Where I Stand on Women’s Ordination (Hint: I’m An Equal Opportunity Instigator)
Herbert Butterfield once wrote, “[T]he blindest of all blind are those who are unable to examine their own presuppositions, and blithely imagine therefore that they do not possess any.”1.Without question this blog post reflects my own perspectives and concerns as one who’s committed to the Anglican tradition. My ecumenical hope remains, however, that this won’t be in-house gibberish for a select few and that those in other traditions will get something out of this. For that reason I’m avoiding details specifics about the circumstances that prompted these reflections. While genuinely striving to honor people by understanding and representing them on their own terms, I possess no such illusions as to my own objectivity. So, regarding this controversial topic of women’s ordination (WO), I want to begin by openly acknowledging my own perspectives. Below I flesh out my perspective with ten interrelated thoughts:
- As one in favor of gender equality, I’m an openly espousing feminist yet am simultaneously and equally committed to not being a misandrist.22.H/T to Ellen Filgo for teaching me the term misandry. It’s a much better, more civil, and less inflammatory term than my previous Rush Limbaugh-inspired “FemiNazi.”
- It seems abundantly clear there’s a New Testament tension between ecclesiastical unity and doctrinity “purity,” for lack of a better word.33.That has been tragically neglected since the Protestant Reformation.
- In my own theological outlook I draw a strong line between historic orthodoxy and adiaphora; that is, between essential and important but ultimately secondary doctrine.44.Examples of historic orthodoxy: Creation and fall, Christ’s bodily resurrection, and the Trinity. Examples of adiaphora: Views of God’s sovereignty, modes of baptism, and the continuing role of the so-called “sign gifts.”
- While respecting those who disagree, I hold that WO is unlike a doctrine like the Trinity, is therefore a matter of adiaphora, and should be treated as such.
- There’s a tension in my perspective in that I’m egalitarian by theological conviction yet discernmentarian by ecclesiastical principle.55.Click here for an explanation of what I mean by discernmentarian.
- I remain conflicted because, as a theologically-inclined fellow, I see plenty of evidence for full WO yet, as a historically-inclined fellow, I see scant precedent beyond the diaconate.66.Click here to read “Female Deacons & Deaconesses in the Ancient Church (Cliffs Notes Version).”
- Like N.T. Wright I’m an egalitarian who eschews the Enlightenment-based Myth of Progress and publicly chides fellow egalitarians for using that historically short-sighted argument.77.Click here to read “Amidst an Affirmation of Women’s Ordination, N.T. Wright Explains Why I’m Not a Progressive (Miniblog #154).”
- I affirm the three-fold office of deacon, priest, and bishop, so when I hear people say they’re for or against WO my first inclination is always ask, “To which office(s) do you refer?”88.Unfortunately, most people on either side of this divide seem content in approaching this issue with the precision and delicacy of a sledgehammer. Fools.
- My inner egalitarian is strongly in favor of WO, by which I mean all three offices: female deacons, female priests, and female bishops.99.Did you hear that? It was the sound of blood boiling. My conservative readership just became pissed.
- Yet my inner discernmentarian suspects the only viable solution is a universal yes to female deacons, no to female bishops, and diocese-by-diocese discretion on female priests.1010.And now I’ve infuriated my liberal readers. Don’t ever say I’m not an equal opportunity instigator.
Have I successfully made just about everyone uncomfortable yet?1111.I’m giving it my best effort!
As I’ve reflected on this issue I keep coming to my Strong Bad conclusion: Crap for crap! There simply is no easy or simple answer. For some this is an issue of theological orthodoxy. Quite explicitly, it’s a first-order issue on which there can be no compromise.1212.In their eyes, ordaining women as presbyters and bishops is at variance with both Scriptural teaching and historical tradition. Compromise represents heresy and direct, open disobedience to God. It’s that simple. For others this is an issue of self-evident human orthodoxy. They’d never use this terminology, but for them it’s also a first-order issue on which there can be no compromise.1313.In their eyes, not ordaining women as presbyters and bishops is not only disrespectful and uncouth, but also degrading and undermining. Compromise represents misogyny and direct abuse of women. It’s that obvious.
So, how do we move forward? With such entrenched positions–magnified by years of mutually-endured derision, open wounds, and mutual suspicion1414.Allow me to be candid. The sheer degree of suspicion truly is insane. In my own ecclesiastical body, the Anglican Church in North America, I’ve heard about an Anglo-Catholic bishop who actually thinks there’s an intentional, subversive plot by moderate evangelicals to force female priests on everyone. I mean, seriously, that’s like Mel Gibson’s Conspiracy Theory. on either side–I honestly don’t know. What I do know is what we shouldn’t do. I’ll shoot straight with you guys. Not all but many complementarians need to stop baptizing their oversimplistic proof-texting and self-righteous militancy. Likewise, not all but many egalitarians need to stop canonizing their Enlightenment era ideological myths and condescending indignation. Then and only then will be able to move forward in unity of spirit and truth.