12.8.14

A Response to the feminization of Anglican Orders


VirtueOnline - expositor of all things orthodox or so it purports, blinded perhaps by the power of thinking that its own 'plain reading' is far from plain and skewed like all our readings into a hermeneutic because we are all fall-influenced and far from neutral, prone to blind sides that are blind to us - VirtueOnline, a thinkingtank/blog with reach and influence, laments the feminisation of the church of England with surely some glaring gaffs and dramatic conclusions. 

I would like to contest some of these, part aware and part unaware, until someone points them out to me, that, of course, I have my blind sides too!

Alice C. Linsley believes that we are moving into 'dangerous territory' as she puns on the etymological root of 'venture' to mean dangerous, picking up on Welby's use of the word to describe this new epoch, post women Bishops.

The idea of women leading churches is still described by Linsley as an innovation even though the exegetical debate has lead to the belief that in fact we have had it wrong for a very long time but certainly not forever. She is wrong to say that 'The innovation reveals confusion about the nature of the priesthood and suggests infidelity to the received tradition of the Apostles which was embraced by the early priests of the Church.' On the contrary, Madigan and Osiek have uncovered evidence for female deacons, priests and bishops through the ages so that 'Whatever the arguments against women's ordination ... they can no longer be predicated on a naive reading of a defective historical record.' (TILLEY, M.A., Catholic Biblical Quarterley; Jan 2008, Vol. 70 Issue 1, p.156)

That 'the ordination of women as priests is an accommodation to culture,' is also a misunderstanding. As Evangelicals, the case is made from the scriptures alone that the scriptures themselves present positive positions on female leadership. To say that there is a confusion about even life and death itself is a tad dramatic and Linsley fails to successfully persuade us by her claim here. References to the churching of women after childbirth, a service in our Book of Common Prayer are said to have been dropped due to the feminisation she laments. In fact with careful adaptation, the church can celebrate the childbearing gift that is woman's alone. It is perhaps that we just need to modernise our language so that the service can be understood. Thomas describes how, 'matrescence is a time of power, a time when a woman encounters new dimensions of self, relation, and God.' ('Becoming a Mother: Matrescence as Spiritual Formation' Religious Education, Volume 96, Number 1, 1 January 2001, pp. 88-105(18) 2001, 90). The Book of Common Prayer is fruitful where it offers a liturgical response of 'Thanksgiving of Women after Child-birth, commonly called Churching of Women'. It seeks to affirm a woman for having 'putteth her trust in thee (God)' and recognises her need, with the plea, 'Be thou to her a strong tower.' It is the church that then needs to nurture specifically her spiritual development after such a profound life-changing experience. Often, as in my case, this spiritual development culminates also in a call to ordination and church leadership as began to happen after the birth of my first child.

Linsley believes that intuitively we understand 'it is simply wrong to speak of Jesus as the “daughter of God.” Is there a veiled implication here that somehow the creation of women bishops would lead to such a thing? If so this is a serious and unfounded exaggeration. Logic and common sense alone would prevent this happening, quite apart from the fact that revelation gave us a male Messiah. 

Linsley believes that the 'assertion that women and male are equal is a heresy.' Of course, aside from the fact that it should be either 'women and men' or 'male and female' and she confuses the two, she doesn't go on to expand on how this equality might be heretical successfully. She separates ontology (essence) from function and it is this kind of trajectory that is causing such a lot of problems in the church. What we are left with is a strange logic. With a representational theory of priesthood a woman can't be a priest because she is not like Jesus in his maleness. However, she also can't be a priest because she is like Jesus, destined to be 'eternally' subordinate!!  

To say, as Linsley does, that a 'female bishop is a repetition of the sin of Eve,' is to misunderstand Eve, God's creation mandate and the fall. The pyramidal order she conjures in support of her point has no precedent in the Scriptures: the pyramid is inverted and quite the opposite of the one she understands with its point at the bottom and its promotion of servant leadership. That 'She also enjoyed a special intimacy with Adam, as bone of his bone and flesh of his flesh,' is exactly the reason why gender complementarity is a point of celebration and a reason for shared servant-leadership between the genders of God's church.

Linsley believes 'It is not proper for the weaker vessel to stand as a symbol of the God-Man.' This is perhaps where she is at her most incredible. Aside from the fact that we have a suffering Saviour, women as well as men reveal something about the nature of God, the plural God who in himself must be both and yet beyond gender to have made people in God's image - male and female. 

She goes on to say 'Males are larger and stronger than females. The one must be stronger in order to save the weaker.' I do not think this requires much comment really, its inadequacy as a theological argument is plain to see. 

I agree with Linsley that 'Attempts to justify women priests on the basis that the Church is described as female reveals profound misunderstanding of the biblical pattern.' I have not seen any arguments being put forward that try to do this. Here she sets up and knocks down a straw man.  Thankfully the logic with which she blows away the straw is valid as she says 'The image of the Church as “bride” ... speaks of His coming to reign over an eternal kingdom. It is not about gender equality in the Church.'

She ends with a huge and unsuccessfully supported claim that 'a woman priest... changes our received Christology.' 

Good grief - whoever would have thought us women could have been so powerful!! 

1 comment:

Peter O said...

"With a representational theory of priesthood a woman can't be a priest because she is not like Jesus in his maleness. However, she also can't be a priest because she is like Jesus, destined to be 'eternally' subordinate!! "

Good stuff. I still think the first part of this has some merit (the alter Christus argument based on sex), but you are absolutely right that the "eternally subordinate" argument (which seems to mainly come from Sydney) just doesn't make any sense. It's applying a husband / wife analogy (Ephesians 5) to an area it's not intended (ordination / church leadership).

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A little background reading on the two theological integrities in the Church of England regarding women in ministry.