The first female pastor in the Arab world has reportedly been ordained in Lebanon, prompting speculations that it might set a precedent in Christian practices in the Middle East.
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On Feb. 26, the National Evangelical Synod of Syria and Lebanon issued a decree to appoint Rola Sleiman as the Reverend of the Presbyterian Church in Tripoli, Lebanon. The move goes against the long-held tradition of preferring men as clergy and makes Sleiman the first woman in the Arab world to become a pastor, Al Arabiya notes.
While Sleiman's appointment may seem insignificant, Beirut-based analyst Halim Shebaya said it is a big step in a region where women usually hold an inferior position to men in terms of spiritual, political, and legal functions.
"Her ordination is doubly significant in a context where women are assumed to be of an inferior status to men when it comes to certain functions: theologically (priesthood reserved to men only), politically (vast underrepresentation of women in local and national politics), and legally (discrimination in law)," Shebaya said of Sleiman's ordination.
With the exception of communion and baptism, Sleiman had been performing pastoral tasks even before she was ordained. In an interview, she revealed that she also delivers sermons and conducts pastoral visits before 23 out of the 24 Synod members voted for her ordination.
Sleiman acknowledges that there are some people in her hometown who doubt her ability to perform pastoral duties and attributes this thinking to the novelty of the idea. However, she believes that the members of the church in her hometown will later be able to adjust to it.
In 2015, Sleiman told Your Middle East that her task is to "plant the seeds" and allow God to water and let them grow. She said this amid the difficulty of churches in keeping afloat because of the violence that has caused thousands of believers to flee to the West in a bid to find a better life.
Nevertheless, Sleiman said she believes God will continue to take care of the church despite their situation. She also insisted that even though many believers have already fled in the heat of the war and sectarian violence, Christianity should remain in the Middle East where it was born.