Actions speak louder than words
Geoffrey Kirk on the use of Scripture
Actions speak louder than words – especially when the words verge on the fraudulent.
The truth is that the case from Scripture and tradition, for the ordination of women to the priesthood and the episcopate, is pathetically weak. Michael Adie proclaimed, in 1992, that women’s ordination was a development ‘consonant with Scripture and required by the tradition.’ In the twelve succeeding years it cannot be said that those claims have been made good. And reliance on that tired workhorse Galatians 3.28 is open to the obvious refutation (as Tom Wright has pointed out) that the passage is about baptism, not about Holy Orders.
Recent attempts to provide a biblical justification for consecrated women have tended to give up even on Adie’s modest claim. The talk is now about ‘the overall trajectory of Scripture.’ ‘The main teaching of Scripture is the essential dignity, equality and complimentarity of the whole of humanity before God,’ wrote David Gillet in a paper quoted by the Rochester Report. It is a bold claim; but also a strange one. For to assert that, whilst Scripture does not explicitly sanction women’s ordination, its general trajectory leads inexorably to that conclusion, is surely to place undue confidence in personal interpretation. Wise men will always be inclined to doubt the good sense of those who suppose that they can sum up ‘the main teaching of Scripture’ in a single sentence.
And in any case, to base an argument for change on what is admittedly not addressed in Scripture itself, but only alleged to be implied by it, is to begin work on a very shaky foundation. One wonders if Bishop Gillet has exercised his talents in respect of other literary works: The Tempest, for example, or Little Dorrit. What is their main theme, and to what do they inexorably tend? His views on the life of Prospero after the return to Milan, or on the married life of Mr and Mrs Arthur Clenam would certainly be entertaining. But it would be a foolish man who mistook them for Shakespeare or Dickens!
Where the Tradition is concerned, things are no better for the innovators. The arguments from the ‘full humanity’ taken by Jesus at the incarnation, and the alleged implications of the notorious apothegm of Gregory Nazianzen, look naïve and decidedly threadbare in the light of a careful examination of the work of John Damascene and Theodore of Studios on the theology of images.
The attempt to people the first century Mediterranean with Christian apostles, priestesses and even bishopesses looks increasingly desperate. With its concomitant theories of male conspiracies of concealment and its increasing dependence on the near-mythical figure of Mary Magdalene, it is more like the Da Vinci Code fantasies recently denounced by the Archbishop of Canterbury, than a real contribution to serious scholarship.
Why in the world, you will ask, has the Church of England allowed itself to go ahead on the basis of this unholy conjunction of doubtful conjecture and wilful confection? The answer is not far to seek.
The strength of support for women’s ordination lies with neither Scripture nor tradition – and never has. These have always been the religious fig-leaf masking secular values and political correctness. Though proponents have denied it, there is a Liberal Agenda, and women’s ordination is merely a part of it. The rest is rolling on very nicely, so the pressure is now on to tidy things up on the ordination front. Consider two recent events.
In England (lauded by Christina Rees on behalf of WATCH, GRAS, Inclusive Church or which ever organisation she was representing at the time) there was the Private Members motion for women bishops introduced under the ten minute rule by Chris Bryant, a Labour MP in Wales who was formerly a CofE priest. In one sense the Bill was a mere triviality: it had little or no chance of passing into law. But it clearly expressed what is, for many, the real status of the issue. Forget Scripture, tradition or theology: this is being seen, in reality, as a matter of basic justice and human rights: as one, moreover, which takes precedence over other rights, for example the religious freedoms of opponents who are members of the Church of England.
The willingness to use Parliament, with its surviving anachronistic dominance in matters ecclesiastical, is fundamentally unprincipled, and at the same time eloquent of the actual state of affairs. The advocates of women priests and bishops do not want – and have not been listening to – theological argument and scriptural exegesis. They are happy (‘This is fantastic. It reflects a widespread move for women bishops, not just in the Church but in wider society. This is a very interesting development,’ said Christina) to see their opinion imposed by the State – and so, quite literally, to outlaw those conscientiously opposed.
As though to confirm this, things in Sweden have been taken to a further logical stage. Anders Wejryd, Bishop of Vaxjo in southern Sweden who has been elected the next archbishop of the (Lutheran) Church of Sweden to succeed retiring K.G. Hammar, has told male priests they must work with ordained women or face the nation’s anti-discrimination laws. Speaking to the Dagens Nyheter daily newspaper after his appointment was announced, Wejryd said he would not hesitate to report male priests who refused to work with female priests to the police. ‘We have a law against discrimination, and in these cases it is a question of particularly insulting treatment,’ Wejryd told the press.
The Church of Sweden, English readers should note was recently ‘disestablished.’ The prospect of an archbishop hauling faithful priests before a secular court in order to impose on them an innovation which was initially imposed on an unwilling Church by the same secular authority only fifty years ago, is both absurd and profoundly disturbing. The precedent which it sets for the total dismemberment of Christian culture in a post-Christian democracy is chilling. Yet hardly a soul in Sweden, within or without the Swedish Church, has shown the slightest concern. That is the way we live now. Actions speak louder than words. You will draw your own conclusions.