Just when it seemed a safe bet that the Anglican Mission in America (AMiA) had made a final decision about priestesses in the Church, and one that took the right decision even if for incomplete reasons, along comes Fr. David Roseberry, Rector of Christ Church Plano, Texas, to make you hold on to your money. The message is, do not bet on that horse after all. Along with one Fr. Clint Kerley and one Toby Eisenberg, Fr. Roseberry and Christ Church have presented a position paper in favor of women “priests.” The paper is far too long to post here, but can be read in PDF format here. It is worth taking the time, however, to read some of their paper interspersed with commentary by Fr. John Hollister, Priest Associate at Christ Anglican Catholic Church, Metairie (New Orleans), Louisiana. Because of length, we will present Part I now, and follow up with Part II in a few days. Also, please note that we do not hold the AMiA accountable for the error and poor reasoning expressed by a mere handful of individuals.
Do you know this riddle? A father and his son are in a car crash. The father is killed instantly but the son is only injured and is taken to the hospital. He is rushed to the operating room, the doctor comes in, looks at the patient on the operating table, and says, “I can't operate on him, he's my son.” How can this be? If you are stumped on this, you are not alone. It is not easy to figure out. But did you get it? It is deceptively simple: the doctor is the boy’s mother.
Comment: This opening is a disingenuous attempt to start the discussion off with the acceptance of false assumptions and invalid analogies. Medicine is (a) a secular occupation and (b) a form of “employment”, as secular society understands that term, while the ordained ministry is neither of those things. Thus what may or may not be true of secular callings in our society is utterly irrelevant to the Church’s consideration of who may or may not be admitted to its formal ministry. Thus to begin this discussion with an example that is so inapposite to the issue at hand is to set a completely inappropriate tone and frame of reference.
It goes without saying that the times are changing rapidly... It would seem only natural that the church would not escape the relentless wave of change.
Comment: Socially-assigned sex rôles may be changing but divinely-created ontological differences between men and women are not. Thus, for example, we live in a society in which some pretend that men may marry men and women may marry women but their erroneous belief in that, and even their success in persuading almost all of the chattering classes and many legislators and jurists to accept their opinion, does not make that opinion any less absurd.
Further, to say that changes in the secular culture must necessarily change the Church is to place the Church in a subsidiary rôle vis-à-vis that culture. The essential mission of the Church, as handed over to it by Our Lord, is to transform the world into a Christian society, not to be transformed by the world into a pagan religion. This initial assumption of society’s supremacy over revealed Faith operates to delimit in inappropriate ways the discussion that is to come and is, in and of itself, a non sequitur. Those who believe the Church is a voluntary human association created by its members to promote their own interests may find this line of argument persuasive. Those who believe that the Church is a divine institution, created by God and handed over to us for our temporary stewardship, into which we are called by God’s initiative rather than our own, will find this entire proposition nonsense and will likely lay this paper down at this point, finding that it comes from such an alien world view that it has nothing to offer them.
Any change we make to tradition or roles or common understanding should have a clear biblical rationale…
Comment: “Any change we make to tradition or roles or common understanding should have a clear biblical rationale and should, in the end, be either allow[ed] or proscribed by our Scriptures…” If the authors really believe this, then they should simply begin with 1 Timothy 3:2-5 and Titus 1:6 and explain how Scripture either allows or prescribes that a female may be an “husband” or “a man”.
As to how we can reach this world with the hope and power of the Gospel, we should begin by attending to the canonical Scriptures that accompany that Gospel and to the universal Tradition of the Church that is both author and custodian of those Scriptures.
As an Anglican church, we are not left to interpret Scripture by ourselves but are part of a worldwide communion that helps us understand God’s word and our particular belief in how we live out our faith together.
Comment: One assumes the “worldwide communion” referred to here is the Lambeth association of churches. Historically, that association and its progenitor, the Church of England, always defended Anglicanism from attacks both from extreme Protestants and from Rome by arguing that it held no unique doctrines of its own but only held, taught, and practiced the universal Faith of the Undivided Church of the Apostles. It was only late in the 20th Century that some member Provinces of the Lambeth Communion began to develop idiosyncratic doctrines that are at odds with the otherwise universal consensus of the Catholic Church in all of its branches. It is this late-developing faith, a sort of congregationalism writ large in defiance of all previous Anglican understandings of the nature of the Church, that is being described here. Just look at that key admission, and likely Freudian slip, “our particular belief”.
Yet, after more than thirty years spent studying the issue of women’s ordination, a consensus in the Anglican communion still has not been reached.
