Some Christians have adopted the phrase "What would Jesus do?" as a sort of catchphrase, a rhetorical device designed to make the believer stop and think before he or she acts, to make sure the intended action is in line with what our Lord would want or approve of. In a limited sense, this is a good impulse, inasmuch as it encourages moral behavior and careful adherence to Christian principles in our daily lives.
Other times, though, the phrase may not be helpful. It can even be manipulative, used to put guilt on a person for choosing to do something completely harmless (say, attending a high school football game instead of a Bible-study class). The implication that Jesus would never do something as "worldly" as attend a football game ignores the fact that He did, in fact, spend plenty of time outside the synagogue or Temple; He dined with sinners, He spoke to crowds, He entered Jerusalem in a triumphant procession. If "What would Jesus do?" becomes, instead of an honest impulse to introspection, a club used to beat others over the head and manipulate them, then it's not a good thing. And if it's merely a cutesy slogan without any introspection behind it, it's really not a good thing.
While I appreciate the sincere faith of many who ask themselves "What would Jesus do?" I think there is a better question that more Christians ought to ask themselves. This question is simply, "What did Jesus do?" The Gospels tell us what He did; the remaining books of the New Testament also reveal to us His desires for His Church. If we ask what He would do but ignore what He did do then there's a good chance we're overlooking our best clue as to how He wants things to be done.
One thing Jesus did do was to ordain men to His priesthood. He conferred upon them the ability to re-create His sacrifice on Calvary in an unbloody manner, giving them the power to confect the Eucharist, to say the words of consecration so that the bread and wine upon the altar becomes His Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity, the food of grace that feeds our souls and strengthens us for our earthly struggles. He gave them, also, the power to forgive sins.
To no others did He give these gifts. No one else among His followers was ordained in this way during His earthly life. Specifically, Jesus ordained only men, who then ordained others, laying their hands upon them and conferring upon them this Sacrament of Holy Orders, so that they, too, could stand in Christ's place at the altar of sacrifice, and repeat those efficacious words: This is My Body...This is My Blood.
If we are going to ask, "What did Jesus do?" when we consider the question of women's ordination, we are left with a clear answer: He did not ordain them.
He did not ordain them, in spite of the fact that He was never really constrained by the times in which He came. Jesus spoke to the Samaritan woman at the well; He dined with tax collectors and prostitutes; He forgave the woman caught in adultery; He numbered women among His followers. But when He gave the command to His apostles, "Do this, in remembrance of Me," only the Twelve were with Him. The Catechism of the Catholic Church, number 1577, puts it this way:
"Only a baptized man (vir) validly receives sacred ordination."66 The Lord Jesus chose men (viri) to form the college of the twelve apostles, and the apostles did the same when they chose collaborators to succeed them in their ministry.67 The college of bishops, with whom the priests are united in the priesthood, makes the college of the twelve an ever-present and ever-active reality until Christ's return. The Church recognizes herself to be bound by this choice made by the Lord himself. For this reason the ordination of women is not possible.68Some who agitate for the ordination of women dismiss out of hand the fact that Jesus did not ordain His mother, Mary, Queen of Priests, to the priesthood herself. But it is an intriguing fact, nonetheless. Jesus clearly loves His mother; His words to her on the Cross, when He entrusts her to St. John (and to the whole Church) are one of many examples of this love. But He did not ask her to be a priest--she, the only sinless woman. Are we to say that He was more concerned about the conventions of the times than about His own mother?
Today, in the Fort Worth Episcopal diocese, a woman was "ordained" as a priest:
FORT WORTH — When word got out that Susan Slaughter would make history on Sunday by becoming the first female priest in the Episcopal Diocese of Fort Worth, church members began asking, "What will we call you?"
Episcopalians often address male priests as "Father." They sometimes call female priests "Mother," followed by their first or last names. Not for Slaughter.
"I think being called Mother Susan or Mother Slaughter sounds kind of officious, creating a kind distance," she said. "I’m open to suggestions, but, for now, just call me Susan." [...]
Slaughter’s belief that God was calling her to the priesthood began in the 1980s. She talked about it to the Rev. Courtland Moore, then rector at St. Alban’s Episcopal Church in Arlington, where she was a parishioner. And then she summoned the courage to meet with Bishop Clarence Pope, an adamant opponent of the ordination of women.
"He just told me that was not an option," she recalled. "He felt that women were not supposed to be priests. He said there were other roles for women. He encouraged me to continue being a wife and mother."
Pope, who has joined the Roman Catholic Church, opposes women’s ordination on theological grounds.
The Fort Worth Diocese, under Pope’s successor, Bishop Jack Iker, continued to prohibit female priests even though the Episcopal Church approved them in 1976. There are now more than 2,000 female priests serving in the church, and the presiding bishop is a woman, Katharine Jefferts Schori.
More and more, the Pope's wise actions in regard to the Anglican Communion seem like the chance of a new beginning for those Christians who disagree with their church's decision to ignore what Jesus did and attempt to ordain women as priestesses (I'm sorry if the term offends, but just as a female can't be "Father," so can she not really be "priest," as the term was always used exclusively of males). If we think we can remain Christian while ignoring, again and again, what Jesus actually did, then we will soon find ourselves, like some of Flannery O'Connor's fictional characters, stuck in the "Holy Church of Christ Without Christ."