Why can't I be a conservative female priest?

How is it that' liberalism' is banded about like a dirty word? What is liberalism anyway? To me a liberal is someone who does not believe in the authority of the scriptures and perhaps the virgin birth and the resurrection are not a part of their professing faith at all, which is hard to relate to. I do not want those who believe in women priests to describe themselves as liberals, surely it does us no favours? It muddies the waters. If you are a liberal, explain for me what that means, please. Don't tell me Jesus was a liberal, because I understand the use of the word in that context but it doesn't seek to unmuddy what these distinctions mean today, because in the political church climate, they mean something else altogether.

Virtueonline describes how:
The facts are these. Women bishops are at least 10 years away. More and more women are being ordained but confined to the house of clergy. They can only vote as clergy in the synodical structures, but the laity represents the broad mass of the C of E which is strongly conservative. The point is women priests will not swamp the church and will not ultimately make or break it. All the major seminaries and theological colleges are filled with next generation evangelicals, the product of seeds sown by faithful Anglican evangelicals like John Stott, Jim Packer, Michael Green, Alistair McGrath et al some of whom are now octogenarians.

So why are these things exclusive of one another? I am an evangelical, one of those 'filling the theological colleges'. I adhere to the 39 articles and the Book of Common Prayer....okay, some of these things need proclaiming afresh for our context. For example, I aim to resurrect services in which we give thanks for the safe arrival of new babies in my future parish but what I will not include is that section from the BCP where women declare how they repent for having thought that all men are liars when they were in the throes of labour. I mean, come on, let's be sensible about things. But, my faith is orthodox.

VOL declare that
The churches will not be filled by women priests or women bishops either. There is simply no evidence for it. Bending to the culture will only make churches orphans in time. Confronting the culture with the Good News of Jesus, as difficult as that might be, is England's only hope.

The thing is I never set out to either make or break the church and I agree with VOL that 'Bending to the culture will only make churches orphans in time.' It's just that the church has bent to a patriarchal culture for two thousand years and even more recently to a culture which believed that one human being could declare another its property because of their misreading and manipulation of St Paul. So why are some parts of the church lamenting a future more representative of God's justice, without first inspecting the incongruities of their own past? Why are they making crass generalisations about the motivations of one half of the human race? Why is all so blinkingly exasperatingly sad?



Anonymous said...

That's a sweeping, and a hard-edged definition of liberal. Is it possible to accept the authority of the Bible but not its inerrancy? And, if so, how do we tease out that authority if the Bible is plain wrong about some things? What about creation, the flood, the sun standing still in the sky? Is it possible to be a little bit liberal, or is that like being a little bit pregnant? Are you a liberal if you believe in the authority of the Bible, accept the resurrection but not the virgin birth? What do you have to believe about divorce not to be a liberal? It seems to me that unless you're prepared to believe a lot of impossible things before breakfast then, is some sense, you're a liberal. And, if you're a liberal on one thing, what stops you being liberal on another? Or, if you're liberal on creation who are you (or I) to complain if another person is liberal on the virgin birth or the resurrection? That's the problem, as i see it. We're all liberals, but some people want to draw a line and say, 'this far and no further'. What gives them the right to draw any line, and what gives them the right to say where the line should be drawn?

Peter Carrell said...

You can be a conservative female priest! In fact please be one because, as you cite, many think female priests of any theological hue are a bad idea, many think conservative female priests cannot exist (or not for long, 'cause some inexorable process makes "cfp"s into liberal female priests), and many fear something is going terribly wrong with the church because we have or are contemplating having female priests and/or bishops ... oblivious, seemingly, to all the terribly wrong things which have happened to the church in the last two thousand years through the leadership of ... men.

Rachel Marszalek said...

"It seems to me that unless you're prepared to believe a lot of impossible things before breakfast then, is some sense, you're a liberal. And, if you're a liberal on one thing, what stops you being liberal on another? Or, if you're liberal on creation who are you (or I) to complain if another person is liberal on the virgin birth or the resurrection? That's the problem, as i see it."

