Straw Men and Slippery Slopes: A Response to Paul Ladouceur

By Protodeacon Brian Patrick Mitchell

Advocates of the ordination of women as deaconesses have begun responding publicly to the public statement of opposition to deaconesses signed by over 50 clergymen and scholars and posted last month on the website of the American Orthodox Institute, where over 200 other Orthodox Christians, many of them also clergymen and scholars, have added their names. In time, we will no doubt see some well-researched, well-written rebuttals to the public statement, worthy of lengthy responses. But Paul Ladouceur’s posting last week on Public Orthodoxy can be quickly and easily parried in a few brief paragraphs.

Half of Ladouceur’s argument is the straw man that the “natural order” theory advanced by opponents of deaconesses involves “two opposing ontological principles, equality and subordination,” which they have made “no attempt to reconcile” and which are incompatible with patristic teaching. This is a straw man because it’s easy to knock down and doesn’t actually represent the views of opponents of deaconesses. Who believes in the “ontological subordination” of women? No one I know in the Orthodox Church.

What the opponents of deaconesses believe in, and what the Church plainly teaches, is the economical subjection of women on account of the Fall, which, like the economical subjection of men to men, is decreed by God for our own good. The difference between ontological subordination and economical subjection is that the former is a matter of nature whereas the latter is a matter of law. The woman is not naturally inferior to the man, but she is obliged to submit to him for the greater good, just as men are obliged to submit to other men for the same reason—to keep people together and at peace.

Thus St. John Chrysostom says both, “For with us, indeed, the woman is reasonably subjected to the man, since equality of honor causeth contention,” (Homily 26 on 1 Cor.) and also, “And from the beginning He made one sovereignty only, setting the man over the woman. [Gen. 3:16] But after our race ran headlong into extreme disorder, He appointed other sovereignties also, those of Masters, and those of Governors, and this too for love’s sake.” (Homily 34 on 1 Cor.)

Of economical subjection, Ladouceur says nothing, leaving his readers with only ontological equality justifying the rule of women over men in the Church and in the world. (For the patristic view of the natural and economical order of male and female see “The Problem with Hierarchy,” “The Disappearing Deaconess,” “Orthodox Deaconesses,” and “The Danger of Deaconesses.”)

The other half of Ladouceur’s argument is a claim that opponents of deaconesses commit the logical fallacy known as “the slippery slope” or “the camel’s nose” when warning that “women deacons will lead inexorably to a series of other unwanted changes in Orthodoxy.” These are Ladouceur’s words. Later, in developing this line of argument, Ladouceur lets his imagination run rampant. He writes:

Opponents of the ordination of women appeal to the inevitability of other changes which would ensue from the institution of women deacons in the Orthodox Church. These undesired downstream changes would include women priests, women bishops, acceptance of same-sex marriage, transgender confusion, LBGTQ2 priests, changes in the readings in marriage service, or in gender designations for God…

In fact, some public advocates of deaconesses have already shown their sympathy for some of these changes, but the public statement against deaconesses only warns: “Just as children who grow up in parishes with female readers are more likely to believe as adults that women should be deacons or deaconesses, so children who grow up in parishes with deaconesses will be more likely to believe as adults that women should be priests and bishops.”

This warning is easily defensible for three reasons:

