Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Poor Archbishop Rowan ...

As if he didn't have enough on his plate, now his own gathering of the Anglican Communion, the Church of England in England, has ratified the consecration of women to the episcopacy. Lambeth looms and he must now face threats of an angry schism within English Anglicanism along with all the other rumblings of splits in the worldwide communion. (Thank goodness similar things don't happen in other communions, specifically my own branch of Lutheranism!)

I must confess that, for the life and salvation of me, I cannot penetrate the arguments against a female clergy and episcopacy. I've seen theological, sociological, heretical (especially gnostic), good-faith blathering, et. al., arguments against the ordination (and consecration except to diaconal service) of women. I was told by one prominent Anglican (not episcopalian) theologian (a woman) that she can understand and accept ordination of women to the presbyterate (priesthood or ministry), but that she can discern no similar charism for women to the episcopate. (I know I'm a protestant and can't possibly have a feel for the deep structure of ordination, but her claim completely baffled me!) I've read Alexander Schmemann, may his memory be everlasting; I remember some of the uproar in American Lutheranism over the issue; I've tried to read Benedict on the subject.

And I just don't get it.

Most of it seems to come down to an ontological argument that since Jesus' Twelve were male, then all the ordained must similarly be male. That there were women available apparently makes clear that Jesus did not choose any because he did not want women in positions of the hierarchy (used in the holiest sense, of course, not in any value-laden or power sense). But that doesn't make much sense to me. After all, the early church clearly seems to have had women who presided over their congregations (apparently with an emphasis on much more in keeping with the Lord's intention for this church's operating than did many of the men in similar positions). And besides that, the Apostles were also all Jews. There were Gentiles available, and Matthew ends his Gospel with a mandate for the Apostles to extend the community of salvation to all nations. So the fact that Jesus didn't call any Gentiles to follow him seems to mandate a Jew-male-only clergy, by the reasoning of the "Traditionalists."

I'd welcome any reference to a well-reasoned, non-inflammatory exposition of the theology underlying the extreme reaction to women's ordination. Because I'm just flummoxed!

As a Lutheran, I have done my homework, I think, and I consider this issue to be a classic case of adiaphora and of the genius the Church has to turn an issue of adiaphora into status confessionis. I think that the Church may structure her ministries in any way that serves the Gospel. But I also think the catholic witness has been that a three-fold order best represents Christ's will for the Church. Nevertheless, the lack of same within Lutheranism does not invalidate claims of "legitimacy" for either Lutheran ordination or the Lutheran Church as church. But tell me that the Gospel requires foregoing the three-fold orders (as many Lutherans do) and I go to war.

In this case, I do not believe that the ordination and/or consecration of women is a matter of justice (equal opportunity under the law) or of practical necessity (there aren't enough men willing to serve) or any such misguided nonsense. And so I'm very sympathetic with a traditional stand on the matter. But the minute you tell me that women may not (that's the adiaphorist claim) and cannot (that's the ontological argument) be ordained to the presbyterate and episcopacy, you get my dogmatic juices flowing.

But as ready as my jaws are to sink into a good, meaty argument against women in orders, I bite and find lemon curd. If you've got heartier fare, let me know.


Christopher said...


Nicely put. I think your position coheres fairly well with my own thinking on the matter, and I continue to wonder as we set aside Hooker, the Caroline Divines, and all on this matter (bene esse rather than what seems to be a shift ot pleni esse or esse), in favor of an insistence on three-fold ministry rather than seeing it as the contingent and best organizing by the Spirit, it I haven't become more Lutheran or Reformation oriented. We come in our rhetoric sometimes of unchurching other churches, something Hooker was unwilling to do.

I think on the left, the justice arguments don't work because ordination is about call, gifts, service, and responsbility, not right.

On the right, the ontological arguments always strike me as running afoul of Chalcedon. The scriptural arguments seem thin as well and especially so when we run up against the heart of Paul.

In both cases, strangely enough, actually, gender becomes the basis for who will make a good pastor. But a Pauline approach emphasizes call and gift and seems to decenter our identity markers such as gender as that which will in and of itself make for a good pastor.

Dwight P. said...

Christopher, I especially like your final insight: Slavery to the world's categories is constantly luring the Church to be less than she is -- and in the process something other than what she is meant to be.

I may be wrong (AGAIN!),but I quite frankly see in the heat of the opposition to women in orders a sign of defensiveness, perhaps a subconscious recognition that the arguments and commitments are (to use Matthew's metaphor) built on sand. The unwillingness even to discuss further immediately strikes me as foolish, uninspired, weak, and lacking in self-confidence. (I wonder if you see signs in His Holiness B,XVI, a subtle unwillingness to be quite so adamant on the issue as was his predecessor?)

Diane said...

Just a small offering: I don't feel I have a "right" to be a pastor. But I do feel I have a call, and gifts. I have never been opposed to the idea that the church has the right to determine whether I'm right: do I have the gifts? But the church's discernment, I think, should go beyond simply my gender.

DwightP said...

Diane, I couldn't agree with you more. "Rights" has nothing to do with it. And I think the Lutheran Church's -- well in some branches, anyway -- experience has confirmed that it rightly discerned the promptings of the Spirit when it decided to turn the tide and ordain women.

The obstacle, of course, is not breached by simply saying that gender ought not to be a trump to all other considerations. For those who so valiantly deny the propriety (and even orthodoxy) or ordaining women assert that gender is the final test -- supposedly on the basis of scripture (and one supposes some sort of natural law).

Gender (like sexual orientation) is not, in legal jargon, a "protected class" in theological speculation the way it is in some civil law. That makes conversation very difficult.

Christopher said...


I am very fond of Pope Benedict XVI even when I disagree with him on *some matters*. I think he is carefully steering the Roman Church away from the JP II era and theology of that era. His encyclical on love is quite simply a break with overemphasis in JP II on theology of the body--something that is in the most charitable light full of errors in light of Chalcedon. But it's slow going.