Tuesday, August 26, 2008

It ain't easy being evangelical

Get three evangelicals together in a corner and they will hold four views between them. Get four evangelical Anglicans in a corner and one will earnestly tell the others how important unity among evangelicals is, especially 'at this time'.

And our unity is important. But it is under strain on one or two important matters. Suzanne McCarthy, for example, in her blog Suzanne's Bookshelf underlines significant differences over teaching on women in marriage, ministry, and modern life, including this specific report re teaching in a 'hotspot' evangelical Anglican church.

On the one hand evangelical Anglicans' quest for transformation of the overall direction of the Anglican Communion involves standing in solidarity with such 'hotspot' parishes. On the other hand we find ourselves acknowledging some significant points of differentiation. Suzanne McCarthy, for example, battles for 'egalitarianism' and against 'complementarianism', and in that general battle it can seem as though it is a 'debate' and not a 'dialogue'. For evangelical Anglicans, in the context of our quest with respect to the Communion, it is vital that we find a way to exchange views with each other rather than fire views at each other. (Incidentally, in that exchange of views re women in the church, we will find that there are complementarians, egalitarians, and those who are neither ... and among those who are neither there will be further nuances of difference!)

The variety of views on women in ministry, marriage and modern life held by evangelical Anglicans, and the sharpness of difference between some of those views, also draw attention to the ways in which evangelicals interpret the Bible. My general argument is that evangelicals can read Scripture evangelically and draw different conclusions on some matters such as women in the church. A particular argument is that the recently published Jerusalem Declaration offers an inadequate recognition of the issue of interpretation of the Bible. I am an unabashed critic of the JD because it is very important in the long term that such declarations are as perfect as humanly possible. In this case I am hopeful that the JD is seen as a work-in-progress that needs some fine tuning; rather than as 'the' statement for a long time to come for defining Anglican orthodoxy.

In sum: we have work still to do on areas of our evangelical life, and one of those areas is our teaching on women in the church. It ain't easy being an evangelical, IMHO, because unity on that subject (and on others) is not proving easy to achieve.

[This is a revised version of an earlier posting under the same heading].


Anonymous said...

Well said Peter. One of the big challenges. Am appreciating your view on things Anglican.

Anonymous said...

Much as I want to be an egalitarian (because of my upbringing, I suspect), I can't escape the nagging feeling that this sits a bit uneasily with the NT. There you can read of plenty women doing(unspecified) 'ministry', but not the actual leadership of local churches - much less the trans-local leadership, such as exercized by an apostle. Roger Beckwith's little book 'Elders in Every City' has long got me thinking. Did Paul establish a model here? Is the gender question really just about culture? Catholics and Orthodox don't think so. Women did play a leadership role in first century pagan religion - oracles, corybantes in the mystery religions, maenads etc. But what about the Jewish matrix of Christianity? I don't find the issue at all clear: I can think of Salvation Army women who preach and teach better than a lot of ordained Anglican men (not difficult, you might think ...). But is a woman called to be the spiritual mother of a church as a man is called to be the spiritual father? Indeed, is part of the problem that Protestants have lost sight of the idea of pastor as father? Does the example of Priscilla and Aquila - as married couple in ministry - perhaps indicate how God wants it to be?
That's why I don't think it will be at all easy sorting out this issue - because we have moved a long way away from the NT models of ministry (including in the development of Anglican episcopacy).

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Anonymous
(In brief, lots of nuances to explore here) I am not sure that I am egalitarian myself. But I simply do not see the weight of NT teaching and example extending to a universal law which prohibits for all time a gifted/called/discerned/orthodox woman being a teacher // leader of the church.

Much of human life is about complementarity; but does the NT teach that no woman may ever teach // lead a mixed congregation? As I understand 'complementarianism' it not only (and helpfully) teaches the complementarity of the sexes, it also teaches against any woman ever teaching // leading a mixed congregation.

That seems to be an extraordinary 'legalism' for the NT to be party to; and contradictory of the gifting and calling of a range of woman in the life of the church!

