational as it is relentless.
Delegates to the 6th General Assembly of the Fellowship of the Middle East Evangelical Churches (FMEEC) voted unanimously on Jan. 12 in support of the ordination of women.
The associated statement was written in Arabic. An English translation says:
The Sixth General Assembly supports the ordination of the women in our churches in the position of ordained pastor and her partnership with men as an equal partner in decision making. Therefore we call on member churches to take leading steps in this concern.
The statement was drafted and adopted in response to a report by the fellowship’s theology committee, which found no biblical or theological reasons to oppose the ordination of women, said the Rev. Munib A. Younan, bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land (ELCJHL), president of FMEEC.
The action means member churches are urged to open the doors to women’s ordained ministry, said Younan.
According to the FMEEC Web site, there are 23 member churches/organizations spread across the middle east and near east.
Several U.S. denominations allow the ordination of women. Among them are the Episcopal Church, which has a woman as its presiding bishop, the United Methodist Church, the Disciples of Christ, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America and others. Several denominations deny ordination to women, most notably Southern Baptist Convention and the Roman Catholic Church. All subject to ongoing controversy in some regard.
Allison K. Schmitt, communication assistant with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land, explains:
FMEEC was formed in 1974, the result of a long history of ecumenism among member churches. FMEEC’s purpose is to strengthen the mission and ministry of its member churches through training and formation of leadership and laity, both women and men, and promoting unity through joint work and education.
The organization’s history says:
The motivation for unity was always rooted in the faith and life of the Evangelical churches in the Middle East. The ecumenical movement in the Middle East sprang up from within the evangelical church, which through its biblical concepts and spirituality, yearns for unity. This motivation brought the Evangelical churches of the Middle East together. “The United Missionary Council in Jerusalem” (1924) was the first step, followed by the “Council of West Asia and North Africa” held at Helwan, Egypt in 1927, and its two peers, “The Missionary Conference of Syria and Palestine” held in the north, and “The Missionary Conference of all Egypt” held in the south. Later all these assemblies joined under one nomenclature, “The Near East Christian Council”. Thirty-five years later, in 1964 in Egypt, the Syrian Orthodox Church joined the council, whose name changed to “The Near East Council of Churches”. Then, in 1974, in order to encourage other churches in the Middle East to join the ecumenical movement, the Evangelical churches initiated the idea of playing a lesser role in administration and direct responsibility, in order that the other churches in the Middle East might join. As a result “The Middle East Council of Churches” came into existence on the basis of Orthodox, Oriental and Evangelical church families.
The yearning for unity does not mean that the member churches within the Fellowship of the Middle East Evangelical Churches are fully united. Theological questions related to eucharist and ministry are still unresolved, therefore the quest for unity is still a top priority for the FMEEC, which believes that unity amongst its members will foster the unity with the other families within the MECC. In 1997 the Fellowship formulated a “Proposal for the Unity of the Evangelical Churches in the Middle East”, which however was not accepted by all its members. In 2005 a new proposal was launched, aiming at a formal agreement between the churches of the Reformed and Lutheran traditions in the Fellowship. This agreement of full communion was reached in January 2006 at a meeting in Amman and is called The Amman Declaration of Lutheran and Reformed Churches in the Middle East and North Africa. It establishes the mutual recognition of baptism, eucharist, ministry and ordination. The churches that are signatories to the Declaration commit themselves to close cooperation and common witness.