"Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father." Paul to the persecuted at Philippi (2:5-11)

09 July 2012

Why I’m Not a Priest… part one

Honestly, I don’t know if I’ll write a part two or not.  This may just be in the spirit of Mel Brooks’ History of the World Part 1; there may be no part two.  But the title stands, lest the good reader assume that the reasons given here are the only reasons.

There’s a lot of brouhaha right now, ever since Provincial Assembly, possibly before that, about women’s ordination to the priesthood.  Some (with whom I vehemently disagree, most of whom we left behind in TEC) seem to think this is an equal rights issue.  Scripture is interpreted for them in such a way that, lacking a specific” thou shalt not ordain girls” seems to strive to explain away (way away) prohibitions against women in ministry.  They don’t wrestle with the text, they wrangle it.  That’s of course one extreme, but they can be vocal and their methods are not responsible exegesis, so they are a force to be reckoned with. 

There’s another vocal group, which remarkably has a similar motivation in fear (fear that the next archbishop won’t agree with their position… funny how both sides are alike in that presupposition) that believes that women simply cannot be ordained priests.  Ordination bounces off women like teflon and thereby endangers the spiritual wellbeing of the people because all female celebrated sacraments would be invalid.  I can sympathize with this position, as it is rooted in depth of concern for biblical authority and the spiritual wellbeing of the people.  It is a position that comes out of a sense of continuity with the historic church and puts the burden of proof on anyone who wants to change the tradition.   While “we’ve always done it that way” is poor theology, there is authority in the church’s Tradition.  While I don’t share their opinion, I sympathize with it, and I think we should stand up (especially those of us who happen to be women) to defend our brothers and sisters who hold this opinion, particularly as their strongly held convictions open them to accusations of misogyny. 

Sure there are a few misogynists among them.  There are jerks on all sides, always will be.  But for the vast majority, this is simply a theological conclusion, on the way to faithfully following God.  I’m cool with that.

In the middle are all sorts.  Including me.  I’m pretty convinced that the Bible allows for women to become priests.  (I am convinced that biblical affirmation of women deacons is blatantly obvious, less so though for priests.  Anyone who tries to base an argument off the unclear debate whether Junian was a woman or a man is probably barking up an unsteady tree… but the text seems open to the idea of women priests, though a touch ambiguous, certainly not firm… and the Tradition of the Church is not to be left voiceless… so I just barely fall on the pro-Women’s ordination to the priesthood side… just enough to recognize and work with women as priests, but not enough to really think its a preferable notion for the church today.)   Real wrestling with the text leaves us with as many questions as it solves, and those who like pat answers don’t seem to find satisfaction. 

I’m convinced that its allowable, but I’m not convinced that its preferable.  A lot of the Scripture defines Christian community as setting aside our own freedoms for the sake of the Body.  And I am not convinced that, aside from a few extreme cases, women priests are good for the larger Body.  I know some awesome women who are priests, don’t get me wrong.  I could name a score of names in as many seconds.   But I am simply not convinced that these women are not exceptions to the general rule as well as being exceptional.   All things being lawful, this may, at this time in church history not be always helpful.

I do know this, its not an equal rights issue.   Nobody, male or female has a right to be ordained.  None of us is worthy.

And as for me, I spend a lot of time in ministry among those who are against women’s priesthood.  Not being a priest gives me the flexibility to serve among them in a fuller, richer way.  Becoming a priest would, in that way, be a liability, and its not a liability that I have felt called to take on (though I acknowledge that some women may have felt called to take that liability on, fully knowing that it does limit effectiveness in some circles.  God sets the limits, I get that.  I’ve just been given one set of limitations instead of another.) 

So why am I writing this… well because a few people have asked me to write about women’s priesthood.  Because I see fear on both sides, and fear is anti-Gospel.  Because our canons are clear (women priests at the bishop’s discretion, but no women bishops because that would impose women’s ministry on those whose theological convictions oppose women priests), but our hearts are not… that the needs of the church must be placed before the needs of the individual.  That just because we can, doesn’t mean we should.

There aren’t many people I can talk about this with, since I probably annoy both sides equally.  But I’m pretty sure I am where God wants me to be.

And maybe I’m pushing my luck by publishing this… but unless given a reason otherwise, comments are open.  Be respectful.  Talk amongst yourselves.


  1. Here are three things that seem to be related but have no real correlation: smarts, education, and schooling.

    Here are two more: being awesome women (or men), being awesome priests.

    Fussing about women priests is just so much mental high-jinks. Jesus just wants people to go and do it; he didn’t specify who. Since I am going in that direction, let me suggest that a more worthwhile discussion would be “Define ‘awesome priest.’ ” Good luck with that.

    By the way, that’s a phony reason. If you’re called to a ministry, worrying about how you fit and are accepted by the folks who go to assemblies is nothing. Nothing. Just out of curiosity, do you think awesome priests go to assemblies or do they stay home with their ministries? Is there two classes of priests: ministers and administrators? Just giving you a head start on defining awesome priests.

    By the way, Schori isn’t going off the deep end because she’s a woman, she’s going off the deep end because …. Get it?

  2. Schori is a woman off the deep end, for sure. No cause and effect implied.

    Dave, you might be right that the resaon above is worldly, perhaps calculating, some might say its wimping out. But I do think any reasonable person should think long and hard before taking on a situation that would hamper the spread of the Gospel and the work of ministry among the people with whom that person serves, socializes, lives and works. I'm not saying that no one is called to take on that sort of obligation, certainly God does his own thing regardless of our limitations. I'm just saying that its a really real part of ministry for me and I'm not called to hamper those relationships.

    If I worried about how I fit in, I would pick one boring side or another instead of working with and occasionally annoying everyone.

  3. Wait! Wait! Let's talk about "Defining Awesome Priests." That discussion has to have more legs than worrying about ordaining women. Arguing against ordaining women at this point is just reactionary. Gets no traction. It's a done deal. "Defining Awesome Priests" should be revisited every ten years just to keep up with the changes. See, there's a thought. Does Awesome Priest change with time or location or is that a timeless truth?

  4. I heard that the administered sacrament will not be profaned by the corrupt minister. In such a crises as the West is in, the laity should be able to administer The Lords Supper and baptism. What do you say?

  5. There is a difference between the Sacrametn not being profaned by a corrupt minister and the catholic understanding that a sacrament is not valid without validly ordained minister. The anti-WO arguement (with which I don't agree) is that a woman cannot be validly ordained (I guess its like teflon, nothing sticks!) and therefore the sacrament would not be valid. I do agree that a validly ordained priest is necessary for Eucharist. It is the polity of the church from ancient times and part of the beauty of our apostolic succession (where God gives the authority from one generation to another). I even read last night about the Jewish customs of ordination that predate, but definitely relate to, that practice. Baptism... well the church has long stated that a lay person can baptise in an emergency. I'm sure giving more thought to why is due... Glad to continue the conversation.