Altar servers kneel during the Mass celebrated by Pope Benedict XVI at the Olympic stadium in Berlin on September 22.

Editor’s Note: Roland S. Martin is a syndicated columnist and author of “The First: President Barack Obama’s Road to the White House.” He is a commentator for TV One cable network and host/managing editor of its Sunday morning news show, “Washington Watch with Roland Martin.”

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Organized religion has long tried to keep women in their place, says Roland Martin

Some Catholic churches are now refusing to let girls serve as altar servants, he says

Yet were it not for women, there might never have been Christianity, Martin says

Martin: When churches erect barriers to serving, they're seen as unwelcoming

CNN  — 

If there is one institution that has made a point of desperately trying to keep women in their place, it’s organized religion.

Whether it’s Christianity, Islam or Judaism, women are often relegated to secondary roles, their contributions seen as insignificant.

In the Catholic Church, that is taken a step further by refusing to even allow women to become priests. Now, some Catholic churches are alienating women by refusing to allow girls to serve as altar servants.

In South Riding, Virginia, at Corpus Christi Catholic Church, the Rev. Michael Taylor announced that the church will no longer train girls to be altar servants. That angered one woman at the church, who spoke to the Washington Post about the decision.

Roland Martin

According to the Post: “Taylor, who did not return phone calls for comment, wrote in the parish bulletin that he hoped the church would ‘create opportunities, and perhaps clubs’ for girls as a way to help them find ways to serve the church, rather than serving at the altar.”

The Roman Catholic Church of Phoenix has also ceased allowing girls to serve as altar servants, angering some there by taking such a hard-line stance.

It would behoove these priests and archbishops to actually open up their Bibles and realize that were it not for women, there might never have been Christianity.

The Catholic Church regards Peter as its first pope, teaching that it was Jesus who gave Peter and the other disciples the direction to create the church.

According to Matthew 16:17-20, Jesus said to Peter: “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by flesh and blood, but by my Father in heaven. And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.”

Yet the Bible also records that when Jesus was crucified, his disciples were scared to death of being killed themselves, so it was left to the female followers of Jesus to stand guard to pray and weep as he hung on the cross.

John 19:25 says Jesus’ mother, Mary, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene all were standing vigil. No men. No disciples. No apostles.

When Jesus was thirsty, the women, not a male disciple, gave him something to drink, before he died.

When Jesus wasn’t found in the tomb, who made that discovery? A woman, Mary Magdalene, not one of his disciples.

When Mary went to get Peter and another disciple to show them that Jesus was gone, they saw for themselves, and went back into hiding “with the doors locked for fear of the Jewish leaders” (John 20:19).

Who was left to be visited by two angels and Jesus? No, not one of his male believers, but a crying Mary Magdalene!

According to the account in John 20, Jesus told Mary, “Do not hold on to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father. Go instead to my brothers and tell them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’”

When Mary Magdalene did as ordered, the disciples, the fervent male followers of Jesus, didn’t even believe her. The Gospel of John records that Jesus had to show up for them to even believe that he had died and risen to heaven.

Now just imagine the Christian faith if women had not been standing guard. If women weren’t as vigilant in believing in Jesus Christ, there might not even be a Christian church today. That means no popes, no cardinals, no archbishops, no priests and no altar boys.

When I was an altar boy for years at Our Lady Star of the Sea Catholic Church in Houston, the role was simple: to serve as a helper to the priest. Folks, there is nothing I did as an altar boy that a young woman couldn’t do. Nothing.

This decision by Catholic Church leaders in Arizona and Virginia is nonsensical and unnecessary. All it does is drive a wedge through believers in the body of Christ, instead of expanding ways in which people can serve the church.

Such ignorance is one of the reasons why nondenominational Christian churches are growing at a faster rate than those associated with a denomination.

As long as churches erect barriers to serving for believers, they will not be seen as welcoming places to worship. Allowing women to serve as altar servants is the right thing to do; it’s biblical.

If women were good enough to stand guard and care for Jesus Christ, I’m sure their female descendants are good enough to care for the church he commissioned.

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The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Roland Martin.