Women’s Ordination: The ACNA’s Trickiest Minefield

…and they’ve stepped into it with their report on the subject, visible here.

The image opponents of WO dread the most: Navy Chaplain Jerry McNabb saluting his female superior at his retirement.

The ACNA came into the world with considerable baggage, some of which was due to the way they had to “patch together” the institution from several provincial efforts.  That was one of those things that led Greg Griffith to swim the Tiber, characterising the effort as  having “…the institutional feeling of something held together by duct tape and baling wire.”

But the ACNA also came into the world with two unresolved issues: the Anglo-Catholic vs. Reformed (or Evangelical, or Charismatic, or…) divide and women’s ordination.  The two are related to some degree but are certainly not same.  This report represents trying to “start a conversation” on the subject, and that in the Anglican/Episcopal world is always a dangerous proposition.

The report makes it clear that, for the moment, there is no change in real policy, which leaves the issue as a diocesan option.  And I would confess that I have not gone through its 316 pages myself.  Having said that, I will outline my position on the subject, one which I have discussed before.

In supporting the practice, Lord Carey has referred to Acts 2:

‘It shall come about in the last days,’ God says, ‘That I will pour out my Spirit on all mankind; your sons and your daughters shall become Prophets, your young men shall see visions, and your old men dream dreams; Yes, even on the slaves–for they are mine–both men and women, I will in those days pour out my Spirit… (Act 2:17-18 TCNT)

That’s a pretty strong statement and a strong case.  If women can get the prophetic gift, why not the rest?  That said, and looking at everything else, for a church to have women’s ordination, two things must be in place.

The first is that the gifts of the spirit must still be operating in the church.  It doesn’t make sense to ordain women based on the prophetic gifts when same have ceased.  That leaves the cessationists out, which takes most of the Reformed types with them.

The second is that the church cannot claim the magisterium, i.e., the ability to authoritatively interpret the Scriptures and establish doctrine.  That leaves out Roman Catholicism and the Anglo-Catholic community, although the latter has its own authority issues.

Protestant churches de jure deny the magisterium, but de facto you’d never know that based on the way many act.  I discussed this issue in my piece Authority and Evangelical Churches.  Beyond that, a church which claims the continuance of the gifts of the Spirit enters into a different concept of authority whether it wants to admit it or not.

With Anglicanism things are a muddle, because, while they retained the episcopal form of government and set forth the Articles of Religion, they denied the magisterium.  I had an interesting discussion on this and other topics on the authority of the church with the “Ugley Vicar,” the late John Richardson.

At this point I think the ACNA is between a rock and a hard place because, while it could go one way, the other, or take its half out of the middle, it embodies so many other contradictions in its borders it’s going to have a hard time doing things consistently one way or the other.  It’s an unenviable position.

There are two other important points that I would like to make.

The first is that WO isn’t a “women’s rights” issue.  The Episcopal Church has discredited the concept by making it one.  There were women ministers in Pentecostal churches long before Robert Appleyard ordained the first ones in what was then PECUSA, but they not only didn’t do it as a women’s rights issue, they were of an entirely different character.

The second is that you cannot separate the issue of women ministers from women bishops.  If the laity must come under the “authority” (see above) of a woman as rector, then the clergy can do the same under a bishop.  Clergy exempting themselves from things like this is about as admirable as Congress exempting itself from the many things it imposes on us.

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