The following link will take you to a sermon by Dr. Ann Paton of the Diocese of Pittsburgh that was sent to me this morning.Dr. Paton is ordained and conservative. In this sermon she calls for the ACNA to remove any restrictions to the consecration of female bishops. I hesitated to link her sermon because I know well how contentious these sorts of discussions can be, but it is important, in my view, that issues like this, once raised, are discussed and debated thoroughly. Indeed, if the new province is going to survive they must be dealt with definitively. Canon 4 of the Provisional Canons of the ACNA reads:
Eligibility for bishop must include being a duly ordained male[bold added] presbyter of at least 35 years of age, who possesses those qualities for a bishop which are in accordance with Scriptural principles, and who has fully embraced the Fundamental Declarations of this Province.
I can tell you that, regardless of varied personal views and positions, there is wide, broad, and deep consensus on the part of ACNA leaders that the consent to the election of female bishops would doom the province.
The genius of the WO compromise adopted at the most recent Common Cause Council is that it commits the province, constitutionally, to a policy of non-interference. Using language adapted from the First Amendment of the US Constitution, Article VIII.2 of the Constitution of the ACNA reads:
“The Province shall make no canon abridging the authority of any member dioceses, clusters or networks (whether regional or affinity-based) and those dioceses banded together as jurisdictions with respect to its practice regarding the ordination of women to the diaconate or presbyterate.”
Dioceses, networks, and clusters are free to determine their own practice without fear of penalty or intervention by any specially charged “compliance” task force. This is, admittedly, something less than full theological unity and it does, by implication, suggest that the question of ordained women in the church is a second order question (as many, myself included, believe it to be), but it is sufficient for the day. It provides for the highest level of unity possible between those who hold different views of the place of women in ministry.
The election of a female candidate for bishop would push this delicate compromise to the breaking point. For Anglo-Catholics (and I hope my Anglo-Catholic friends will correct me if I am misrepresenting their views here) a bishop is not only the overseer of his particular jurisdiction, but he is also a bishop of the Church in general. He is the embodiment of the doctrine and discipline of the Church as a whole. So in addition to the simple invalidity of such an act on a sacramental level, to purport to consecrate a female to the office of bishop would also represent an attempt to alter the essential character of Christ’s body in a way that the ordination of presbyters does not. For that reason, those in the ACNA opposed to WO are able to remain in communion with male bishops who ordain women but they would not be able to remain in communion with female bishops.
The election of a female bishop by any entity within the ACNA would also split evangelicals. Many evangelicals in the ACNA (I’m thinking of the REC and AMiA folks in particular) do not accept the ordination of women to the diaconate and/or presbyterate on biblical rather than ecclesial grounds. The consecration of a female to the office of bishop, the primary leadership position in the church, would, for many evangelicals (myself included), represent a direct challenge to the scriptural principle of male headship in a way that the ordination of women to the deaconate or presbyterate does not.
Many, both Anglo-Catholics and evangelicals, would be unable to remain united within the province if women were consecrated as bishops. It would be suicidal.
Within the larger context of the core theological unity of the ACNA as expressed in Article I of the Constitution, there are many matters, both theological and ecclesiological, that set members of the ACNA at odds. It is not good to suppress debate of these things for the sake of unity. Unity suffers as a result of such superficiality. There must, after all, be “divisions among us” as Paul says. At the same time, there are certain matters, and WO is one of them, with the potential to permanently divide. Debate must continue but to move from the present constitutional and canonical position would destroy the greater unity of the new church. While there are certain matters worth separation—those that constitute clear, persistent, and unrepentant violations of biblical commands and principles—the election of women to the office of bishop, an act unmentioned, unmandated, and in my opinion unwarranted in scripture, is certainly not one of them.