(Anglican Ink) Women clergy under review for the ACNA

Posted by Kendall Harmon

More bishops, fewer dioceses and the future of women clergy were amongst the main topics of debate at the Anglican Church of North America’s College of Bishops meeting this week in Orlando.

Bishops from the conservative province in waiting in North America in the Anglican Communion approved the election of two additional bishops for the PEAR-USA Network. The Rev. Quigg Lawrence will lead the Atlantic Regional Network and the Rev. Ken Ross the Western Regional Network, while the Very Rev. Clark Lowenfield was elected bishop of the Diocese of the Western Gulf Coast – a diocese in formation.

Read it all.

Filed under: * Anglican - EpiscopalAnglican Church in North America (ACNA)* Christian Life / Church LifeParish MinistryMinistry of the Ordained* Culture-WatchWomen* TheologyEcclesiologyPastoral Theology

25 Comments
Posted January 12, 2013 at 7:44 am [Printer Friendly] [Print w/ comments]



1. David Wilson wrote:

The College of Bishops approved a Method of Procedure for the Theological Task Force on Holy Orders.It includes the following steps:

On the issue of Women’s Ordination, the communique states:
“Phase 1 of this five-phase procedure was to identify and appoint bishops and other scholars to the Task Force. This is now complete. At each subsequent phase, there will a report to and dialogue with the full College of Bishops”.

Since Phase 1 is complete it would nice to know who these bishops and other scholars are.  The ACNA should release their names ipso pronto.

January 12, 12:59 pm | [comment link]
2. Cennydd13 wrote:

I doubt that their names will be released this soon, and there may be a good reason for not doing so.  Give it time.

January 12, 1:13 pm | [comment link]
3. Scatcatpdx wrote:

I thought we been down this road before: it called The Episcopal Church. Scripturally I have no problem a separate Order for women but not to the priesthood. I seen what happened in the Episcopal Church, why after spending a gut wrenching time leaving the Episcopal Church to see the ACNA go down the same path.
Well, I might have start reading Luther’s Larger catechism , there is a confessional Lutheran Church down the road.

January 12, 2:21 pm | [comment link]
4. Catholic Mom wrote:

They can study this until the cows come home, but history shows that you either have women priests and bishops or you have no women priests and bishops.  The concept of women priests but not bishops is just an unstable condition that cannot persist.

I know the evangelicals have this all worked out in their “male headship” theory.  Problem is—that theory is irrelevant to catholics and distasteful to a lot of non-catholics.  The idea that “sure, you can do the grunt work, but you can’t make important decisions because you’re a woman” is just a non-starter for a lot of people.  Frankly—- if the Catholic Church tried it, they’d end up in the same place as TEC.

January 12, 3:45 pm | [comment link]
5. victorianbarbarian wrote:

This isn’t just about women priests and bishops, it’s also about women deacons.  The Diocese of Fort Worth has always opposed women priests and bishops, but ordained women as deacons.  While this study is going on, however, Fort Worth is holding off on admitting women to the process for ordination as deacons.  It was explained to us as an issue of fairness, since other dioceses that ordain women as priests are also being asked to hold off until the theological study is completed.

January 12, 6:03 pm | [comment link]
6. MichaelA wrote:

“I thought we been down this road before: it called The Episcopal Church.”

In what ways is this situation comparable to TEC, and in what ways is it not? 

“I seen what happened in the Episcopal Church, why after spending a gut wrenching time leaving the Episcopal Church to see the ACNA go down the same path. Well, I might have start reading Luther’s Larger catechism , there is a confessional Lutheran Church down the road.”

That seems to imply that ACNA has just turned down a new path.  But this article contains nothing new:  From its inception, ACNA has contained bodies who ordain women as priests, and those who do not.  Anyone who is a member of ACNA surely knows that already, unless their head is completely buried in the sand?

Members of ACNA who do not believe in women priests are presumably there because they are prepared to work with those who do believe in women priests, and no doubt hoping to win them around to their point of view.

January 12, 6:57 pm | [comment link]
7. MichaelA wrote:

My apologies, my #6 sounds very critical of scatcat at #3, which it wasn’t meant to be.  I could well imagine that sooner or later the patience of those who do not believe in ordaining women to the priesthood could be exhausted, and they feel obliged to leave ACNA.  But presumably that is one of the reasons that this issue is being reviewed.

