Monday, April 6, 2009

Now let's get this straight

And try to avoid mixing our arguments like two kinds of cloth in the one garment when arguing the toss on women in ministry (as per recent threads on Fulcrum and The Ugley Vicar, but also, in my experience, in various other kinds of discussions that arise from time to time).

Here is my attempt at clarity.

(1) Our gospel ambition to reach men for Christ has nothing to do with the question whether a woman may be ordained an Anglican priest. Reaching men for Christ with the gospel requires appropriately motivated and equipped men doing the work of evangelism. (It can employ men and women, cf. Priscilla and Aquila). Female priests within the life of the church do not impede the mission of God to men by virtue of that presence. Concerns about weakness in our outreach to men should be addressed, but they do not constitute in themselves an argument against ordaining women as priests.

(2) Concerns about reaching out to men with the gospel may be reason for an appointing body to prefer to seek a male priest as the next vicar of a parish. But in reaching this preference there is no need to drag in arguments against either ordaining women as priests or appointing women as vicars. The gender of the vicar is not the essential issue in outreach to men: some female vicars in my experience have led parishes with effective ministry to men; some men have led parishes with ineffective ministry to men. Nevertheless an appointing body should have the freedom to reach the conclusion that at this time, for a variety of reasons, a man should be appointed as the next vicar.

(3)Ordaining women as priests, appointing female priests as vicars is a matter of theological consideration in view of what Scripture says, and tradition has taught (especially in anglo-catholic contexts). But that is the only consideration which matters. Whether women as leaders of churches have been wildly successful or dreadful failures is neither here nor there. Men have been both and we do not question whether men might be ordained or appointed as vicars!

(4) There is a genuine, not easily resolved problem of how Anglican churches include both those supporting and those opposed to the ordination of women. It is not easy, for example, to move forward as one community of Christ which includes both male and female leaders if some leaders think that female leaders should not be part of that community. That is as much a pragmatic observation about 'harmony in the team' as it is a theological observation about our unity in Christ. Nor is it easy to be genuinely 'inclusive' as Anglican churches if we (effectively) exclude genuine Anglicans with convictions different to others on the matter of women in leadership of parishes and dioceses.

(5) One evangelical approach, championed eloquently by (e.g.) Archbishop Peter Jensen, of categorising the question of the ordination of women as a 'second order issue' has a number of merits, but it does not make the resolution of the pragmatic 'harmony in the team' issue any easier. It's power lies in enabling (say) two parishes with different views to work together on certain common matters, or two different provinces joining together in GAFCON. But it contributes little to resolving specific issues such as a male vicar refusing to allow a female staff member to preach, or developing a diocesan policy on the ordination of women-and-the ordination of men opposing the ordination of women.

(6) The big issue is not about the future of a church overwhelmed by female vicars and underpopulated by men (though that possibility is an issue, but can be addressed other than by refusing to ordain women). The big issue is whether the church should have a rule or not which forbids a woman from being ordained a priest or bishop or being appointed as vicar solely on the grounds of being a woman.

My own view is that it does seem extraordinary that we can contemplate a world in which some Anglicans applaud Margaret Thatcher as one of the greatest national leaders while denying that an equivalent in ministry can be appointed as vicar. It is also extraordinary that a number of churches, including some conservative Anglican churches have reached a position in which women may take up any and every leadership role except that of vicar or bishop.


Anonymous said...

"My own view is that it does seem extraordinary that we can contemplate a world in which some Anglicans applaud Margaret Thatcher as one of the greatest national leaders while denying that an equivalent in ministry can be appointed as vicar."

Shame on you for not mentioning Jenny Shipley and Helen Clark!
Isn't New Zealand just about the most feminized country in the world? Why aren't its female-led churches overflowing?

(The odd thing about Maggie was that the supposedly misogynist Right loved her and the supposedly feminist Left loathed her - which just goes to show that one shouldn't make simple-minded syllogisms. I don't think I ever heard an Anglican bishop applaud her - they were uniformly squishy NuLabour Blairite types, until he broke their hearts...)

Peter Carrell said...

Yes I should have mentioned our own prime ministers, though perhaps only Helen Clark is of world class.

No I do not think we are the most feminized country in the world (current PM is male, All Blacks still important).

Not a good pick, picking on female-led churches: many of our churches are struggling, male-led and female-led. The key to leading a growing church involves much more than the physical DNA of the leader - there needs to be another DNA, a 'chemistry' which catalyses growth: it's not proven here that it is only found in blokes.

Final point: while some claim could be made that some female clergy have 'driven' potential male clergy away, the easier claim to establish would be that women provide person power when man power is in short supply!