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RatherNotBlog, 11/22/2005

I received the following e-mail a short while ago. It is posted here with permission of the author, who hoped I would reply on the blog.

I am wondering what your view is of the opinion that women’s ordination is not a communion dividing issue. This statement has been made recently. What are your thoughts regarding the reasserters who remain in the Anglican Communion after ECUSA’s departure. Will they (we) continue to divide ad nauseum over issues such as remarriage, the Prayer Book, etc? I am guessing that you have addressed my questions already. If so, could you direct me to your writings on the subject?

Well, you have asked several questions. You are asking me to both judge the past and predict the future. Actually, that’s a welcome relief from most of my writing for this blog, since I usually (usually, usually) spend some time reading, thinking and composing before I post something. Questions like yours, however, allow me to pop off whatever I think at the moment! So I’ll take advantage of your queries to ruminate out loud for a bit. However, remember that what follows are barely edited ruminations, some based on much thought, others on little more than a smidgin of knowledge combined with a vivid imagination (or what is sometimes referred to as “informed speculation”). Take them for no more than what they are worth, the musings of a middle aged academic and life-long Episcopalian.

I am wondering what your view is of the opinion that women’s ordination is not a communion dividing issue. This statement has been made recently.

It was reportedly made at a discussion led by several primates at the Hope and a Future Conference in Pittsburgh. I wasn’t there (unfortunately—I really wanted to go). In his generally very upbeat, positive, even enthusiastic report on the Hope and a Future conference in Pittsburgh, Fr. Keith Acker of Forward in Faith North America nevertheless wrote the following about that particular discussion:

Notably, one moment was marked by its failure to talk about Holy Scripture and the Lordship of Jesus Christ. When asked by the audience, “How the Primates mangage to get along with differing opinions on the ordination of women to the priesthood?” Biblical and historical reference went out the window. It was like stepping into a different conference which reminded many of an ECUSA meeting. This was an important question given the diverse coalition of the Network. Obedience to Jesus Christ, Holy Scripture, and historic Anglicanism was completely absent in their responses except in Archbishop Datuk Yong Ping Chung, Primate of South-East Asia. Instead it was commercials, personal experience, and feelings oozing through a crack. What the people wanted to know was how we can get along while we study this issue. Archbishop Yong Ping Chung commended the biblical study done by the Anglican Mission In America as a place to begin, recognizing that we must approach ministry and priesthood from the ground of Holy Scripture.

“What the people wanted to know was how we can get along while we study this issue.” How indeed. Well, any way to get along has to start with the truth.

First off—the ‘ordination’of women is a communion dividing issue. That’s not a theological opinion. That is simply a statement of fact. We no longer have, in the Anglican Communion, mutually recognized orders between all provinces. I’m hard pressed to come up with any more satisfactory definition of ‘communion’ (or the lack thereof) than that. The first Eames commission declared that having women ‘bishops’ had resulted in an ‘impairment of communion’ (read=broken communion), albeit one that we could ‘live with’ while the whole mess was referred to a nebulous ‘process of reception.’

The Windsor Report itself, faced with the obvious parallels between this situation and the current unpleasantness over Gene Robinson and same-sex ‘unions’, tried to get around this by papering over the original break of communion in the 1970s and indirectly declaring that the ‘process of reception’ was over (something that came as a bit of a shock to some of us). If you are interested in my thoughts on TWR, you can click here and then here (warning: not a short read).

Meanwhile, the pressure to accept this unscriptural innovation is intense, and it is not coming just from ‘revisionists’. As people such as Peter Toon have pointed out repeatedly (most recently here), many of the so-called ‘conservatives’ in North American Anglicanism are somehow in favor of every innovation of the past few decades except the last one. I wasn’t in Pittsburgh so I don’t want to attribute particular opinions to particular people—that wouldn’t be fair. I also want to be cautious about making generalizations. However, I often get the feeling that many of the so-called ‘orthodox’ Anglicans just wish that those of us who believe that the ‘ordination’ of women was and remains a fundamental error would just shut up and get with the program.

(As far as the question of the ‘ordination’ of women itself goes, if you are interested in my particular view, you can click here and then read the entries from the bottom up—such is the nature of blogs. Warning again: not a short read. If you are interested in other treatments online, you can find the AMiA report as a PDF file here I think it is very good but not as thorough as its authors believed, omitting some key arguments. Recently Peter Toon put his work on the question online here, but I have not had a chance to read it yet, so I cannot give an evaluation. For Dr. Toon’s take on this question in relation to the Hope and a Future conference, click here.)

This leaves the Anglican Communion, including those who reject the actions of General Convention 03, with something like the following options:

1—Continue to allow the ‘ordination’ of women, particularly to the episcopate, and insist that, while some provinces may not do so, they must nevertheless accept such ‘ordinations’ and ‘consecrations’ in other provinces—that is, insist on the full interchangeability of orders between provinces—thereby officially declaring that the ‘process of reception’ is over (and incidentally granting to the Anglican Communion an ecumenical authority in matters of doctrine which it had never, ever before claimed). This would be the result of accepting, uncritically and in toto, the Windsor Report.

2—Continue to allow the ‘ordination’ of women, but not insist that each province recognize such ‘ordained’ women as priests or bishops, thus perpetuating a strange sort of semi-schism or ‘impaired’ communion, something that would either
a) codify a ‘some do, some don’t’ status quo or

b) allow the ‘process of reception’ to continue with the real possibility of eventual rejection.

