The Religion Report (II): Dr Patricia Brennan on Australia’s first female Anglican bishops

Posted by Kendall Harmon

In his famous book 'The End of Ideology', American sociologist Daniel Bell makes the point that those individuals who start revolutions are not usually fated to be the ones to finish them. Because breaking down the walls is a different kind of task to the task of consolidation.

Which brings us to that tenacious former President of the Movement for the Ordination of Women, Dr Patricia Brennan. She was in Perth last week to see Kay Goldsworthy made a bishop; how has she seen this latest step for women in the Anglican church?

Patricia Brennan: I think it was inevitable and I think it's been received with quiet celebration in most camps. I don't think it has sort of taken the country by storm, I think it was expected, and I think it was completion of something that started about 30 years ago; it started with a great passion when women were excluded fairly violently form the company of the ordered male, and women priests have been multiplying in various guises, people have been getting used to it. Kay Goldsworthy was the 23rd bishop in the world, Barbara Darling on Saturday will be the 24th. It will just roll on now automatically as it would in any institution. And so now it's not only that they're used to women bishops, they want women bishops. They think it's normal, even people with no interest in the church are very sympathetic to it.

Stephen Crittenden: Yes Patricia, I've been struck by how little controversy there's been. I mean obviously the Australian Anglican bishops have handled this very carefully so that there wouldn't be controversy, but why do you think all of a sudden public opinion seems to have got to a point where after all those years of controversy, that you played such a leading role in, the Australian public seems to have looked at each other and said, 'OK, we're ready to cross the road together now on this.'

Patricia Brennan: I think that happens in social change. I mean the notion of a woman priest was obscene when I was in my 30s, and we first put the word 'woman' with 'priest', and I think that level of taboo was that there'd never been women in the sanctuary.

Read it all.


Filed under: * Anglican - EpiscopalAnglican ProvincesAnglican Church of Australia

21 Comments
Posted May 28, 2008 at 8:12 am [Printer Friendly] [Print w/ comments]



1. drummie wrote:

Ms. Brennan obviously thinks that Christianity should change to accept the modern secular society rather that society being formed by religious belief.  That is the whole problem today, society has decided that there are no absolutes and that religion can be changed to suit modern tastes.  Did I miss something along the way or isn’t it supposed to be that religious belief guides society to make it better?

May 28, 9:35 am | [comment link]
2. wamark wrote:

And like mainstream American protestants the Aussies will soon be wondering why there are no men in church?  and then no children and, finally, no women.  The church, as sociologists have already pointed out, has become a “pink collar ghetto.”  This “new church”  is based on a socially dysfunctional model where womyn are head of household and men need not apply.  I hear the thundering feet of real families heading for the door.  Like the American churches they emulate…the Aussie church will soon be comprised by graying old ladies and a handful of gays.  Now there is a triumph for you.

May 28, 11:59 am | [comment link]
3. Dale Rye wrote:

Re #1: I don’t think that Dr. Brennan would disagree that religious belief should guide society to make it better. Where she would disagree is that guiding society to exclude women from leadership roles makes it better. There is a substantial group of conservative Christians who do not see that as a necessary implication of the Gospel. The companion article cites Dr. Leon Morris (about as orthodox an Evangelical as one might wish) as an example.

The business in Galatians about there being no slave or free, Greek or barbarian, male or female in Christ didn’t come from any effort on Paul’s part to change religion to suit modern tastes. It could be argued (and has) that the exclusion of women from leadership roles was the result of changing religion to suit ancient and medieval tastes. I see no stronger reason for clinging to those tastes than to cling to ancient and medieval tastes in sanitation.

I like both indoor plumbing and women clergy, and find neither to be a betrayal of Christian tradition. I understand that many who regularly comment here differ on at least one of those subjects. All the Anglican Instruments of Unity have stated that women’s ordination is not a matter on which we cannot agree to disagree. I like that conclusion, too.