January 12, 7:10 pm | [comment link]
8. MichaelA wrote:

“The concept of women priests but not bishops is just an unstable condition that cannot persist.”

Of course, but we are talking about a very small time frame - ACNA has only existed for three years.  Compare the discernment process on any other issue in other churches and we see that these things usually do take many years - often centuries.  What is important in this case is that the issue is not being allowed to rest.

ACNA didn’t create the idea of women priests - it inherited it.  Now it has to discern a godly way to deal with it.

As far as I can see, those who are in favour of women priests in ACNA and in some African provinces are mostly not liberals, but orthodox christians who have been convinced (wrongly, in my view) that the scriptures permit women priests.  We owe them the courtesy and respect to convince them of the correctness of our view, from scripture, doctrine and tradition.  I hope that this is what this review group will do.

“I know the evangelicals have this all worked out in their “male headship” theory.  Problem is—that theory is irrelevant to catholics and distasteful to a lot of non-catholics.”

Problem is, the idea of “headship” is not always correctly understood.  The word Headship is like the word Trinity - it is a convenient word to sum up certain points of apostolic doctrine taught in the scriptures.  Those who critique it should be sure that they understand it.

“The idea that “sure, you can do the grunt work, but you can’t make important decisions because you’re a woman” is just a non-starter for a lot of people.”

This accurately sums up the “catholic” view as well as the headship view (which is hardly surprising since they are just two sides of the same coin).  A priest leads a congregation and makes final decisions(among other duties); thus both the “catholic” view and the “headship” view lead to the same result.

But in any case, its hardly a good argument - the idea that Jesus Christ sacrificed himself to atone for our sins is also a non-starter for a lot of people, yet we still believe it and will continue to do so until the end of time.

January 12, 7:33 pm | [comment link]
9. jamesw wrote:

There has been some recent discussion of this issue over at StandFirm (last couple months).  The reality is that it is extremely unlikely that the non-WO party will convince the pro-WO party and vice versa.  A theological study is unlikely to resolve anything, just as the AMiA study of a decade ago was unable to resolve the issue.  There are strong cases to be made on both sides.  The real issue going on is whether the two parties can live together or whether they will need to live apart.

If one side thinks that it can impose its view on the other side, then it is very probable that orthodox North American Anglicans will end up living apart.  That’s just reality.  Enforcing a non-WO policy in ACNA would be almost certain to doom it to becoming a small rump group, and would probably (though not certainly) lead to a larger pro-WO Anglican jurisdiction starting up or attaching to an existing non-TEC North American jurisdiction.  I am not saying that such a development is “good” or “bad”, just that it is probable.

Far better for the two parties to accept each others’ differences in this area, protect the consciences of everyone concerned, and allow for the differing practices.  Thus, while I think it helpful to have a background theological document, I think that the focus for resolution to this issue needs to be in the “political arena” to find a way of allowing two inconsistent theologies of WO to continue together in one ACNA.

January 12, 8:03 pm | [comment link]
10. Katherine wrote:

The situation differs from ECUSA because, in that body, no theological justification was offered before the experiment was embarked upon.  Liberals created facts on the ground and then cried “fairness” to maintain them.  It is impressive, with some female priests already operating in some ACNA jurisdictions, that the body has decided to look at this with a theological and scriptural study.  Like MichaelA, I hope this will be a serious study and not merely political.

January 12, 8:22 pm | [comment link]
11. jamesw wrote:

Katherine:  Do note, however, that you can not just conclude that a resolution which you don’t like = merely political, while a resolution which you like = serious study.  What would you suggest to the non-WO party if the ACNA conducted a “serious and thoughtful” study and decided that WO would become mandatory for deacons, priests and bishops?  Should they stay or leave?  And would your answer be different if you were giving advice to the pro-WO party if the ACNA decided against WO?  Why or why not?

January 12, 8:32 pm | [comment link]
12. Catholic Mom wrote:

That would be fine in a church without bishops, or in a church that didn’t think its bishops were part of the apostolic succession.  But it is simply incoherent ecclesiology to say that you’re going to have a church in which half of the church has women bishops and half doesn’t, and the half that doesn’t have women bishops won’t recognize the authority of the women bishops of the other half, nor the validity of the priests they ordain, nor the apostolic succession of any bishop whom they consecrate.  At this point you have two churches who are not in communion with one another but rather are in some sort of loose “federation.” 