3—Agree to a moratorium on the ‘consecration’ of women to (at the very least) the episcopate while we continue to sort this thing out. This is certainly something Anglicans in North America could do and thereby set an example for the rest of the communion.

Which of these paths any future expression of Anglicanism in North America will take, let alone the entire Anglican Communion, I do not know. Obviously, I would prefer (short of simply ending this disastrous innovation) something like 2b or 3; however, I am not optimistic. If it should be 1, then we will probably not see new splits, but a powerful impetus against real, visible unity resulting in a divided witness and a gradual disappearance of Anglicanism over time, until all that is left is a pleasant memory, like the Cheshire cat’s smile.

Will they (we) continue to divide ad nauseum over issues such as remarriage, the Prayer Book, etc?

The situation is presently so fluid, and so dependent on circumstances beyond the control of anyone in North America (such as the approaching decision on a ‘third province’ without women ‘priests’ or ‘bishops’ in the Church of England), that predicting the future is impossible. However, here are some thoughts and possibilities:

1—ECUSA could actually back down at GC 06. Yes, I know, everyone says that this is unlikely in the extreme, but as they used to say in advertisements for the New York State Lottery, hey, you never know. Certainly they could try for a fudge, one that would succeed in muddying the waters politically. I’m sure if they do, Eames himself will declare ECUSA is ‘in compliance’ with the Windsor Report, others will not, and all hell will break loose.

Assuming that doesn’t happen, then

2—As far as the ‘ordination’ of women is concerned, there already appears to be a growing separation in North America. The recent concordat signed by the REC, the APA and the Anglican church of Nigeria, even as former ECUSA parishes seek shelter under a bishop in Uganda, suggests the possibility of two parallel North American jurisdictions, one ‘+ women priests’, the other ‘- women priests’. The only way this could possibly be avoided in the short run would be to agree on a moratorium on—you guessed it—women bishops, as in the plan outlined by Bishop John Rodgers of the AMiA. His plan is well worth reading and considering. It is just possible that something like this will happen, but it will only put off the day of reckoning, perhaps for a long time, perhaps not. It still remains, however, that theologically it simply makes no sense to make women ‘priests’ but not ‘bishops’, and everyone knows this.

3—I have seen some discussion of raising again the question of divorce and remarriage. I hope there is, because as of now, there is no consistent policy, or even (as far as I can tell) a coherent theology, on this question among Anglicans. However, there are so many options to choose from here—everything from the old rigorous code of the Church of England (it was almost impossible to get remarried in the C of E until quite recently), to the fairly flexible but cumbersome machinery of annulment of the Roman Catholic Church, to the practices of the Eastern Orthodox Churches (which make a limited allowance for the laity but absolutely prohibit divorce and remarriage for clergy) to the marriage free-for-all we presently have—that I doubt that this will divide many in the short run. Most will say, “Let’s deal with that later.” And they may be right.

4—The Prayer Book is a sleeper issue that may come back to haunt us. The current crop of ‘orthodox’ Anglicans seem little concerned with questions of Prayer Book revision—in fact, many (perhaps most) seem little concerned with the Prayer Book, period. Many seem to be of the “What does a book of prayers matter so long as I have Jesus?” mentality, not realizing that the liturgies of the Book of Common Prayer have been the link for Anglicanism with historic patterns of prayer that bind them through the Spirit with every generation of Christians since the Apostles. This is a great pity. However, I don’t see the Prayer Book per se being used as an excuse for schism except for a very few.

Still, it will take a mighty act of God, and a serious change in cultural climate, to get Anglicans in North America to see the advantages to a truly set and stable pattern of both public and private prayer, one that enables the participant over time to interiorize a liturgical life not dependent on the inspiration of the moment or on a Chinese menu of liturgical options that keeps you guessing week by week.

Will there continue to be splits after GC 06 (assuming that affair goes the way most seem to think it will)? The short and correct answer is ‘yes’, but that is only because history makes it clear that such will always be the case. Anglican history has a lot more splits than most people realize, from the non-jurors in 1689 to the Methodist separation in the 18th and 19th centuries to the Reformed Episcopal Church of the late 19th century to some breakaway groups in North America and South Africa over racial issues to the current crop of ‘continuing’ Anglican churches after 1976 in North America to the AMiA. This isn’t going to stop, because there is always someone unhappy enough to leave and charismatic enough to have followers. For that matter, ECUSA is not going away anytime soon. There are too many endowments and too much institutional capital. Thirty years from now, I’ll bet you will still find ‘Episcopal’ in your local Yellow Pages.

The real question is not, will there be splits, but will there be anything like a substantial Anglican presence in North America? But for that to happen, it will take more, I think, than toleration of those who reject the ‘ordination’ of women. It will take an honest acceptance and an honest recognition that the issues surrounding it are more intimately linked with the current unpleasantness than is often realized. Will that happen? Maybe. I hope so. But the odds are not good and time is running out.

Anyway, these are just ruminations, as I said at the beginning. Others are far better informed about the state of play than I am. I’m hoping they will post some of either their knowledge or prognostications here.

1 posted on 11/25/2005 10:02:22 AM PST by sionnsar
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2 posted on 11/25/2005 10:03:07 AM PST by sionnsar (†† || (To Libs:) You are failing to celebrate MY diversity! || Iran Azad)
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