Saturday, August 04, 2007

Women Bishops in the Church of Wales

I received the report of the Bill from the Church of Wales that is being put forth for the ordination of women to the episcopacy. I must confess that the rationale for this innovation is so far reaching in its "political" justification that I am finding it harder and harder to get my head around it as I think about the issue ecclesiologically. Bishop David Thomas has pointed out a serious issue that has not been addressed at all in this debate--at least not at any solid theological level in my opinion. To go about screaming "glass ceiling, glass ceiling" is simply not theologically on. Where is the theological and ecclesiological rationale for doing this? That is the argument I am waiting on to convince me. To simply argue from the position of equality does not address the theological and sacramental questions and to be honest, I believe most everybody realizes this in some respect. I am not one to oppose the question and theological discussion but I do oppose arguing for this on the basis of equality laws and egalitarian democracy, which is to make the Church into a human institution organised by modern secular culture rather than the Bride come down out of heaven that she is. Scripture and Tradition as well as Reason bring different conclusions than the egalitarian secularism that lurks behind much of these equality Bills. Let's have that theological debate and I am happy for it to be discussed here openly. Bishop Thomas gets to the heart of it when he says,
The longer I reflect on the proposed Bill, the more convinced I become that it is driven above all by that post-1960s feminism which has done so much to secure for women all the fundamental human rights enjoyed by men. It has rightly sought to correct stereotypes which portrayed women as inferior, which largely confined them to domestic roles and tended to keep them out of public life. Its goal has been the inclusion of women and girls in every occupation and institution open to men and boys. In general terms, I for one regard this as entirely laudable.

Ignoring the large part which the Church has played in Western culture in
advancing the status and dignity of women, some women have seen the sacred ministry as just such an occupation or institution from which their exclusion is a matter of fundamental injustice. The major weakness in this view of the ordained ministry is that it assumes that the Church is organized like a modern, secular, democratic society. But the Church is not a voluntary association of the like-minded, whose task is to create and maintain structures to serve its own purposes. It is a divine institution, whose sacraments are given by Christ. Holy Orders are conferred within it not for the honour or advancement of the recipient, but for the service of God and the building up of the whole. To consider the ministerial priesthood and episcopate as a human right is to misunderstand their nature completely.

The fundamental confusion at the root of this argument is neatly expressed in the Christian feminist slogan, 'If you won't ordain us, don't baptize us.' The Church has always baptized women; it has never (until recent innovations) ordained them to the priesthood or episcopate. This is not due to any devaluation of women. It arises from the fact that there is no necessary progression from baptism to priestly/episcopal ordination. If such a progression did of necessity exist, the Christian life would presumably be a sort of religious 'career path'. Such a concept can hardly be said to sit comfortably beside the Lord's warning that those who follow him must deny themselves and take up their cross daily.


Anonymous john scholasticus said...

Im not as impressed as you are by these arguments. It is a matter of debate whether the Church has always denied women equivalent positions - cf. the famous 'Junia the apostle' controversy. It is also a matter of debate whether Jesus' choice of all-male disciples - later to become apostles - was culturally conditioned. Very eminent NT scholars in your own diocese - NT Wright, Jimmy Dunn, J Barclay, SC Barton, et al. - take this view. Of course also, once WO is conceded, there is no logical or theological reason whatever why women should not also go on to be bishops. Considering also the generally low quality of present bishops - e.g. Carlisle, Rochester, Winchester - it is hard seriously to maintain that women bishops would be worse.

7:37 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


Simply name-dropping doesn't convince me of this no matter how much I esteem the NT department in Durham and my bishop. I do not feel you have put fortha theological argument and the fact that you do not particularly like these bishops mentioned is hardly an argument. This is the sort of thing that I find most unhelpful in this debate.

The particular popularity of one synod in the early 90's (by one vote in the House of Laity) hardly makes the case that the Church has conceded on the point. Again, where is the theological argument? The "cultural" argument is hardly weighty either due to the fact that nobody has yet written an exegetical and hermeneutical text book on how one determines what is and what is not to be considered "cultural".

How could you argue that the Lord of this world and creator is bound by a particular culture in a particular time when he radicalized everything else in that culture? This is hardly a case when one looks at the life and actions of Jesus who was radical in every possible way imaginable in his culture and you mean to tell me that this was one sticking point that he couldn't justify during the time?

This is why I think the theological argument is not happening. Let's look at it ecclesiologically and theologically.

8:29 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Here are two Church Councils on the subject:

Council of Nicaea I
"Similarly, in regard to the deaconesses, as with all who are enrolled in the register, the same procedure is to be observed. We have made mention of the deaconesses, who have been enrolled in this position, although, not having been in any way ordained, they are certainly to be numbered among the laity" (Canon 19 [A.D. 325]).

Council of Laodicea
"[T]he so-called ‘presbyteresses’ or ‘presidentesses’ are not to be ordained in the Church" (Canon 11 [A.D. 360]).

8:52 pm  
Blogger Dss. Teresa said...

If a modern-day deaconess may be allowed to enter this discussion, I would like to say that I appreciate very much Fr. Jeffrey's stand on this issue. It isn't really a question of "whether women bishops would be worse." It is a question of whether WO can be supported either by a careful study of Scripture or by the long history and tradition of the Church catholic. The answers are "No" and "No," in that order. Holy Order, that is.

3:13 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dss Teresa, Welcome to the site!! Glad you are here and you are most welcome to comment and I would love to hear more of your thoughts as one who serves the church as a recognised deacon but not a sacramental/transitional deacon. Thank you for your comment and you may enter in at any time you wish and if you would like to tell your story I would gladly post it on my site.

God bless!! And tell all the saints in Texas I said hello!

9:21 am  
Anonymous john vindex said...


I'm afraid that I find your response - and that of your supporters - deeply and (I'm afraid) reprehensibly superficial. I (as surely you know from knowing me personally) am not remotely interested in 'name-dropping'. The point of such citations - on a blog site - is quickly to convey that actually there is a serious debate about these matters among very serious people. It's up to you which side of the debate you ultimately come down on, but what you can't - from any sort of Christian point of view - is pretend there's no debate.

8:53 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


I am not saying that there is no debate happening, just not a suitable one in the area of theology and ecclesiology. If there is, I am not aware of it. My desire is to see it moved out of the realm of egalitarian rights and into the doctrine of the Church as the divine institution that she is. When the debate remains within her walls, we may have some different conclusions or in the least a willingness to re-think these very important issues. That's all I'm saying.

9:14 pm  
Blogger Dss. Teresa said...

Fr. Jeffrey,

Thank you for your kindness. I will greet your Texas connections for you.

4:24 am  

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