You could get away with a church half of which ordained women as priests and half of which didn’t, because that is purely a local matter, but you can’t have an episcopate in which the members of the church don’t recognize the authority of half the bishops!  And the problem with the “half WO and half non-WO is that is just a temporary solution until you have to face the women bishops question.  It’s just inevitable.    You either go down that road or you don’t start down that road.

January 12, 8:37 pm | [comment link]
13. jamesw wrote:

Catholic Mom:  The ACNA currently does not ordain women bishops, and to the best of my knowledge there is no pressure on them to do so at this point.

With respect to the Church of England, then, yes, clearly the issue is far more complicated.  At that point you either have to say either:
1) no women bishops:
2) some women bishops, but those who do not recognize the possibility of women bishops do not need to do so (i.e. have some bishops which are not universally recognized within the jusrisdiction as actual bishops); or
3) women bishops and let those who do not recognize them leave.

I think that everyone understands the incoherency of the second option, yet I think that it would be workable if everyone wanted it to work.

January 12, 8:43 pm | [comment link]
14. Catholic Mom wrote:

Do you then state that archbishops can never be women?  So you have all these highly qualified women bishops in 20 years and you say “sorry—the really high positions are out of your reach because that would include some in your archdiocese that won’t recognize you”?  So no women could ever be the Archbishop of Canterbury?  This is just kicking the can down the road, it’s not a permanent solution.

And what about keeping the clergy sorted out?  So I don’t believe in women bishops and my diocese doesn’t have any and when we go to hire a priest we check his pedigree to make sure that he wasn’t ordained by a woman bishop or a bishop who has any woman in his line of succession.  This will now require a pedigree that goes back farther than a Crufts winner. 

Yeah—it would work.  For about 5-10 years.

January 12, 9:10 pm | [comment link]
15. MichaelA wrote:

jamesw, you appear to be saying that ACNA cannot move as a whole towards one position or the other.  But there is no reason why it cannot do so:  If there is a real and gracious attempt to engage by both sides, then it can be done.  That has not been possible in TEC and CofE of course, since the liberals cannot concede that their position might not be correct (on anything). But with orthodox Christians it is possible.

It also seems clear that this is not something that ACNA is engaged in alone -

“In Phase 5 the Task Force will submit a report to the GAFCON/FCA International TheologicalCommission (ITC).
Following a review of comments received from GAFCON/FCA, the ITC and the ecumenicalpartners of the ACNA, the final report and recommendations of the Task Force will be submittedto the College of Bishops”

The most prominent orthodox provinces that permit ordination of women to the priesthood are in Gafcon, so it appears that they may all be intending to undergo a processs of discernment on this issue at the same time.

January 13, 9:42 am | [comment link]
16. Katherine wrote:

jamesw (#11):  Under the circumstances you describe, if ACNA concluded that WO was mandatory for all orders, then I would leave, as would, presumably, most of the non-WO adherents.  I sincerely hope that would not happen.

It would be possible for them to do a “serious” theological, scriptural, and Tradition survey and come up with a conclusion I don’t agree with.  The point I was trying to make (and I was an adult Episcopalian at the time) is that no such scholarly work was done at the time ECUSA began ordaining women.  It was political.  The same thing happened, not very many years later, when ordination of sexually active same-sex attracted persons became commonplace.  The pattern has been to create facts on the ground and skip the justification.

January 13, 6:04 pm | [comment link]
17. Sarah wrote:

RE: “I could well imagine that sooner or later the patience of those who do not believe in ordaining women to the priesthood could be exhausted, and they feel obliged to leave ACNA.”

You know . . . I can’t imagine that at all.  If they’re *currently* members of ACNA then obviously they don’t believe it is intrinsically immoral to be members of an organization that allows some entities within that organization to have women clergy.

So I expect that the vast vast majority of those who are opposed to WO yet have joined ACNA will be quite capable of remaining so.

I can think of a lot of reasons why folks might decide to leave ACNA—but I don’t think ACNA will split over WO because I think its position will remain the same, despite all the study and conversation.

RE: “an unstable condition that cannot persist.”

