From the Archives: January 1984

Clericalism is a model of leadership that disempowers those who are led or served, and turns them into clients and dependents. This is opposed to ministry, in which one uses gifts and powers of leadership to empower others, to teach them, to draw out their capacities, so that one can enter into a relationship of mutuality. ...

This understanding of ministry does not mean that there aren’t structures, or that certain people aren’t chosen to lead at times; it simply means that the mandate of leadership is to nurture the community into mutual ministry, rather than to disempower the community and make its people into dependents.

The attempt of basic Christian communities to overcome this clericalism is relevant to feminism because what disempowers women in ministry is clericalism, which is built on the patriarchal model of relationships. Women will always be disempowered in ministry as long as ministry is understood in terms of patriarchal clericalism.

The most critical focus for feminism in the church is precisely the liberation of the church itself from patriarchy. Women in the church cannot really rest with a clerical, patriarchal church. They must struggle to convert the church to an understanding of its mission, which will include the full promotion of the humanity of women. The church must come to recognize that patriarchy is fundamentally contrary to the gospel and that the liberation of humanity from patriarchy is in fact an intrinsic aspect of the mission of the church itself.

Rosemary Radford Ruether was professor at Garrett Seminary when this interview appeared.

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