Thursday, November 16, 2006

The ABC and an Impossible Media of Suspicion

In reading the recent report from the Catholic Herald on the interview with the ABC, Rowan Williams, I find the media responses so sad and only show that it is next to impossible to say anything in our culture of suspicion. What people are all up in arms about is a great mystery. He has made his position clear on the place of women in the Church and the freedom given to them as baptised Christians to receive a call to full-time vocation into the ministry of a priest. Personally I am not certain that 'most of the Anglican Communion' agrees with his level of commitment to this move but he no where questions his commitment to the 'rightness' of it. I do not always agree with ++Rowan Williams, but I sure do feel sorry for him in that he is rarely given the space to say what he means and mean what he says without it ruthlessly being attacked and mis-represented. Below is what he actually SAID:
In his address to the Church of England bishops in June Cardinal Walter Kasper identified women’s ordination as the key problem in relations between Rome and Canterbury. Has the introduction of women priests into the Church of England brought all the benefits that you hoped for and are you therefore satisfied that it was worth the deterioration in relations with Rome that it caused?
Two points. One, I think some Anglicans are quite surprised at just how high up the scale of theological priorities the women’s issue turned out to be. I have often referred to the fact that in the ARCIC document on ministry the whole foundation for theological agreement about what we mean by ordained ministry is sorted, and then there is a footnote saying: “Of course, there is an issue about the gender of people being ordained, but leave that for now.” Now, I think on the basis of that it is a bit surprising that it turned out to be quite so important. But of course in the late Pope’s pontificate a whole lot of new considerations about the theology of the role of women came in and were given quite strong priority in a way which made this much more complicated. So I could express the point crudely by saying it is not just the Anglican Church that has moved: there have been developments in the Roman Catholic Church as well.
The interesting question is: has it been worth it?
When the Church of England decided to ordain women as priests I think all sorts of things were going on. But it wasn’t just because we thought it would be useful, but because we thought it was right, that there was actually something about the ordained priesthood carrying and representing the whole body of the baptised that we felt would be lost or obscured if things remained solely male. My own theological view rests very strongly on that conviction: that a baptised woman and a baptised man relate to Jesus Christ in the same way. And if that is the case, I believe that either may be called. So we did it because we thought it was right, knowing something of the price it would exact but not, I think, knowing just how difficult it would be.
Had we known how difficult it would be, would it have stopped us? I suspect not. And that sounds a bit blunt, but I think there was sufficient depth of theological conviction in the Church of England to feel that it would somehow be wrong and no real compliment to the Roman Catholic Church if we held back and said: “Well, you know, we won’t hurt your feelings.”

Perhaps it is ridiculous to say that it happened too quickly…

Two thousand years! No, I understand what you mean – the way it happened and the fact that it began with irregular ordinations in the United States. I just wish that the Communion as a whole could have settled this together, even if that had taken a bit longer. But what we had was one province here, one province there, one saying “no”, the other saying “yes”. That wasn’t the best way of doing it, but given the diffuse way in which the Communion works I don’t quite see how it could have been otherwise.
I don’t think it was too hasty. After all, the discussion had been going for a good 20 years – more than that really – several votes, several synod discussions, innumerable papers. I don’t think it could have been put off much longer.

As for the issue of women bishops, would that thicken the wedge between you and Rome?

It’s certainly not going to make it any easier, and those of us who care about our relations with the Roman Catholic and Orthodox churches are going to find it very hard that this is undoubtedly going to be another cause of concern. But we are in the process at moment of discerning how and when, and I don’t think I want to foreclose on that. I can’t see a theological objection, but we know that the practical cost is high. We all know that and Cardinal Kasper reminded us of that very forcefully.

Do you anticipate the same sort of rebellion as occurred with women priests?

We are undoubtedly going to have internal division. The most time-consuming and energy-consuming thing at the moment in all this is working out how that is dealt with justly and creatively, not just reactively, in a way that honours the convictions of those who can’t go along with this.

But the level of division has not shaken your conviction that it was the right thing to do initially?

No, it hasn’t. It has tested it, it really has, and there have been moments when I have felt that. But I think perhaps what one doesn’t always realise is how very, very normal this has come to feel for the huge majority of Anglicans and it hasn’t undermined what people feel about the ministry of the sacraments. So that now that putting it back in the bottle is not an option.
I don’t think it has transformed or renewed the Church of England in spectacular ways. Equally, I don’t think it has corrupted or ruined the Church of England in spectacular ways. It has somehow got into the bloodstream and I don’t give it a second thought these days, in terms of regular worship.

There can be no going back then?

I don’t see how there can be. I could just about envisage a situation in which over a very long period the Anglican Church thought again about it, but I would need to see what the theological reason for that would be and I don’t see it at the moment.
I don’t think, practically, there’s going back. It is a matter of containing and managing the diversity.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Jeff....you seriously hold that a woman can hold a teaching position. Very interesting. Do you still hold to the infallibility of the Bible?

Mark Lynch

3:14 am  
Blogger Jeff said...