“Unstable conditions” of course persist in wide varieties of entities and for many many many years. Indeed, one can hardly look at an historic organization without finding “unstable conditions” which have existed for centuries!

RE: “The idea that “sure, you can do the grunt work, but you can’t make important decisions because you’re a woman” is just a non-starter for a lot of people.”

Sure—and those folks won’t be in ACNA.

RE: “jamesw, you appear to be saying that ACNA cannot move as a whole towards one position or the other.”

I’m with JamesW. Those in ACNA who avidly support WO and studied it and believe it to be a wonderful and scriptural thing will simply leave ACNA if women clergy are denied, as they’ve already looked at the reasons that those opposed to WO have and have deemed them inadequate.  I think that suppositions that the *leaders* who avidly support WO are somehow ignorant of the arguments and beliefs of those opposed to WO and that if only they could learn them, would have their minds changed, are wildly off-base.  [Of course, non-leaders who don’t study the issues, either way, will be led by their leaders anyway.]

I guess that’s okay.  We’ve certainly seen that with the various splits from the PCUSA. It sort of is a “market-limiting” condition, as we watch those supporting WO trot to the EPC and the new latest entity, and those opposing WO trot to the PCA.

From my point of view, one of the few organizational decisions ACNA got thoroughly right was the one regarding WO. And I think the leaders of ACNA recognize that they struck the perfect balance to receive as many WO-supporting and WO-opposing Anglicans as possible.

January 13, 7:35 pm | [comment link]
18. jamesw wrote:

Various and sundry replies:

14 - Catholic Mom - Unstable situations can exist provided that all agree to live in that situation.  All that needs to be done is for everyone to agree that there are differences of opinion on WO.  Would it require additional work?  Sure.  But I am sure nothing half as complicated as most government regulations.  It is true that if one group stopped agreeing to exist in the unstable situation, things would fall apart.  But, realize that unstable situations exist all over the place - America, and other democratic states being major examples.
15 - MichaelA - Sure, ACNA could move towards one position.  But, as Sarah has pointed out, both sides have arrived at their positions after years of careful study.  There quite simply is a difference of opinion that either involves one side or the other caving in (extremely unlikely) or the two sides learning to accommodate one another (current ACNA policy).  Conservative Republicans might just come to be convinced of the wisdom of higher taxes, more government spending, greater government control of the economy, and the appointment of Barrack Obama as president-for-life…but I kind of doubt it.  And I see nothing in the ACNA statement that remotely suggests that the Global South will come to a uniform position on WO.
16 - Katharine - I agree with you completely that there was no serious theological study done when WO was implemented and that in TEC, it was done in a very secular politics-style manner.

What I would say to both MichaelA and Katharine though is this.  You both seem to have the attitude that ACNA should move to a non-WO position, that the pro-WO party should graciously agree to renounce their position, and that no separation need occur.  But when I posit the scenario about what the non-WO party should do if the ACNA study leads to a cross-the-board pro-WO position, I am told that the non-WO party should leave.  And furthermore, we hear the (quite justifiable) anger about how women bishops were about to be forced on to the CofE.

What I don’t quite understand is why there is the belief that it is quite okay for the non-WO position to be forced on everyone, but it is a terrible crime for the pro-WO position to be similarly imposed?  And why do you think it would be justified for non-WO folks to leave, but it would be unthinkable for pro-WO folks to do the same?  And why do you think that the non-WO would certainly leave the ACNA if WO was forced on them, but that the non-WO folks would stay if the reverse happened?

And so I agree completely with Sarah.  The ACNA will conduct its study as a sop to the non-WO folks, but I doubt very much that they will actually alter the ACNA stance on WO, which (I agree with Sarah) was one of the few things that ACNA has handled both wisely and correctly.

January 14, 4:02 pm | [comment link]
19. jamesw wrote:

Corrected last sentence of second-to-last paragraph above:
“And why do you think that the non-WO party would certainly leave the ACNA if WO was forced on them, but that the pro-WO folks would stay if the reverse happened?”

January 14, 4:05 pm | [comment link]
20. jamesw wrote:

MichaelA:

The most prominent orthodox provinces that permit ordination of women to the priesthood are in Gafcon, so it appears that they may all be intending to undergo a processs of discernment on this issue at the same time.