  1. It warns of only a probable change in the thinking of some people as a result of making women deacons or deaconesses: People conditioned by the experience of growing up with women deacons or deaconesses would be “more likely” to think as Ladouceur does—that there is nothing wrong with women taking leading roles in the Church as in the world, preaching publicly and exercising authority over men as well as women, as priests and deacons do. The expectation of such a change is hardly unreasonable.
  2. There is a principle at stake—the natural and economical order of the man and the woman, which makes the man responsible for leadership. This is the reason why the duties of deaconesses were always so severely limited. It is also the only reason found in the Fathers for excluding women from the priesthood. No modern defender of that exclusion has been able to come up with the better one. Imposing clergywomen upon the faithful would effectively repudiate the principle of the male headship, leaving us with only the lack of precedent as a defense against women as priests and bishops. Yet a lack of precedent unbacked by principle, and instead at odds with the new principle of gender equality, is unlikely to fare well in this day and age, even among the Orthodox.
  3. Making women deacons or deaconesses will free the advocates of full equality for women, who already believe women should be priests, to begin pushing for the next step, using the similarity of deacons to priests to their advantage. This is a lesson from experience, not just in other churches but in the military as well, where feminists used the similarity of some “non-combat” jobs to some “combat” jobs to argue for letting women into more and more of the latter. (Read all about that here.) Ladouceur himself employs this tactic when he uses women choir directors and parish council presidents to argue that women already exercise authority over men and therefore ought also to be deacons. Once women become deacons, he could easily extend his argument to priests and bishops. The difference he neglects to acknowledge is that allowing women to direct choirs and head councils is a concession to human weakness, an irregularity forced on us in the fallen world, whereas the ordination of a deacon, priest, or bishop is a sacramental act acknowledging that a man’s new rank is willed by God and in no way irregular. The Church may tolerate irregularity; she does not ordain it.

In sum, Ladouceur’s charge that opponents of deaconesses commit the fallacy of the slippery slope when warning of where deaconesses might lead is itself a logical fallacy, the fallacy of faulty generalization, which merely uses the fact that some warnings of slippery slopes are fallacious to dismiss an welcome warning without proof of its fallaciousness.

Of other faults, nothing need be said, except that the only arguments Ladouceur makes in favor of deaconesses are that ontological equality justifies women ruling over men, that no fundamental matter of dogma is threatened by deaconesses, and that we had them once so we can have them again without starting down the slippery slope.

But when we had deaconesses, no one dared to teach against the natural and economical order of male and female, so settled was it in Scripture and Tradition, whereas today we have teachers who ignore Scripture and Tradition to teach only equality and mock the Orthodox for keeping the Faith of our Fathers.

Protodeacon Brian Patrick Mitchell is a doctoral student at the University of Winchester and the principal author of “A Public Statement on Orthodox Deaconesses by Concerned Clergy and Laity.” His master’s thesis on deaconesses is available here: “The Disappearing Deaconess: How the Hierarchical Ordering of Church Doomed the Female Diaconate.”

Comments

  1. In regards to Paul Ladouceur’s purposely deceptive claim from the original PO article:

    “Slippery slope” argumentation has no philosophical or theological content, but is rather a rhetorical device or a psychological argument which appeals to the listeners’ or readers’ emotions, especially fear. It is “scare tactics.” Not only fear of unwanted downstream consequences but fear too that women deacons may prove as effective as men deacons in exercising liturgical functions, that they may even be more effective than men in social service functions, long neglected or ignored by men deacons.

    Ladoucer is ignoring reality. The Slipper Slope has been proven 100% accurate with regards to the following “Christian” churches:
    Anglican Church
    American Baptist Church
    Assemblies of God
    African Methodist Episcopal
    Christian Science
    Disciples of Christ
    Episcopal Church
    Evangelical Lutheran Church
    Pentecostal Church of God
    Presbyterian Church
    United Church of Christ
    United Universalist
    United Methodist Church

    Furthermore, confirmation that the “Slippery Slope” is precisely what awaits the Orthodox Church can be gleaned from the fact that many of the pro-homosexual, pro-LGBT activists, various active homosexuals who were either defrocked, excommunicated from, or left the Orthodox Church, a vast majority of liberal or progressive academics, and the radical feminist “Orthodox” militants are aggressively pushing for it.

    But we’re not supposed to notice this!

  2. What, concretely, does “the economical subjection of women” mean? Are the authors of the Public Statement arguing that women can’t, for example, hold political office? Or does it mean they can’t serve on parish councils?