May 28, 11:59 am | [comment link]
4. nwlayman wrote:

Isn’t it the Australian Anglicans who have been most likely to suggest *lay* celebrants of the Eucharist?  It always makes me laugh over this; once that starts (and who, exactly, is going to tell anyone in the Anglican Communion, anywhere, that they “can’t” do something?) it’ll be interesting to watch the clerics try to justify the paycheck.  Or anything else.  Ooops, it already happened….

May 28, 12:25 pm | [comment link]
5. drummie wrote:

To #3 Dale Rye, I think you have misunderstood, I am not saying exclude women from leadership positions, just ordained ones.  How can a woman realistically stand at the altar and represent Christ to the people?  The priest is reenacting the passion, crucification and rising of Christ at every eucharist.  The priest also represents Christ, the BRIDGROOM to his Church, not the BRIDE.  So, unless you want to get into some perverted relationships, how can a woman, any woman represent Christ?  To me it is only logical if you read the Bible, study the theology that has withstood the ages, follow the traditions that have served well, you can only come up with one conclusion, women can not be ordained without changing Christianity to some post christian new age charade.  In other words, as it is said in the south, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”.  The last time I checked, until the church started changing things to suit modern culture, it wasn’t broken, but some people just had to tinker with it and look at the mess that has been made of God’s church.

May 28, 1:46 pm | [comment link]
6. Tegularius wrote:

The priest also represents Christ, the BRIDGROOM to his Church, not the BRIDE.  So, unless you want to get into some perverted relationships, how can a woman, any woman represent Christ?


How then—without the same sort of relationship issues—can a man, any man, represent the Church?

May 28, 1:53 pm | [comment link]
7. azusa wrote:

#6; Nobody ‘represents’ the Church - we *are* the Church, Yahweh’s Bride (OT passim esp. the prophets), the Bride of Christ (Ephesians), the Lamb’s Bride (Revelation).
The question evangelicals have is: does a minister really stand ‘in persona Christi’?
Dale: you are right about Leon Morris’s evangelical orthodoxy. I think he would have been quite open to lay celebration.

May 28, 2:41 pm | [comment link]
8. azusa wrote:

#3: “It could be argued (and has) that the exclusion of women from leadership roles was the result of changing religion to suit ancient and medieval tastes. I see no stronger reason for clinging to those tastes than to cling to ancient and medieval tastes in sanitation.”

It could be argued. But it would be stupid.

May 28, 2:43 pm | [comment link]
9. nwlayman wrote:

This is an excellent development, clearly.  Any ECUSA layman should now inform the guy/gal at their parish that they will be celebrating their own eucharist at home every Sunday morning (or whenever it strikes their fancy).  It neatly takes bishops (quaint idea)from NYC or any particular “Cone”, or any Lambeth falderal out of the discussions.  I assume laymen can also perform marriages, any combination of genders as desired?  If the eucharist is up for grabs, so is everything.

May 28, 4:58 pm | [comment link]
10. Tory wrote:

Does anyone know if Patricia Goldsworthy is related to the evangelical, OT scholar, Graeme Goldsworthy?

May 28, 5:53 pm | [comment link]
11. Tory wrote:

Oops, I meant “Kay” Goldsworthy.

May 28, 5:53 pm | [comment link]
12. Monksgate wrote:

Several questions that might have been raised in the women’s-ordination controversies of the past decades, but if so seem to have been forgotten.  At least, I’ve not seen or heard them addressed.

1.  If the ordained priesthood is a career, women should have equal access to it.  But what if the ordained priesthood is not a career?  What if it is a charism of service?

2.  What if the push for women’s ordination and the consecration of women bishops has diverted the church from developing a fuller theology of the priesthood?
a.  Some argue that women should be ordained in order to have the same access to power and influence in the church that men have.  But shouldn’t a theology of the priesthood be very uncomfortable with the idea of power and influence?  Isn’t a more radical reform called for in addressing issues of clerical careerism, not to mention clerical abuses of power?  And isn’t the priesthood about kenosis and service rather than power and influence?
b.  Some argue that women should be ordained because they have an equal right to serve.  But does that mean that the service of those of us who are not ordained is somehow second-rate?
c.  Is there a theology of the priesthood of the faithful that seems ripe for development but is being neglected due to the focus on who is or isn’t ordained?