Comment: Prior to the 1960s, the Lambeth Communion did share a consensus on this issue. Over 25 years the Lambeth Communion may have managed to undermine that consensus to which it theretofore always adhered but the entire Church Catholic still adheres to the consensus on this issue that it has maintained for 2,000 years. So there is a fundamental lack of perspective, if not an outright intellectual dishonesty, inherent in the suggestion that somehow this is an open question which the wider Church has been unable to resolve and on which, therefore, one parish in one place has been called to lead billions of Christians to enlightenment.
This reveals quite starkly one of the fundamental problems of this approach. Anglicanism, if it has any reality or value as a unique way of “doing Church”, is and must remain, at bottom, the branch of the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church that is native to the English-speaking peoples and that has been adopted by others who were introduced to Christianity by those peoples. As such, Anglicanism in the days of its health claimed vociferously that it had no doctrines that were its alone but only the doctrines that it shared with the rest of the Catholic Church.
From this perspective, what may or may not be done in the various Dioceses and Provinces that call themselves “Anglican” is irrelevant; all that counts is what the rest of the Catholic Church does as authorized by the immemorial organs of Catholicity, the Œcumenical Councils. Thus also from this perspective, there is no discussion of women’s ordination that may legitimately be had until the other three-quarters of the Catholic Church – the Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, and Oriental Orthodox Communions – have joined Anglicanism in a new Œcumenical Council to discuss and authorize the innovation.
While we wait for that consensus, our call to mission requires us to take a position on the matter.
Comment: This is a non sequitur. Please explain precisely why a “call to mission”, that presumably is a mission to spread the Gospel, requires the instant adoption of a new way of viewing and interpreting that very Gospel, and the abandonment of the entire Church’s immemorial methods of Scriptural exegesis and application.
To be frank, there is just a touch of narcissism in the proposition that one parish in Plano, TX, at a time 2,000 years after the Church began evangelizing the world, is somehow uniquely called to develop and show that Church a new approach to that Gospel. Either the message revealed in Scripture is ours or it is God’s. If it be ours, it is scarcely worth listening to. If it be God’s, then we have no power to alter either it or its fundamental presentation, yet that is precisely what the attempt to change the application of St. Paul’s clear words amounts to.
Our goal in this paper is to explain our position on women’s ordination and why we think it is the most faithful position Christ Church can take as it seeks to live out the Christian mission in Plano, Texas. Our position is that women can serve as deacons and priests (including as rectors), though the office of bishop must be reserved for men.
Comment: That is rank and opportunistic sexism. St. Paul makes clear, in his Epistles to Timothy and to Titus, that the ontological requirements for the lower clergy and for the episcopate are identical. Thus if a woman could be either a deacon or a priest, then she could likewise be a bishop. There is no principled way to create a new ministry into which women may be installed and then to impose a “stained glass ceiling” on their advancement through the ranks of that new ministry.
Of course, this is not only another non sequitur but it rejects, without any discussion or explanation, St. Paul’s directive, contained in what we are taught is canonical, i.e., inspired Scripture, that the qualifications for the lower clergy and for the episcopate are identical. And as admitted here, the deacons and priests are simply the bishop’s delegates for carrying on portions of the bishop’s ministry in a particular location, so on what basis can one conclude from that that the qualifications for the delegate are fundamentally different from those for the delegator?
It would seem much more logical to conclude that, where the most characteristic function of the bishop’s ministry has always been the celebration of the Eucharist for his diocese, then each person to whom he delegates part of his rôle in that celebration should meet the same ontological qualifications as he himself does.
Yet we are here given absolutely no justification for this, only the vague and unsupported assertion that violating this principle somehow furthers some undefined “mission”.
Our approach to the issue of women’s ordination is perhaps best described as a “mission-oriented” approach because it attempts to bring Scriptural teaching on how to carry out the call to mission into the discussion on women’s ordination….
Comment: Curiously, nowhere in this paper is this “mission-oriented approach” defined or explained. “Reverse engineering” of the arguments here, however, shows that this approach consists of essentially these elements:
1. An unsupported but not unlikely assumption that elements in the society around us are made uncomfortable by some of the Church’s teachings and practices; and
2. The inference that these dissatisfied elements have declared that this discomfort is the reason they do not attend church and have rejected the Church’s attempts to reach them; coupled with
3. A determination to change the Church’s teachings and practices in order to conform to the prejudices and preferences of those dissatisfied elements.
Quite apart from the complete misunderstanding of the Church’s rôle in mission that this displays, it has practical implications as well. It offers us no reliable guidance as to which of the Church’s beliefs and practices are so essential that we dare not think of altering them and which are so temporary and merely instrumental that we can amend them at will. As a result, any group in society may demand changes to suit itself just as legitimately as any other group already has. Thus, for example, many feel the Church is not as successful as it should be in reaching adolescents and young adults. Those efforts would certainly be facilitated if only the Church would stop insisting that these potential targets of evangelism maintain chastity, and in particular that they postpone sexual activity until marriage. These young people live in a culture that has decided free and unfettered sexual expression is a basic human right, as well as an element of good health; “the best scholarship” of Margaret Mead and her disciples supports this ethic of hedonism; these youngsters are not going to church because there they will be told things they do not want to hear; so, according to the logic of this paper, there clearly is a “missional” imperative for the Church to “get with it” and “loosen up”.