    Regarding the slippery slope argument, while the experience of other Christian communities can be illustrative for the Church, I’m not sure they have any predictive value for us. The fact that a heterodox community deviated further from the historical Christian faith is tragic but hardly surprising.

    The existence of deaconesses is attested to in Scripture and the Fathers. While we can debate the exact historical nature of their ministry and whether or not they are a pastoral necessity today, blessing an Orthodox woman to serve as a deaconess is legitimate. Again, let’s debate what the deaconess did and what if anything she might do today. But there is nothing wrong in principle with restoring the order.

    • Pdn Brian Patrick Mitchell :

      Legitimate is a very Western word expressing a very Western approach. Our guide in these matters, as Orthodox Christians, is not legitimacy but tradition, and history is not tradition. History only becomes tradition when it is handed down. Deaconesses have not been handed down to us. If they had been handed down to us, we would not need to debate what they did a thousand years ago and what they might do today.

      As for economical subjection, do you, Fr. Gregory, believe that the woman is in no way subject to the man? Or that she is only subject to the man in the Church? Or that she is only subject to the man in marriage? I can tell you what the Fathers believed. They tolerated women rulers in the world when they occurred, very rarely, out of necessity, but they always held that the man is the head of the woman on the basis of both natural order and economic subjection and that this truth stood for all mankind everywhere. After all, the Church is the model for the world.

      • Christopher Encapera :

        Fr. Gregory says:

        “Regarding the slippery slope argument, while the experience of other Christian communities can be illustrative for the Church, I’m not sure they have any predictive value for us. The fact that a heterodox community deviated further from the historical Christian faith is tragic but hardly surprising.”

        This reminds me of something a friend of Fr. Matthew Baker of blessed memory told me once. He said that Fr. Matthew would often note that those who supported this or that reform in Orthodoxy were almost always fully “ecumenical” in theology and practice, yet when theological anthropology is on the table (i.e. morality and sexuality), they suddenly back away. In those cases they insist that the experience of the west (and all their theological work) in ordaining women is inapplicable (Met. Kallistos Ware is an obvious example – see his original vs revised essays in the 1st and 2nd edition of Hopko’s “Women and the Priesthood”, to say nothing of his more recent comments).

        What are the sources, the principles, the theology of this modern reform effort to ordain female deacons? Fr. Gregory asserts that there is nothing wrong in principle with a “restoring” of the order. However, it is clear that these young, theological/seminary educated, married female deacons that are being discussed are not in fact a restoration of the original order, even if you grant that a restoration is possible in the first place. Further it is readily apparent that a modern anthropology of male and female, one based in the Cartesian Self and Kantian morality is presupposed and largely unexamined. Fr. Gregory begins his inquiry with questions almost designed to set up a dichotomy between the anthropology and morality of this secular age with a Christian anthropology of the createdness of male and female and the tradition of hierarchy, subordination, distinction, service, etc. A theological minimalist (at least when it comes to anthropology) such as Met. Kallistos argues that we don’t have any dogma around male and female and sacramental ordination, but is this actually true? What of the experience of the west, which has now thoroughly explored the consequences of the replacing of the Tradition with modern categories of Justice and Equality (that modern sacred quest) in their churches?

        It strikes me as naive (at best) to tell ourselves that Orthodoxy has nothing to learn from these experiences. This is particularly true now that Orthodoxy is situated in western civilization and its secular religious “situation”. We all live and breath this secular world – it is the cultural soup in which we all swim. The pressure to think and act as secularists (i.e. Cartesian Selves) is enormous. This is particularly true when it comes to morality, because secularism is first and foremost a very moral system of thought and living.

        So how do we answer the moral question (dare I say accusation) of “…are you arguing that women can’t hold public office…”? A first step in my opinion is to examine the underlying premises of the modern anthropology and morality presupposed and to determine whether they can or should inform a Christian anthropology and morality of an anthropos-created-male and female. Only then can we rightly determine the ecclesiastical and sacramental implications of this anthropology.