3.  If ordained leadership according to the Gospel means a more radical expression of Christ’s example of getting down on his knees to wash the feet of others, leading by serving, is that where those women who claim to have been marginalized by being forced into roles of service throughout Christian history really want to be?

4.  Religious sociologists assert that throughout the history of Christianity, religious participation by women is higher than that of men.  There is no satisfactory explanation for this phenomenon as far as I’m aware.  But the pattern recurs.  Is it worth reflecting on how a male-only priesthood, especially when rooted in a radical challenge to empty oneself by serving others, is a means of attracting a larger number of men to religious practice than would otherwise be the case?

May 28, 8:27 pm | [comment link]
13. writingmom15143 wrote:

#9..And why would any layman, (or woman) in my case, want to celebrate Eucharist apart from the body of believers in our churches?
Do you think those of us worshipping in the pews are that shallow?

And to Dale Rye…Thank you.

May 28, 8:29 pm | [comment link]
14. Chris Hathaway wrote:

Do you think those of us worshipping in the pews are that shallow?

Not those worshipping God. But those worshipping, and fighting for, their “right” to be ordained are very much that shallow. And the church that submits its treasure to them is a church emptied of the Gospel.

May 28, 9:00 pm | [comment link]
15. nwlayman wrote:

#13 —Yes.  Any evidence to the contrary?  I mean, by the looks of clergy and bishop candidates?

May 29, 4:39 pm | [comment link]
16. writingmom15143 wrote:

#15…I don’t understand what you’re saying.  How does the looks of the clergy and bishop candidates provide evidence that those of us
worshipping in the pews are shallow?

May 29, 5:00 pm | [comment link]
17. nwlayman wrote:

Show some depth.  Change the clergy.  By that of course, I mean change the *laymen* who are where you get clergy *from*.  No depth to the laity, don’t expect it from the clergy.  See the last 40 years.  Tell a layman he/she can do a eucharist by themselves, they will.  Try and tell them they can’t.  Try and tell any layman in EUCSA they can’t do anything you care to mention, including marry someone of the same gender.  Or receive communion without being baptized.  Or become a bishop without being baptized!  Works in Utah.

May 29, 7:02 pm | [comment link]
18. writingmom15143 wrote:

This is the 2nd or 3rd time in the last couple of days that I’ve read posts about laity wanting to do Eucharist by themselves.  I have to tell you, from where I sit in the pews, I had no idea this was
an issue/problem. So I’m reading these comments with no firsthand
knowledge of the situation. But if what ‘nwlayman’ says is true…that shallow clergy comes from shallow laity, why would it matter who does the Eucharist?  Wouldn’t they both be equally inadequate to celebrate the Lord’s Supper?

May 29, 8:15 pm | [comment link]
19. Dale Rye wrote:

Re #18: I’m not sure this is still a live thread, but you (writingmom15143) deserve an answer.

To the best of my knowledge there aren’t any responsible Anglican laity anywhere in the world “wanting to do Eucharist by themselves.” There is a proposal, however, put forward by some Evangelicals (mostly, but not exclusively, in the Diocese of Sydney) to authorize certain laity to “do Eucharist” on behalf of the Church without being ordained to the presbyterate/priesthood (much as some laity are licensed to give sermons).

Interestingly, some of the support for this is based on a desire to find a way to allow women to lead Eucharistic worship without violating male headship in matters of teaching and authority over men. These opponents of women’s ordination reject the notion that the person at the Holy Table must physically represent Christ just as adamantly as those who support women priests and bishops.

There are at least five different positions on women’s ordination at play in Australia: (1) those who think that women can be priests and bishops who celebrate the Eucharist and exercise pastoral oversight over men,  (2) those who believe that women can be priests in positions subordinate to men, but cannot be rectors or bishops, (3) those who think that women can never be ordained into Holy Orders or administer sacerdotal rites, (4) those who think that women can be ordained as deacons but cannot validly celebrate the Eucharist, and (5) those who think that only men can be priests and bishops but that any authorized person can administer the Holy Communion.