Where in the above comment did I say that I hold that women can be priests? Actually, that is where I have disagreements with the Archbishop (which are implied in the post) and I still have theological questions and reservations about it and I do not accept the sacrament of the Eucharist from a woman or a non-episcopally ordained clergyman.

My point was that ++Rowan is not able to say a thing without someone getting angry. His job must be impossible. That was my only point. The media is frequently ripping his words out of context and some around the UK were really mad that he said nothing 'good' about women and in fact he clearly agrees with it and I was simply commenting on how his own words are taken out of context.

7:29 am  
Anonymous john scholasticus said...


Did you (or you family) never accept communion from a woman priest at St Margaret's? I'd like to be sure on that.

If the argument against WO rests on the Apostolic Succession, how is it affected by the fact (as I believe it to be) that the NT clearly makes ANYONE who accepts Jesus an Apostle?

2:54 pm  
Blogger Jeff said...


I do not believe we have ever accepted communion from a woman at Margaret's. We would often visit somewhere else if a woman was to celebrate there. I have only received from a woman twice in my life as I explored it in terms of experience while I theologically revisited the issue when discerning what I would do if I were to be accepted as a priest in the Church of England. It has not been our practice to do so but I am willing to continue in the dialogue but I am yet to be convinced that the Church should have moved out on its own in this area.

Secondly, I don't think the NT makes anyone an Apostle with a big A but with a small 'a;' yes it does. It is undeniable that the NT continues to mark out the twelve Apostles distinctly where we visit them again in Revelation as the foundation of the Church. This points us to the reconstitution of Israel as the universal community built upon the foundation of the Apostles. My question back to you would be: why do the 11 in the Acts of the Apostles choose between two men to replace Judas? If Mary Mag was an Apostle as it has recently been argued, then why do they not simply put her there in his place?

To say that Jesus was bound by his culture is to disregard every other anti-cultural move he made in his life of ministry. There are far too many questions that remain for me that have not been answered. Tradition plays a crucial role in the discernment process as well. I am happy to disagree with my brethren on this and continue with the discussion as long as it can happen theologically rather than merely being reduced to politically correct arguments for equality and justice. That is because nobody had the 'right' to demand ordination in my opinion.

My other question concerns the level of division that this issue brings with it. I am a bit reserved when I see an issue like this that carries with it so much deep division. It causes me to really question it. Much like the ABC admitted that it did to him as he continues to observe the deep divisions. He's willing to honestly admit that the Church does have the right to revisit something like that and even change if they believe it was wrong. If it is not God's will, then I believe all Christians would be more than happy to submit to it. I think you would agree that just because one particular moment in history a majority accepted something does not automatically make it the right decision. But, let's keep the theological dialogue open.

3:36 pm  
Anonymous john scholasticus said...


Thanks for your reply.

I'd never argue things in terms of political correctness.

I don't agree with you about the Apostles. In 'Acts' Paul becomes an Apostle (chs. 14 and 16) even though he was not one of the 12 (as also does Barnabas) and there is repeated emphasis on women converts. The open ending of 'Acts' invites everybody who reads/hears 'Acts' to accept Jesus and become like Paul, i.e. an Apostle. Anyone who missions for Jesus is 'sent out' and is therefore by definition an Apostle.

On the question of the 'divisiveness' of WO, it depends on context, doesn't it? Enormously divisive in universal Christendom, not terribly within the Anglican communion, not - any more - much within the C of E (that was Rowan's point). It's been 'managed'. Take our mutual friend Tony W - completely devoted to St Margaret's, just absent when a woman presides.

I'm all for open theological dialogue, as you know. You also know that I don't think the right solution will arive to everyone's satisfaction, therefore it is better to rub along charitably - as indeed I perceive you yourself to be doing!



8:37 pm  
Blogger Jeff said...

Thanks John! I have always appreciated your willingness to discuss and always on a platform of charity. We are often quite far apart on things but I do cherish your graciousness when you vehemently disagree with me.

You have made my point about the little 'a' and big 'A' though. We are all 'sent ones' in that sense of being apostles. We all have a mission to extend the gospel by living and preaching it. But the apostolic foundation of the Twelve built upon by Paul, is a theological given in the scriptures that defines the foundation of the Church within the Jewish framework--though being reconstituted. I think Eph. 4 speaks to this when Paul describes the generosity in gifts given but distinguishes the gifts given; some to others that not all receive.

I do not believe that the majority of the provinces in the AC ordain women to the priesthood but I am not sure of the exact division of numbers. It is still quite a divisive issue and the CofE remains in a time of reception. I think ++Rowan's point was that not a lot has happened either way with the move but for the majority it is excepted. Yet, there remains a sizable minority who still have questions.

I think the two integrities will continue to exist in the AC and the C of E. I do not see a time when WO will be forced on the church as mandatory for ordination. But rubbing along charitably is the present way through for sure. I only hope that those who disagree with traditionalists on this issue see it for what the ABC has when at Synod he said that for those who disagree or still have questions, it is more an issue of obedience than anything else.

Your illustration of our mutual friend is correct. He is a great example to follow in this regard.

9:00 pm  

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