        Allow me to end with this quote from Fr. Matthew:

        “In a secularized academic context riveted by the political ideologies of “race, class, and gender”…The questions of “experience” and reason in theology – its sources, first principles and procedure – and the acceptable cultural “correlation” require a more rigorous and dogmatic-philosophical treatment. Orthodox theologians must deal not only with Western theology, but also with the sources of Western secularism with greater depth and care than has yet been shown…” (Fr. Mathew Baker, +2015, from his excellent “Neopatristic Synthesis and Ecumenism: Towards the “Reintegration”).

    • Fr. Gregory says:

      “Regarding the slippery slope argument, while the experience of other Christian communities can be illustrative for the Church, I’m not sure they have any predictive value for us. The fact that a heterodox community deviated further from the historical Christian faith is tragic but hardly surprising.”

      This reminds me of something a friend of Fr. Matthew Baker of blessed memory told me once. He said that Fr. Matthew would often note that those who supported this or that reform in Orthodoxy were almost always fully “ecumenical” in theology and practice, yet when theological anthropology is on the table (i.e. morality and sexuality), they suddenly back away. In those cases they insist that the experience of the west (and all their theological work) in ordaining women is inapplicable (Met. Kallistos Ware is an obvious example – see his original vs revised essays in the 1st and 2nd edition of Hopko’s “Women and the Priesthood”, to say nothing of his more recent comments).

      What are the sources, the principles, the theology of this modern reform effort to ordain female deacons? Fr. Gregory asserts that there is nothing wrong in principle with a “restoring” of the order. However, it is clear that these young, theological/seminary educated, married female deacons that are being discussed are not in fact a restoration of the original order, even if you grant that a restoration is possible in the first place. Further it is readily apparent that a modern anthropology of male and female, one based in the Cartesian Self and Kantian morality is presupposed and largely unexamined. Fr. Gregory begins his inquiry with questions almost designed to set up a dichotomy between the anthropology and morality of this secular age with a Christian anthropology of the createdness of male and female and the tradition of hierarchy, subordination, distinction, service, etc. A theological minimalist (at least when it comes to anthropology) such as Met. Kallistos argues that we don’t have any dogma around male and female and sacramental ordination, but is this actually true? What of the experience of the west, which has now thoroughly explored the consequences of the replacing of the Tradition with modern categories of Justice and Equality (that modern sacred quest) in their churches?

      It strikes me as naive (at best) to tell ourselves that Orthodoxy has nothing to learn from these experiences. This is particularly true now that Orthodoxy is situated in western civilization and its secular religious “situation”. We all live and breath this secular world – it is the cultural soup in which we all swim. The pressure to think and act as secularists (i.e. Cartesian Selves) is enormous. This is particularly true when it comes to morality, because secularism is first and foremost a very moral system of thought and living.

      So how do we answer the moral question (dare I say accusation) of “…are you arguing that women can’t hold public office…”? A first step in my opinion is to examine the underlying premises of the modern anthropology and morality presupposed and to determine whether they can or should inform a Christian anthropology and morality of an anthropos-created-male and female. Only then can we rightly determine the ecclesiastical and sacramental implications of this anthropology.

      Allow me to end with this quote from Fr. Matthew:

      “In a secularized academic context riveted by the political ideologies of “race, class, and gender”…The questions of “experience” and reason in theology – its sources, first principles and procedure – and the acceptable cultural “correlation” require a more rigorous and dogmatic-philosophical treatment. Orthodox theologians must deal not only with Western theology, but also with the sources of Western secularism with greater depth and care than has yet been shown…” (Fr. Mathew Baker, +2015, from his excellent “Neopatristic Synthesis and Ecumenism: Towards the “Reintegration”).

      Christopher Encapera

      • Pdn Brian Patrick Mitchell :

        Interesting observation about convenient ecumenism. Very true. Thank you.

