MIDDLE EAST: Church group supports women's ordination as pastors

January 15, 2010

Representatives of Middle Eastern Anglican, Lutheran and Reformed churches, meeting in Harissa, Lebanon, have voted unanimously in favor of the ordination of women as pastors. "This is historic and allows us to move forward in a leading role," said Jerusalem Lutheran Bishop Munib Younan after the January 12 decision at the general assembly of the Fellowship of Middle East Evangelical Churches. Younan, the fellowship's outgoing president, said the decision meant its 16 member churches were urged to open the door to the ordination of women pastors. Rosangela Jarjour, the fellowship's general secretary, told Ecumenical News International in a January 15 email that, so far, Younan's Lutheran church, the Cairo presbytery of the Evangelical Church in Egypt, and the diocese of Khartoum of the Episcopal Church in Sudan had taken decisions to accept the ordination of women as pastors. Several other churches already ordain women as elders. Younan developed the Harissa statement in Arabic. An English translation states, "The sixth general assembly supports the ordination of the women in our churches in the position of ordained pastor and [their] 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 drawn up at the January 11 - 13 meeting in response to a report by the fellowship's theology committee, which found no biblical or theological reasons to oppose female ordination. Younan is bishop of the 3000-member Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land, whose headquarters are in Jerusalem. A press release issued by the church said the report of the theology committee had inspired "lively conversation as to how to respond to it," with delegates expressing support as well as concern about how their congregations would accept it. Whilst Professor Mary Mikhael, president of the Near East School of Theology in Beirut, acknowledged that societal traditions presented an obstacle to the ordination of women, she also asked, "Who should reform who?" When it came to decision time, the assembly's 29 voting delegates unanimously agreed a statement in support of the report and of women's ordination as pastors. The Fellowship of Middle East Evangelical Churches was formed in 1974 to strengthen the mission and ministry of its member churches through the training of clergy and lay leaders, and to promote unity through joint work and education.