They’re coming at a pace.
Last year, a church tribunal decided that there was no canonical bar to women becoming bishops (they are already ordained priest in many of our dioceses). Then, a few weeks ago, the bishops met up to agree a protocol to manage the consecration of women and protect the good consciences of those who were in disagreement.
Almost immediately Perth (long a bastion of liberal theology) announced the imminent consecration of Kay Goldsworthy. Conservative groups were dismayed. Here’s what the Anglican Church League had to say:
The ACL notes with sadness the decision of Archbishop Roger Herft and the Perth Diocesan Council to nominate Ms Kay Goldsworthy as an assistant bishop [pdf] within the Diocese of Perth.
While a deeply flawed Appellate Tribunal opinion in 2007 suggested there was no legal impediment to this move (and Archbishop Herft himself sat on that tribunal), it remains at odds with the Bible’s teaching on the appropriate relationship of men and women in and amongst the congregations of God’s people.
This action adds a new level of difficulty to the relationship between the various dioceses in the Anglican Church of Australia and raises a series of significant issues of conscience for those committed to living out the teaching of Scripture, rejoicing in that teaching as God’s good word to us. In a time of turmoil within the Anglican Communion we could have hoped for more restraint.
This morning I woke up to the news that Melbourne diocese have taken the same move.
What is shocking about this is that, unlike Perth, Melbourne has a very broad spectrum of views within it. Rather than a move that will alienate other dioceses, this is something that will cause further division. And that in a diocese still in great disagreement over the subject of abortion and the way that a report affirming the gradualist position was presented on their behalf to the Victoria Law Commission. Whether there are protocols or not, this is being rushed in on a denomination which are clearly not all in agreement. Not least, Sydney (which represents nigh on half the Anglicans in Australia) are clearly opposed to the move, and there are many throughout the nation’s Anglicans who are similarly unhappy.
One of the bodies representing them is “Equal but Different” (EBD).
Equal but Different is committed to the historic and Biblical understanding of men and women as individuals created in the image of our loving Creator God, equally fallen in our human nature and equally able to be saved by our Saviour the Lord Jesus Christ, so that we might honour him and serve each other in relationships of loving male leadership and intelligent, willing female submission in the family and the church.
This applies to single and married women alike in the life of our Christian community, although it has a special relevance to marriage and the raising of children. The church can model for all society the beauty of right relationships, as men and women cooperate within their distinctive roles as God intended.
We realise this is counter-cultural in our feminist society but believe the teaching of the Bible is clear and relevant to our day, despite the passage of time and cultural change.
In the ACA as it now stands, women can be ordained as priests, and can preach and lead parishes in most dioceses. A recent controversial decision by the ACA Appellate Tribunal has ruled there is no constitutional barrier to women being consecrated as bishops. The appointment of a woman as bishop in Perth is a consequence of this decision.
In dioceses which have not accepted these innovations, however, the ministry of women who have been ordained as priests is not always welcome or recognized, and even within those dioceses where women are ordained, there are individual churches that do not believe women should have identical ministries with men and would resist the appointment of a female priest, and within individual churches, there are people who believe the same.
Acceptance has been far from uniform. At every level from the national church right down to the person in the pew, there are those who have remained faithful to the scriptural teaching of differing ministries for men and women and not departed from this biblical pattern or Anglican tradition.
The innovation of women in the priesthood, and now women in the episcopate, means we are a church divided, without a common ministry and more significantly, without a common understanding of the word of God.
That is, ultimately, why so many of us are up in arms about this. Not only is it a rejection of the word of God, but the way it has been carried out is, to be generous, “through the back door”. The Melbourne decision indicates that sensitivity to those who are opposed can be simply deferred to the existence of “protocols”. These will be a tough few months ahead. What might Australian conservatives learn from the history of TEC? Time will tell.