Nor need we be stayed from making these essential changes just because Scripture is quite clear on what sexual conduct is demanded of Christians, for we are shown here how, once something is argued to comport with the “missional approach”, that deconstructs Scripture and replaces it with whatever is seen to be the need of the moment.
Then there are the sexual deviates and their fellow-travelers who tell us that “the best scholarship” holds that sexual perversions result from organic predispositions, etc., etc., etc. ….
There is also the small matter of who it is for whom the Church’s practices are an obstacle to the faith. What Christ Church, Plano TX is doing may well garner the approval of the world around it, but what about the fact that, just by introducing these innovations in its ministry, it has severed communion with large parts of the Christian world and has utterly destroyed any possibility of communion with three-quarters of Christianity. This is in clear defiance of Our Lord’s command that we “be one”, so what is it that privileges the hedonistic Western society so that its wishes are followed and deprives all of traditional Christianity so that it is thrown under the missional bus?
In considering this, remember these facts:
a. From 1930 until 1976, the Lambeth Communion and the Old Catholic Union of Utrecht were partners in communion under the “Bonn Concordat”.
b. In 1976, the Eastern Orthodox Communion was preparing to enter into mutual recognition of the Lambeth Communion, very much along the lines of that “Bonn Concordat”. (“Preparing to enter into” means the documents were already drawn up, the decision to sign them had been made, and all that remained was for the formal meeting at which they would be signed.)
c. Also in 1976, prior to the scheduled Eastern Orthodox/Anglican meeting (which was to have been in Moscow), the DFMSPECUSA (The Domestic and Foreign Mission Society of the Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States of America, i.e. the full legal name of the Episcopal Church) held its General Convention at which it passed, on first reading, the canonical amendments that would formally approve the concept of women’s ordination d. Still in 1976, after that General Convention and after seeing that the Lambeth Communion was taking no action to reign in or discipline the DFMSPECUSA, the Union of Utrecht unilaterally withdrew from the Bonn Concordat and, at the same time, the Eastern Orthodox cancelled their meeting and tore up the documents that would have recognized Anglicanism. Note, too, that this destroyed the Bonn Concordat not just for DFMSPECUSA but for the entire Lambeth Communion; this denied Eastern Orthodox recognition not just to DFMSPECUSA but to all of Anglicanism worldwide.
Therefore the question now remains to be answered, just in the light of these ruptures in inter-Communion relationships, what “missional” opportunities were lost, what united Christian witness to the unchurched of the world was foregone, solely by DFMSPECUSA’s smug unilateral “prophetic” act?
If the “mission” in question is to bring the world to a knowledge and acceptance of the Faith set forth in the canonical Scriptures, and if those same Scriptures set forth specific requirements for how that mission is to be carried on, and by whom specific parts of it are to be performed, why are those Scriptural prescriptions not the beginning and the end of the inquiry? When some people are dissatisfied with the results of that determination, what legitimately authorizes agents of the Church to depart from those conclusions in order to search for alternative principles that might yield answers more in keeping with their own personal predispositions?
There are a great many things about Christianity that some of us might wish were easier, more socially acceptable, less onerous, less demanding on us, or simply had been arranged differently. Unfortunately, if we are to be faithful Christians, we do not have the option of changing those things. The only choice before us is to accept what the Church teaches and does or to reject it but it is not an option for us to change it.
While few people would disagree with our view that God’s mission to redeem humanity stands as the central theme in Scripture, many do make the mistake of attempting to address women’s ordination without reference to whether mission has any relevance to the issue. Our approach sees mission as of great relevance to the issue of women’s ordination and attempts to orient the discussion in terms of Scriptural teaching on mission.
Comment: The implicit assumption here is that somehow the Church’s historic male ministry is an obstacle to its spreading of the Gospel, at least in the parochial and highly-secularized context of the U.S.A. The facts, however, do not bear this assumption out. In the 30 years since the DFMSPECUSA adopted women’s ordination, its membership has fallen by half. The “mainline” Protestant denominations that followed DFMSPECUSA’s lead have likewise experienced shrinkage in membership. In that same period, other church groups with somewhat similar liturgical traditions, but which do not ordain women, such as the Roman Catholic Church and the Orthodox Church in America, have experienced growth in absolute terms. So, too, have other nonliturgical bodies which do not ordain women, such as the Southern Baptists and most Pentecostals. What evidence is there, then, that the traditional male ministry is hindering the growth of the Church?