I think the words 'believe' and 'impossible' are unhelpful here? How do we define impossible? Are miracles impossible? Well, by the rational world-view we have inherited from Aristotle and then the Enlightenment, yes, miracles, where the supernatural reigns, are impossible in a world which doesn't believe in the supernatural, but we have forgotten that this is God's world and where his Holy Spirit reigns, we exist in a dimension beyond the realm of the rational. We make our God too small if we insist he only works the explainable. Nothing is impossible for God!

What is our definition of 'believe'? The creation story is 'true' but it is not a historical or scientific account of our evolution. We need to be aware of the genres of the Biblical narratives and their purposes and audiences.

However, the climax of the gospel narrative is Jesus' birth, crucifixion and resurrection, these are not metaphorical. So I would argue that some aspects of the faith are not up for debate, they are a matter of faith. The whole big Bible picture testifies to the truth of these things.

I think that many of our churches have continued in a culture conforming to enlightenment rational and logic. These churches do not expect God, through the power of his Spirit to do anything supernatural. Where we allow God to work and call on his manifest presence and then witness the work of His Spirit doing things that our human brains can not understand, then we are able to see the Bible in its testimony to the miraculous and believe. What do you think?

The world we see around us is but a shadow of what really exists. We are caught up in the heavenlies and citizens of two kingdoms and where we allow God's Kingdom to break in, I think we will not tie God to the rational for long.

Rachel Marszalek said...

Yes, Peter the assumptions being made about the theology of Anglican women priests is probably going to cause a lot of us to not recognise ourselves.

Anonymous said...

Well, you've decided you have the authority to draw a line. And you've decided you have the authority to say where it should be drawn. You say that the resurrection is a simple, historical event, with no element of metaphor. As long as you know that you've assumed the authority to say this in the face of much scholarship then that's fine. But make sure you take responsibility for arguing why you have done so, please don't claim that it is simply an undisputed fact, either within the Church or the Academy.

Anonymous said...


I think that a liberal is an individual who believes that the real subject matter of theology is not divinely revealed truths but human religious experience.

In the liberal's view, the Bible must be viewed as a record of the human experience of the Hebrews and some New Testamant luminaries. A record of not what God has said and done but what (primarily men), thought he said and did.

Such an approach will inevitably lead to two different versions of Christianity- using the same words but attaching entirely different meanings to them.

Adrian Worsfold (Pluralist) exemplifies liberalism well (he is a very consistent liberal).

No wonder people are confused.


Rachel Marszalek said...

Anon I do not seek to establish my own authority. I believe Jesus did what he did, that is all.

I am quite Barthian in that I believe everything starts with Jesus. God is over and above reason and science and rationale. I loved reading Justin Martyr who, in chapter 54: The origin of Heathen Mythology in THE FIRST APOLOGY OF JUSTIN, described how all the things that man-kind has ever expressed to know have their origin in Wisdom, Logos: the pre-existent Christ, it's just that humanity has not for most of time and history been able to understand from where their knowledge has its origins and it has become twisted by sinfulness. Now some of the task of apologetics in proclaiming the Good News to people involves working with facts, history, reason - man's ways of ordering and understanding his world. Of course, these things will always fail to convince and indeed no-one can be convinced to believe. Faith works with something different but perhaps something not altogether opposed to reason, just different, nevertheless. Perhaps unlike Barth, we are not to feel overly worried about our lack of belief. Even Jesus met the sceptic half way, presenting facts. He met with Thomas the doubter (John, chapter 20) with such grace. Jesus met Thomas thus - touch my wounds he offered. Thomas doubted, we will too. Jesus meets people where they are at and welcomes their questions. Jesus allows for it and provides for it. If we find the resurrection difficult, we should ask Jesus to show us afresh the wounds in his hands so that we might understand anew the real fleshiness of his suffering and resurrection and therein understand all the better our own.

Rachel Marszalek said...

Hi Iconoclast
Helpful and yes, I understand Worsfield this way. However, human religious experience and divinely revealed truths are more compatible than perhaps your sentence implies. We understand God's divine truths partly because we experience them.