Anonymous said...

I hear what you are saying, Peter, & I've never had a problem with orthodox women teaching an orthodox message! As I said, I know a woman of Salvation Army background who teaches better (and more interestingly) than the ordained Anglican men in the congregation.
But teaching is just one side to leadership. Do you think the idea of pastor as father is biblically grounded? Or is that just a Catholic/Orthodox heresy? Can/should a woman be a spiritual leader of men in modeling how to be a Christian? Could a married woman be the spiritual leader (and discipliner) of her husband and other men? Do 1 and 2 Timothy shed any light on this question? I am still trying to feel my way on this one; I suspect there is a deeper question of sexual identity at stake than we realize. Is it just a question of function - or does the question really touch on our created identity as male and female?
(It's on these grounds that an American High Anglican and sometime blogger Professor 'I'd Rather Not Say' of 'Rather Not' blog argues that there is a disturbing ontological connection between WO and ssb's. He's worth reading even if you won't be convinced)
Or am I hopelessly stuck in 19th century attitudes? What do you say to Steve Clark's 'Man and Woman in Christ'? Women can and very often (faute de mieux) have to be the spiritual leaders of their families (as my single mother was). But is that what God wants?

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Anonymous
I cannot answer all your questions as they deserve ... so just brief comments!
No, I do not think 'pastor' is necessarily male, biblically grounded or otherwise; not least because I find in our Diocese some excellent women pastors.
Yes, I think a woman leader can discipline men ... presuming that, as with a male leader disciplining a woman member of a congregation, all relevant gospel rules, church regulations, and appropriate 'chaperoning' takes place. (Certainly I have been 'taken to task' on occasion by woman leaders and feel they are as able to do so as my male colleagues)!
But your deeper questions relate to matters of sexual/gender identity, and involve the question of whether function and onotology are separable. Yet, here I would see Galatians 3:28 as being properly brought into any discussion involving 1 and 2 Timothy.
Obviously much more can be said, by causa tempora, I had better stop here!

Anonymous said...

Thanks for responding - I hope you'll be able to find time to continue to explore this theme. I still wonder about the 'modeling the Christian life' aspect and rather doubt that a Christian woman (outside the home) could do this for boys and men - just as I doubt that men can really do this for women. (You'll know the data that suggests that when the father of a household attends church, chances are much higher the whole family will. A socio-psychological argument, perhaps, but does it embody a theological truth? - 'experientia'?) I don't think Gal. 3.28 has anything to do with the discussion - not least because (as Prof 'I'd Rather Not Say' trenchantly points out), if in Christ 'there is "no male and [not 'or'] female" [ouk eni arsen kai thelu] means the abolition of sexual diffrences, then you end up making the case for homosexual relationships!
I am very grateful for the work of pastoring that many women do - but where are the men who should be doing the work of modeling Christian living - yes, Christian manliness, too - to men and boys? (Which brings in the feminization of Christianity angle ....)

Peter Carrell said...

By all means, Anonymous, let us see more men in ministry, particularly for the reasons of encouraging whole families to come to church, and to model 'godly manliness' to boys and young men.

What I cannot understand when I see this argument coming from some contexts (e.g. the Diocese of Sydney) is why the encouragement of men in ministry leadership is concomitantly part of an argument to prevent women from being ordained to leadership positions, even from assistant priest positions?

The point about Galatians 3:28 is that male/female 'identity' may not be germane to the service of God in the church so that, unsurprisingly, we find God gifting people indiscriminately of gender (thus you woman Salvationist is an excellent teacher). That indeed also means that we find God gifting and calling people indiscriminately of 'sexual identity'. (That is, rightly, many conservatives recognise that mere 'orientation' (controversial though that notion is) is no impediment to consideration for ministry; though I note that the Roman Catholic church these days does make it an impediment to the priesthood). The mistake in logic is to proceed from that conclusion to the conclusion that our moral choices as candidates for ministry leadership is neither here nor there.