        • Christopher :

          Pdn Brian Patrick Mitchell,

          If you have not already, you should read Fr. Mathew Baker’s essay I cite above or anything else by him. He was an exceptionally clear thinker and has helped me frame/position Fr. Florovsky’s work and legacy. This modern reform effort around a female ordination is a good example of what Florovsky called a “pseudomorphosis”…

  3. Michael Bauman :

    The offering of sacrifice is a male function. The receiving and nuturing and bringing to maturity-female. This is the synergy I perceive. Moses going up on the mountain, Jesus to the Cross.

    Personally I would like to see more comment on these aspects.

    • Pdn Brian Patrick Mitchell :

      But this begs the question of why: Why is offering the sacrifice a male function?

      In fact, in the Divine Liturgy, the offering is not just by the male celebrant; it is by all of the faithful present. The celebrant says, “Thine own of Thine own WE offer unto Thee on behalf of all and for all.”

      This is an important difference between Christian priesthood and Jewish and pagan priesthood. In the Church, the priest is not the only one to offer the sacrifice, not the only one offer prayers of intercession, and not the only one to effect the mysteries; the people also participate in these functions. They are all priests in the pagan sense of intermediaries between God and creation.

      • Pdn Brian:
        Your distinction between the ancient Jewish and Christian priesthood is inaccurate.

        The ancient Jews also had a liturgy “work of the people”, spelled out in the book of Leviticus. So your claim “the offering is not just by the male celebrant; it is by all of the faithful present” was also true for the ancient Jews… but NOT in the way you are implying.

        “Why is offering the sacrifice a male function?” Because God ordained it so. It’s been tradition from the beginning. Even before the priesthood of Aron, the sacrifice was offered by men. See Cain and Able, Noah, Job, Abraham, etc. Notice we don’t have any examples in scripture where women are offering sacrifice… NOT Eve, Noah’s wife, Job’s wife, Sarah etc.

        In the priesthood of Melchizedek (Christian Priesthood) the sacrifice is offered by Christ through the medium of male Bishops (presbyters being extensions of the Bishop). The faithful “assist” but not how you imply it. They assist in the way the ancient Jews assisted, by being present and offering their prayers and obedience to the Law and following the cycles of the Liturgy. The Jewish laity (not to mention women) were forbidden from performing the Priestly sacrifice then as the laity are forbidden from performing the Priestly sacrifice today.

        Notice again that we have no scriptural examples in the New Testament of women doing priestly duties. St. Peter’s wife was not an Apostle, nor the Mother of God, who was not only the holiest woman to ever live, but the holiest human being above all the angles and the saints… yet she was not a priest, nor a bishop nor an apostle. Nor was St. Mary Magdalen or any of the other women who knew our Lord personally and served Him.

        Who are we to fiddle with God’s ways as if we know better than He? “For My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways My ways, saith the Lord” (Isaiah 58:8) , and “Were you there when I laid the earth’s foundation?” (Job 38:4)

        God ordained it that way… It has been the Tradition from the beginning of time. It has also been the Tradition from Apostolic times till today. Priests are men. Women cannot be priests. Men cannot be mothers. That is the way God made it, the Orthodox way. The Heterodox make sophistic explanations as to “why” this or that and then do whatever they please regardless of Tradition.

  4. While there is much to agree with in this response, I must take issue with the supposed dichotomy on ontological vs. economical. It is simply erroneous to assert that women were placed in a subordinate position due to the Fall. The subordination is ontological. Woman was created second and is thus only a secondary authority, Fall or no Fall. She was created as a helper, not the primary.

    The relation subsequent to the Fall changed in that this subordination was no longer unconscious and voluntary but rather becomes conscious and a matter of contention. But the subordination is certainly ontological. We should get that right.

    • Pdn Brian Patrick Mitchell :

      Misha, it depends on how you define “subordinate.” I define it quite plainly in my SVTQ article as meaning ontological inequality, a lesser being. Do you think that women are lesser beings? Or are they equal beings who have been placed under another by law, which is not subordination but subjection as I define these terms. The distinction is useful both theologically and anthropologically.

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