Remember that Rwandan position on women’s ordination vis a vis the AMiA?  When the AMiA established its policy not to permit ordained women, Rwanda insisted on the creation of an alternative jurisdiction that permitted ordained women.  So with that precedent, I would highly doubt that the pro-WO GAFCON provinces would renounce WO if ACNA enacted a non-WO policy.  Quite the opposite I think.  I think that it would be much more likely that if ACNA enacted a non-WO policy, that GAFCON would carve out a a pro-WO jurisdiction to take in those folks who would leave ACNA.

January 14, 4:11 pm | [comment link]
21. Katherine wrote:

jamesw, I would like to see ACNA move to a no-WO position but I agree that it is unlikely in the near future, since a fair number of the recently-ex-TEC groups have ordained women in their ranks. The same holds for more traditional liturgy; the recently-ex-TEC folks more often prefer less traditional worship and music.  What I do say is that the male-only bishops stance, which ACNA currently holds, makes it possible for no-WO jurisdictions to remain in communion with the WO groups (although it is impaired communion because the female priests will not be called to minister in the no-WO places).  If ACNA decides to permit female bishops the present arrangement will break down.  ACNA leaders will have to decide, if it comes to that, whether the loss of the no-WO groups is a price they are willing to pay.

January 14, 4:51 pm | [comment link]
22. jamesw wrote:

Katherine:  I doubt that the ACNA would move towards women bishops.  As you say, their current position allows for the broadest degree of interconnection between the pro and non-WO folks.  There appears to be absolutely no pressure at all for women bishops in ACNA, so they would be foolish to open that can of worms.  There also appears to be no desire at all on the part of the pro-WO party to force a universal pro-WO position on all of ACNA.

The only apparent pressure is from the non-WO forces who would like to force a universal non-WO position on to ACNA.  But I suspect that the non-WO members of ACNA’s leadership are far more comfortable with the current ACNA policy on WO than are the more militant non-WO activists who are pushing for the theological review and presumed banning of WO.

I would suspect that ACNA’s leadership knows exactly how the theological report (if fairly done) will come out.  Indeed, pretty much any minimally informed person will know how this report will come out:  there are good arguments pro and con, and there is no clear resolution.  Therefore, ACNA will continue its current practice as it is the best possible solution to a theologically incoherent problem.  In this way, the non-WO activists can be partially mollified, or at least, they can no longer complain about the lack of any theological study.  And at the same time, ACNA can continue on its current policy but on a stronger footing.

January 14, 5:28 pm | [comment link]
23. Ross wrote:

While I certainly have opinions of my own on WO (I’m for it, of course), I’m not a member of ACNA, so I don’t have a dog in this fight.

However, as a matter of practicality—I think it would be possible for ACNA to permit women bishops, while still allowing non-WO people to know for sure whether any given clergy person was, by their standards, validly ordained.

There are not so many clergy in ACNA (or for that matter even in TEC) that it would be impractical to build up a web site listing them all, and whether their ordination was valid by non-WO standards.  I’m certain there are a large number of people who would be willing to contribute to the research on such a project—it might take a little while to build up the initial list, but it wouldn’t be that difficult.  And once you have that initial dataset, keeping it up-to-date would be even easier.  Whenever an ordination or consecration occurs, someone just needs to check who the ordaining clergy are—if they are already in the database as “valid,” then the ordinand is also.  (If male, of course.)

That way, someone who wants to know if a given clergy person is validly-ordained need only do a quick check of the online database; they won’t need to do the research de novo.

There could still be difficulty for non-WO people who happen to live in an area where the only ACNA parish has an “invalid” priest… but perhaps that could be part of the arrangement, that in such areas every effort be made to provide a “valid” priest.

Just throwing out some ideas.

January 14, 10:24 pm | [comment link]
24. jamesw wrote:

Ross:  Women bishops are not on the table for ACNA, nor will they be for quite a long time yet, I am sure.  That’s a Church of England issue.

January 15, 3:50 pm | [comment link]
25. dickwire wrote:

Re: comments #1 and #2, I wonder how many female scholars are on the panel since ACNA has no women bishops. Or is this study an “all guy” affair? Perhaps a token female or two? We shall see.

January 18, 6:51 pm | [comment link]
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