Anonymous said...


I am not saying there is no incompatibility. One has to encounter God after all! But if you say (as a liberal would) that Scripture is a purely human constuct then this is not conservative.
Evangelicals may disagree about inrepretations and context, but they would agree on divine inspiration (at least I hope they would!) I think a liberal would reject this.


Rachel Marszalek said...

So if liberals do not believe that the Bible is divinely inspired, then how do they come to know anything about God? Their religious experiences? Are their religious experiences simply compared to those of people within the Bible so that they can discern their legitimacy? If liberalism invests itself in an engagement with growing God's Kingdom today rather than simply ticking your doctrine boxes to ensure salvation in an individualistic way, then there are lots of positives.

The liberal/conservative divide sometimes manifests itself in our churches in terms of imbalance over what we should 'proclaim' and what we should 'do'.

"...the divide between different kinds of reading of the Gospels, includes a divide between those who see Jesus as the great moral example, the great teacher, the great friend of little children, the great confronter of the self-righteous etc., and then on the other hand, those who Jesus as simply coming in order to die for our sins. And in the former case, you get Jesus as a kind of a social prophet (“let’s do it differently”), and then you get on the other hand Jesus as the one who embodies a system of salvation. Now both of those represent significant belittlings of what the Gospels are actually trying to give us. So that contemporary Christianity, and this is really a post Enlightenment phenomenon and we have to unmask it as such; has divided down the lines of “is this about a supernatural salvation somehow accomplished by Jesus’ death”, or “is this about a social agenda which we can now reconstruct in our work for social betterment at the present”. And the Gospel writers I think will be tearing their hair out and saying For goodness’ sake, it’s both; but it’s both because it’s something much bigger than all of that. It’s about the one moment when the living God actually came and did this kingdom thing, which involved necessarily his own embodied dying and rising so that we’ve got to have the whole package and not some shrunken thin version of it." (Tom Wright)

Anonymous said...

I think the issue is to do with truth. I know plenty of New Age folk who have religious experiences and claim to know God. Yet how to we know whether those experiences are 'true' ones or are deceptive?

You say the liberals invest themselves with growing God's kingdom today. Yet evangelicals do that also. However, I would question whether both groups are actually singing from the same hymn sheet (if you excuse the pun), and are growing quite different types of 'kingdoms'.

I quite agree with Wright that we should have the whole package. I would want to be sure it is the right package.


A. Amos Love said...


"To me a liberal is someone who does not believe in
the authority of the scriptures..."

What is your evidence procedure for saying or hinting that
conservatives do believe in the authority of the scriptures?

“Why can't I be a conservative female priest?”

Are there any conservative female priests in the Scriptures?

“More and more women are being ordained but confined to the house of clergy.”

Is there any clergy, male or female, in the Scriptures?

And other sheep I have,
which are not of this fold:
them also I must bring,
and they shall “hear my voice;”
and there shall be one fold,
and one shepherd.
John 10:16

One Fold - One Shepherd - One Voice.
If Not Now, When.


Rachel Marszalek said...

Amos, this might seem crass and I do understand what you are getting at but also I drive a motorcar and yet there are only donkeys in the scriptures.

Anonymous said...

",..I drive a motorcar and yet there are only donkeys in the scriptures".

Strange. And here was I thinking that God drove Adam and Eve out of the Garden of Eden...


Rachel Marszalek said...


A. Amos Love said...


And there are Japanese and German cars in the Bible.

I think there's something about the apostles, Accords, and Porsche's.

Acts 5:12
And by the hands of the apostles were many signs and wonders wrought among the people;
(and they were all with one "Accord" in Solomon’s "Porsche."

A. Amos Love said...


So let me see if I understand correctly.

In answer to the questions;

Is there any "conservative female priests" in the Scriptures?

Is there "any clergy," male or female, in the Scriptures?

Your answer is - There are "donkeys" in the Scriptures. { ; o )

Jesus loves you this I know...

read that somewhere...

Rachel Marszalek said...

Yes AA, every now and then I am gifted with such clarity of mind! ;-)


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