"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)

22 November 2017

A response on the subject of Women's Ordination.... (Long, sorry!)

I am responding to a blog post found at toalltheworld.blogspot.com.  Go there first, please.  And admittedly this is just a longer and perhaps redundant version of my previous post.  But the internet keeps repeating itself on this issue, so forgive me. 

WRT: ToAllTheWorld-- Pressing on our two decade plus friendship in responding to this!

For the casual reader: Robert and I disagree on this issue.  That is not really the reason one should be surprised.  I should hope it possible to disagree with a brother in Christ and a genuine friend and not see that as anything unusual.  What is unusual is the depth of generosity he has shown in this disagreement, whether for the good of the Church or simply for the benefit of one or another sister in Christ who may be asking such questions in his presence.  On this I commend him.

My own position: I, like my brother blogger, hold to the importance and authority of not only Scripture but the tradition of the Church and reason informed by the Holy Spirit, in that order, for the formation of all opinions and positions theological and ethical.  I also agree with him that the Church herself has desperate need of unbiased, deep, dangerous scholarly and sacred research and conversation before coming to one mind, to which we must all submit our wills, however uncomfortably, if we are to become an Anglican Church in North America.  It is a risk all who are more interested in the good of the Church than in their own opinions, passions and callings should be willing to take. 

But herein lies the rub: it is a "risk" only to ordained women.  As a woman, a soft-feminist, and frankly as a Christian, I can see with both compassion, and admittedly at times frustration, that it is always the women, the vulnerable, who must take these risks.  Part of me will gladly compare the vocations of women to a rights issue (which this decidedly is not, more on that later) in the darker corners of my heart.  After all, no one in the ancient world considered freeing slaves and no one in the ancient world considered women quite fully human either.  Somehow, no matter how progressive and open minded and alert, no scholar or theologian quite realized that women are not ontologically deficient.  Jesus is another story, funded and followed, proclaimed and cared for by women, but then, he's the Son of God.  What do you expect?  Paul, perhaps, more a man of his age, can be remarkably progressive, commending Phoebe the deacon, greeting Priscilla, acknowledging the Church in Lydia's house.  A man of his age, however, is not going to insert any secret messages in his letters for ours.

The tradition likewise was written by men of their age.  Much of it is harsh. Much of it is openly misogynistic.  Much of it makes Paul look like a liberal.  But it has weight.  These are the chronologically and linguistically closest commentaries we have on the texts at question.  These are the cultural insiders.  We give them weight because they are closer to the original text than we are, culturally and linguistically and chronologically.

And so, reasoning and praying (that third step) I find myself about 90% convinced that women can be priests. The text seems to indicated a broad and generous understanding of women as proclaimers, pastoral caregivers, teachers, and even prophets.  I am completely convinced that women are not ontologically deficient and completely unconvinced that it takes a woman to act in persona Christi (as the Roman Church claims).  I'm even mostly convinced that in persona Christi is particularly unhelpful as a view of the priesthood, as it is held only in the West.  (The East is more likely to see the priesthood as in persona ecclesia (a term which I may have made up, but I don't think so) or standing not in the place of Christ but in the place of the Church, the Bride of Christ.  But then, I see no arguments for an all female priesthood.  But that is beside the point.

Even the Sacramentalist in me, for whom the priest is to make Christ known and present in the bread and wine, can point to the Blessed Virgin Mary as the ultimate woman priest, making Christ present and known in our midst beyond mere accidents of bread and wine.

So why am I not a priest?  Part of the answer (aside from more complex issues of vocation) is in that ten percent.  The shadow of a doubt, the desire to be an instrument of unity and not division, the passion for actual diaconal submission and service to the Church of God, forbids me to put my own sense of calling, my own desires, my own self in any form ahead of the body of Christ.  Ordination is not a rights issue.  Its a surrender of rights for the sake of another.  Its a "be subject to one another" issue.  I cannot fully love my brother in the Church if I do not put myself in subjection.

And aside from other issues of vocation, let me just take the gloves off here and say "this is lame."  Again it is women who are asked to be subject, but the men who cannot accept women as full human beings along with those who simply cannot accept women as priests (sorry guys, that you have to be lumped together here) are not asked to be subject to their sisters in Christ, and their brothers who would have women priests.  Mutual submission has never really been mutual.

I am, and always will be, an advocate for those who can't accept women priests and deacons.  I count many as friends, all as brothers (and sisters) in Christ.  I have, and will again if so called, stepped out and taken risks on their behalf.  Some of them, let the record show, have done so for me.  But the mood of the Church, on both sides, is not one of mutual submission.  The mood of the Church is one of political gain, debate, and dissent.

So in short, I agree wholly with Robert that the church needs an all-in risk taking, opinion changing, mutual trusting, theologically faithful study of the issue.  Ordained women should feel comfortable putting the chips on the table, if the table is truly our Lord's.  Others should feel compassion in addressing these women who hold nothing back for the sake of unity, ministry, and the authority of the Bride of Christ.  The men of the church, especially our bishops, should develop a sudden passion for the genuine ministry of women (beyond bake sales and altar guild, please!) and our women a real concern for the marginalization of men in our Churches.

I'm a vocational deacon, 100% sure that women can be deacons, but I place that on the table too.  There is no genuine study without going all the way back to the roots.  There is no genuine healing if anything is withheld.  I would be shocked to the core to be wrong, but it would be my place to offer my vocation (again and again regardless) to the glory of Christ and the unity of the Church.  But I ask my anti-women's ordination brothers (and sisters) to be cautious.  Make sure that the offerings of these women are honored, tended, cared for, and that submission, in all things Godly, is mutual.

Thanks to some friendly dialogue offl-blog from Robert (ToAllTheWorld)... an addendum must be made.  Sorry, that just makes this even longer. He asked if I were discounting the inspiration of the Holy Spirit in calling Paul a man of his time.  God forbid it!  But his observation deserves my clarification.  From my reply to him (And I hope he will post from his message to me this morning):

 On Paul as a man of his time. I do not discount the inspiration of the Spirit, but you are correct to inquire there.  It is something I ought to clarify, and will do so.  In fact, I take a closer reading than those who might be more fundamentalist, those even who would consider it inspired-to-the-point-of-dictated. I marvel that God inspired and also preserved the personalities of the biblical writers.  Nowhere is this more clear than in Paul, who forgets his books and coat, writes through tears, is certain he will see the Philippians again (when he doesn’t), greets his friends by name, states his own opinion and differentiates it from inspiration, and shares a grudge.  Paul is so very, deeply Paul.  And he’s not the creep and misogynist he modern Church makes him out to be. 
And it would be very unlike the Holy Spirit to override that.  But here again is the parallel with the slavery issue.  The reader has every indication, from Jesus treatment of the oppressed, to the ongoing flow of the whole biblical text, to Paul’s ways of pressing and backing off, sending greetings and asking aid, that the subjugation of any person is wrong.  Women and slaves (ancient equivalents) flocked to the Church because their liberation, if not in a worldly now then at least in an ontological sense, was all over the message.  But nowhere does the individual biblical writer seem to step so far out of his own world as to see the full and radical implications of the poor over 2000 years.
My word about Paul is not a correction to Paul, but to us. 
I love discussing this with you, of all people, because we agree so very much in our disagreement.  It always kind of makes me laugh, but at the same time, its very sad that the Church as a whole can’t have a conversation like this.  I’m not sure where we forgot to love and trust one another, perhaps in the shouting matches of TEC, but we need to regain that also if the ACNA is going to hold.