According to a leader of the Episcopal Women’s Caucus, the four dioceses that still do not ordain women “have become ghettos of discrimination and interpersonal violence against women”. Yet she has remained an Episcopalian because “right defeated is stronger than evil triumphant”… the evil being, well, us.
She observed the first meeting of the committee to study how to implement the ordination of women in all dioceses (reported last month), and was duly courted, which suggests how much influence this actually quite small group has. The chairman, a “moderate”, leapt to his feet when she came in. “Carol needs her name tag,” he sang out, and tripped across the room to drape the tag and string around her neck. She smiled graciously.
And so the meeting went.
Her allies on the committee insisted that the canon allowing women to be ordained be “fully implemented” The history of the measure, which clearly shows that it was intended to pewit but not require bishops to ordain women – the bishops themselves said so the very next year – was either rejected or “re-imagined”.
The irony of this new liberal legalism is that the 1976 convention avoided changing the constitution to allow women to be ordained, which would have required a two thirds vote in both houses in two consecutive conventions, which they would not have gotten, and simply declared that the Constitution meant something other than it had hitherto. The law that now must be obeyed was then to be evaded, as an impediment.
The committee eventually decided that women in one of the four dioceses (whose bishops are all members of the Episcopal
Synod of America) who wanted to be ordained priest would be forwarded to another diocese, and that a woman priest would be licensed to serve in a Synod diocese by a provincial bishop, but would otherwise function as a priest in the diocese. In exchange, orthodox men seeking ordination would not be penalised for their views (Ha! you say, rightly).
I can’t predict how these proposals will fare when they reach the bishops’ meeting this fall, or whether the other Synod bishops (one served on the committee) will accept them. I would guess not, because in doing so they would be authorising for their pastor someone whose sacramental acts were at least questionable, and this they have all refused to do.
And also, I think, because the Synod bishops are coming to the position many of its lay and clerical leadership have already come to: that contorted political and legal arrangements cannot solve what are primarily spiritual and theological problems; and in fact may make them worse. Speaking broadly, the years of struggle have produced a feeling among many that we should live or die by our witness, not by political power which we don’t have anyway.
The feminists and their allies do not want diversity, because you and I are evil. They want the imposition everywhere of “women in ministry”. The compromised and the company men agree, in part to please them and in part because they really hate it when people break company policy.
On the other hand, many bishops are scared that the Episcopal Church will divide or collapse completely. They were nervous before the suicide of the Bishop of Massachusetts and the revelations of his series of affairs, and then the embezzlement of over $2 million by the church’s treasurer, and the revelations that for years she had driven up to
the front of the church headquarters in limousines paid for by the church, and no one had thought to investigate.
For bishops who need their parishes’ contributions to cover their budgets, this does not seem the best time to alienate anyone.
The committee is holding a second meeting in early July, at which public testimony is invited. The Episcopal Women’ Caucus has asked as many of its members as possible to come and speak about “the pain of exclusion”.
Not of this world
More encouragingly, a few weeks later a conference titled Not of This World: An Ecumenical Conference for Traditional Christians asked how believers in all the churches could work, and think, together.
It attracted the usual numbers of Episcopalians, and a surprising number of Roman Catholics and Orthodox, the latter mostly converts, many hoping to evangelise among the disaffected Evangelicals and Anglicans. The main speakers included J.I. Packer and Kallistos Ware, and the American Roman Catholic writers Peter Kreeft and Richard John Neuhaus. Various lesser lights responded to the speakers.
In his opening address, Fr Neuhaus said that we are closer to each other when we are arguing about the truth than when we compromise the truth for a legal or institutional reconciliation. That proved the theme of the week, as much in informal conversation as in the papers and responses. People felt, I think, that if the Gospel is true, our best friends and allies are to be found among those who agree, even if we think they have got some important aspect wrong. It was an encouraging time.