A discussion starter
Not a few people write to me to express their viewpoint that it is most regrettable that women's ordination is discussed alongside or together with the ordination of persons who openly state that they are "gay" and in a stable partnership, a relationship which they say should be blessed by the Church. The reason for this regret or even anger and pain is, I think, reasonably obvious in most cases. Most of the opposition to the ordination of women has been and remains intellectual [theological], with some emotional blow-ups here and there. Many church members cannot see the reasons for opposing the progress of women to leadership roles when they have moved ahead elsewhere. However, the resistance to "gay ordinations & partnerships" is in large part "aesthetic," in the sense that any kind of homosexual activity that is open and obvious affronts middle-class sensibilities. Thus the latter cause is likely to be resisted more and longer than the former in most of the churches.
The obvious reason why the two are linked together - and in this sense cannot be prized apart practically - is that in the second half of the 20th century (from the 1960s in particular) both innovations in the Church have gained their primary support from the powerful human rights movement (which has included many other rights in the civil sphere). Were it not for their skilful use of and immersion in the human rights movement, it is highly unlikely whether either would have gained the substantial victories that they have in the State and in the churches. We need to be wholly aware that since for practical purposes the language and content of modern morality in the West is dominated by human rights, once any group within society is able to demonstrate that its agenda and pleas are really all about human rights it is usually on a winning run for it has an acceptable moral foundation & case.
But of course more is needed that the context, ethos and principles of human rights for an agenda to become a church agenda. In the case of women being admitted to the role of pastors in the churches the Bible was brought in to assist the case for equality and dignity already made by human rights principles. And with spectacles created in the factory of human works the Bible was seen in new perspective and light. A whole industry of scholarship arose to present the meaning of the Bible in a different way than it had been read for centuries. Behind its obvious perceived patriarchalism and sexism, principles of equality were seen and these were harnessed for the cause. Thus a continuing favourite verse has been Galatians 3:28: "There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus." Some advocates of women's ordination within the churches even went so far as to claim that their case was wholly Biblical (for they were not fully aware of how a cultural context, ethos & zeitgeist affect one 's reading of the Bible).
Likewise with the blessing of same-sex partnerships and the ordaining of "gay" persons (male & female). In the powerful context of human rights & convinced by experience, reason and some selected scientific studies that what they had and enjoyed in their intimate same-sex partnerships was of God, religiously inclined "gay" persons and their supporters in the churches looked at the Bible in new light. What they saw was certainly God's condemnation of a variety of same-sex activities based on wild passion, prostitution, violence, child abuse and the like. But what they did not see or find - and this is hugely significant - was the condemnation of faithful, loving same-sex partnerships (simply because the ancient world did not encourage or know such relationships). Further, they made a lot of the fact that in the recorded teaching of Jesus there is no specific condemnation of same-sex relations. Thus they declared that the Bible does not address and therefore does not condemn faithful, monogamous, covenantal same-sex partnerships. And since their experience of them brought them blessings, they can be/even must be "of God". Thus they had the right to be blessed by the church in their partnerships.
So it has been the case that two different causes, both originating and energized by the human rights movement, have since the 1960s entered the church (where they were welcomed by some members and leaders) and have skilfully used the language of religion, the contents of the Bible and pre-eminently the name of "God" (which they have nearly successfully changed the grammatical gender of - from masculine to neither) to establish their innovations as not merely plausible but credible. In the one case, the ordination of women the work seems to be well on its way to being completed in the West/North in the Protestant Churches (with a minority still against it on theological grounds) and, in the other case, the acceptance of "gay partnerships", it is a work in progress but making major headway, even though still met by middle-class emotional opposition as well as (minority) intellectual/theological arguments. 2003 may the year for major steps forward being achieved by those pressing for full rights for "gay" persons in the churches.
It is true that a particular context or issue or scientific development within general culture can cause the Church to look into the Scriptures and see there teaching that previously had been missed or not taken seriously. This is hardly the case with respect to the ordination of women and of "gay" persons. Since the 1960s what has been seen in Scripture has generally speaking been found there to support a case that already is believed or assumed on the basis of secular culture, in particular human rights' claims.
The patristic argument against both women's ordination and all forms of sexual relations outside of marriage was based on Order - that is, within the creation of the cosmos and of human beings and also within the old and new covenants of grace there is a divine revealed Order and this exists to reflect the Holy Order that is the Holy Trinity (where the Father is first in Order, the Son second and the Holy Ghost, third in order). This Order is reflected in the word "God created man: male and female created he them" - i.e. created in an ordered relation and thus the man is first in order and the women second and this order applies in the sexual relation of holy matrimony and in the ordering of the Church.
The Rev'd Dr. Peter Toon M.A., D.Phil. (Oxon.)