Christ Church’s reasoning on women’s ordination can be summarized as follows: Scripture clearly teaches that we ought to take a mission-oriented approach when determining what teachings and practices we adopt as we proclaim the gospel to a particular culture.
Comment: Scripture nowhere says that we can develop valid principles by which we may disregard the plain and prescriptive words of Scripture itself. The implication is quite to the contrary: we are commanded to carry out the Church’s mission only by adhering to the Church’s characteristic teachings and practices.
Traditional teachings and practices should be presumed correct unless a culture has changed so much that it is at odds with those teachings.
Comment: Once again, we see the concept entering in, that the secular culture may, under the right conditions, trump the plain words of Scripture and the universal Tradition of the Church as it has interpreted and applied those words. To the contrary, the authentic Christian position has always been that the Church exists to transform the culture, not the culture to transform the Church.
As to “necessity”, it is the Church that is empowered to determine what is adiaphora (“things indifferent”) and what is essential. Here “the Church” means the entire Church of the Creeds and the Œcumenical Councils, not one parish in one U.S. state...If something was done in the days of Our Lord and those who were personally taught by Him, then we should probably do that same thing today and certainly should do it until we are presented with the strongest evidence that it was not in fact His will for us. In other words, a very high burden of proof rests squarely on the proponents of change, not on the proponents of Tradition.
The best understanding of Scripture’s teaching on male headship in marriage is that it is rooted in God’s different ordering of men and women (i.e., innate gender differences). While the scriptural teaching on male headship in ministry is perhaps less certain, a strong enough parallel between headship in ministry and headship in marriage appears to exist so that we are not prepared to part with the traditional teaching of male headship in ministry.
Comment: One has already departed from it if one is not following the clear commands of canonical Scripture: the ordained ministry is restricted to males who are eligible to be “husbands”. The connection between male headship in the family and male headship in the ministry is a close and essential one, each of which illuminates the other. Thus Our Lord’s own chosen metaphor to describe His relationship to His Church is “the bridegroom” (e.g., St. Matthew 25:1-13) and a bridegroom must be male. If we were in any doubt that the rule implied in this metaphor applies to the parochial clergy, St. Paul removes that doubt when he declares that an Apostle or Bishop is to choose the ordained leaders of local congregations by examining their performance as actual husbands and fathers.
Instead, we will wait for this issue to be resolved through the process of reception.
Comment: Just what is meant by this concept of “reception”? It sounds remarkably like, “Our Lord didn’t do it, His Apostles didn’t do it, but if all of us now decide to do it, our consensus trumps His example.” Like erring children, “it’s O.K. so long as we all do it.” To the contrary, if something is wrong, it remains wrong regardless of how many join in doing it.
Jesus reached out to the Samaritan woman at the well. It was rare that a Jewish man would engage in a conversation with a strange woman, but to talk to a Samaritan was especially unbelievable because Jews considered Samaritans to be half-breeds and unclean. Not only was she a woman and a Samaritan, she was also notoriously sinful. Jesus broke through all of these barriers to bring the gospel to her (John 4). Examples like these are numerous throughout the New Testament.
Comment: And His Apostles certainly understood what He was about when He broke those “rules” of Palestinian society and themselves had no hesitation in following His example. Thus St. Peter accepted and confirmed Gentile converts, in clear contravention of all prevailing Jewish social principles and thereby moving the nascent Christianity away from being merely a Jewish sect. Thus St. Paul, at need, appointed Lydia of Thyatira as what we would call the “Senior Warden” of one of his new missionary congregations, which would have been unthinkable to both the Jews and Greeks of his day, but he never ordained her to preside at the altar.
[Editorial addition: The actual text makes it clear that the only surprising thing Jesus did was to talk to a Samaritan (John 4:9 being the key to unlock this aspect of the text); the fact that she was also a woman is much overblown in our own time, and not supported by any honest translation of the text or known facts of history.]
Our mission-oriented approach attempts to follow Paul’s own missionary mindset and example as we seek to understand what he taught about women in ministry and how we are to engage our culture with the gospel.
Comment: It was precisely his mission in which St. Paul was engaged when, in order to provide for the local Sacramental leadership of his new missionary congregations, he told two of his immediate followers (perhaps the very first “missionary bishops”) that they were to appoint – in our terms, select and ordain – men to serve those local groups. And, in doing so, he told those followers that they were to select these local leaders from among the husbands and fathers of those communities. Had he intended this local ministry to have a unisex character, he could easily have written “spouses” and “parents” but he did not. The Church, consistently and for two millennia, has followed what he actually said and did, not what 1960s and ‘70s social activists wished he had said and done. Recall in this connection that it is an article of Christian belief that when the Church consistently does something intimately related to its nature and function, it is doing so under the promised guidance of the Holy Spirit, Who is after all also the Third Person of the Trinity and, thus, God.