A discussion starter
I often ponder why it is that some of the “orthodox” Primates of the Global S0uth happily support the ordaining of women in their own dioceses and provinces, and – in the case of the Primate of Rwanda – authorize the same in the Anglican Coalition in Canada (the sister network of the Anglican Mission in America).
I suspect that it has – at this stage – little do with human rights and much to do with the fact that certain women are seen to have ministerial gifts and do exercise them to the salvation of souls and the edification of the faithful. So they are ordained as a recognition of what God has done in them and does through them, and in context where tribal society has no rules which exclude women from certain roles.
(And we may recall this was also the basis of the ordination of women in Pentecostal circles many years before the human rights movement affected the mainline churches. Further, we may recall that women missionaries had set examples in Africa from the nineteenth century through to the late twentieth century of doing much more and having greater responsibility in the missionary than the home church.)
Patriarchy in African Churches is seen as belonging to the Bishop as “Father in God” (see the Ordinal in the classic BCP) not to the Presbyter; and the fullness of “Father in God” is seen as belonging to the Archbishop or Primate, who, like the tribal chief, is always to be a man and to have real authority. (One sees this generous but real patriarchy at work, for example, in the way in which the group of African Primates gives instructions and judgments to the AMiA and to the ACinCanada. They expect that their word will be “law” and will be carried out joyfully and wholly by their assisting bishops and presbyters in the USA & Canada.)
Only in Southern Africa has the human rights movement in general, with the feminist movement in particular, had a major impact on the doctrine and practice of the Church, and so in South Africa the Anglican Church usually adopts views which are parallel to those in the Western Churches in North America and Europe, and uses human rights’ language, as if it were the language of Christian morality.
As far as I can tell, the provinces in the Global South which allow the ordination of women (but do not mandate it) are not self-consciously affected by the human rights agenda which demands that women be fully equal to men, including job opportunities in the church. Yet this does not mean that they are not affected by such propaganda for they do have access to mini-TVs and radios which bring them news from all over the world. What this may mean is that they are not self-consciously saying – “Woman and man are equal before God and have equal rights in his world and therefore the Christian Bible must (if read aright) really teach that women should be pastors of the flock of Christ” – but that this message is there in the background, in the air breathed, and it may be making it easier for Provinces in the Global South to allow the ordination of women.
All this said, the question arises: Will the ordination of women become in the Global South – as it has done so clearly in the West/North – an open door through which further claims on the basis of human rights come rushing in? My thought is that maybe not in this decade but possibly in the next in some provinces! However, where there is an Islamic context, few “advances” in human rights claims in the churches will occur in the near future.
In Europe and America, there is very little doubt but that it was the pressure of active feminists (male and female) which was the immediate cause for the main-line Churches to move to ordain women. This has been well documented and is doubted by few. (See e.g., Mark Chaves, Ordaining Women, Harvard University Press, 1997) Theological reasons were given to support what was demanded and then achieved on the basis of human rights doctrines. Biblical exegesis was brought into service of this cause but generally it did violence to the basic meaning of the texts and the analogy of faith for the Bible is irreducibly patriarchal! However, stating this does not negate the fact that many women really and truly have believed, and been encouraged to believe by others, that God was calling them to a presbyterate ministry, and further, in that ministry they have done and continue to do real good pastorally. God is gracious and often is pleased to bless that which is contrary to his Order for his Church.
Because the ordaining of women was clearly an acceptance of human rights in and by the mainline churches, it is both to be linked to other examples of the influence of human rights (e.g., the right to re-marriage in church by divorcees) and further, with them, to setting the mindset where other more examples of human rights claims were seen as required by a progressively liberal church doctrine. (All this has often based on Process Theology where God is presented as in process and thus changing and so the Church has to discern where the change is and go with it!)
It is very clear that the demands and claims of the LesBiGay lobby have worked on and from the stage of Christianized human rights doctrines which were used to cause the entry of theological and practical innovations in church life from the 1960s onwards. It has taken longer for “homosexual rights” to be generally accepted than rights for “heterosexuals” and for women in the mainline churches simply because there is a greater social and cultural resistance to overcome when the topic is what used to be called “sodomy.” (See further for the details my Episcopal Innovations, 1960-2004, from www.anglicanmarketplace.com or 1-800-PBS-1928)
However, it is reasonably clear that the same kind of biblical exegesis and interpretation which has been used to justify the right to remarriage in church and the right of a woman to be a presbyter is that which is used by the advocates of convenanted same-sex partnerships. In the West, it is therefore most likely, in the ethos of human rights which dominates life in general, that a church which changes its received doctrine on marriage and male “headship” is wide open to changing its doctrine on same-sex activities and relationships. It has no leg to stand on to stop at one point or another!
In Africa, especially where there remains strong tribal feeling and where there is the competitive pressure of Islam, the likelihood of the churches which ordain women moving rapidly to blessing same-sex unions is highly unlikely in the immediate future. Yet the human rights ethos and agenda is a very powerful one and no-one has yet clearly shown where are the brakes to apply in order to slow it down. Further, since the Western mainline churches have changed their received ways of biblical interpretation and exegesis because of human rights pressures, it is difficult to know where this approach will lead and what it will justify!
One final point. I worry that the conservative Primates of the Global South do not fully realize just how influential and powerful has been and is the human rights agenda/ ethos in Europe and America, and thus they do not full see that their support of women’s ordination (or their non-opposition to it) is actually contributing in ways that are not too far below the surface to the erosion of the very Faith which they want to maintain and support! Again, not because women are evil and men are good, but because to ordain women is to set aside God’s will in creation and in the new covenant that man is male and female, in that order.
The Rev’d Dr Peter Toon April 2, 2006