Because diocesan independence is far stronger in Australia than in any other Anglican church, almost all these positions have one or more dioceses that have adopted it as their official theological policy and rejected each of the others. The national church has basically refused to choose among the positions, because doing so would violate diocesan autonomy. On an international level, it seems pretty clear that the only position of the five that would currently be considered a basis for breaking Communion by any of the 44 Anglican churches is allowing lay presidency at the Eucharist. All the others have been tolerated in the name of provincial autonomy.

Almost all Anglican churches ordain women to Holy Orders, if only the deaconate. Most ordain women priests. At least 15 expressly allow women bishops, although only 5 have actually consecrated one. Not a single province has broken communion with another over this issue.

May 30, 12:51 am | [comment link]
20. nwlayman wrote:

My reason for pointing this out is that the proposal originally came from Australia.  It also asks the question (still unanswered) : What does it take to get Anglicans to say “No”?  If tomorrow a layman (lets assume a real one, baptized) lets it be known he/she *is* doing a private or public “Mass”, what exactly would/could other Anglicans *do*?  Since there is not now and never has been a real concensus among them as to whether or not anything “happens” to that bread and wine in the first place, what’s the problem?  Is there one?  If nothing happens to the bread and wine, why exactly can’t a non-ordained person not do it to them?  If there is something that happens to bread and wine, who says only ordained people can make it happen?  Is there any type of authority in Anglicanism whatever beyond land disputes and what the newest form of marriage might be?  It would sure be interesting to see if a layman could find something they could do to get excommunicated.  I don’t think anyone can think of anything that could make that happen.  Mr. Toedt, whose blog is listed at right is a vestry member, isn’t he?Obviously lots of folks have worked at it; Spong, Pike, Schori.  Those are an indication that it means much less to be in communion with Anglicans than to not be.

May 30, 12:28 pm | [comment link]
21. writingmom15143 wrote:

Thanks, Dale..And I don’t know if this is still a live thread either but it is certainly a live topic.  Thank you for your explanation.  I didn’t realize that all of that was going on.  And from reading your posts and those of others…Sometimes I just don’t get it.  It seems like I view things very differently from many who are posting (maybe I should change pews;) )  Because from where I sit:
—I have never not taken Communion from a woman priest…nor has it ever crossed my mind to consider that.
—I’m beginning to wonder if I should worship in the organized church at all…especially in the Anglican community.  I was raised in the Episcopal church.  When I was 10 years old, my parents got divorced and refused to attend the same church.  So my mom took my 2 sisters and me and transferred to the Presbyterian church.  Yes, it was still a church.  Yes, God was there.
But, for me…even as a young girl…the experience of worshipping God in that church couldn’t hold a candle to the experience I remembered in the Episcopal church.  I contined to attend an Episcopal church camp so I did have that joy of that worship experience for 2 weeks every summer.  But I kept asking my mom if we could go back to the Episcopal church.  So when I was 15, she
agreed to go back to the Episcopal church (a different parish, of course, from where my dad attended)  And in these last 35 years,
that’s mostly where I’ve been…And I probably agree with most of the “do or die” issues of those on this site.  About Gene Robinson.  About the Trinity. About all those things that are clear in Scripture.  But why does gender matter when providing the Body and Blood of Christ to those who are seeking His love and forgiveness?  Why do people feel that a man who has gone to seminary is the only one who is allowed to share the Sacraments?  Why does gender matter that much?  Does it “invalidate” Holy Eucharist if the service is performed by a woman?  And, for that matter, if a group of believers has spent the day in prayer together, why couldn’t they use a prayer book (or the Bible) to offer Eucharist to one another?  I really don’t understand.
(And please…to anyone who may respond to this post…I’m not looking for sarcasm…I’m looking for something to help me understand
this issue that actually has me in tears as I write this.)

May 30, 12:52 pm | [comment link]
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