Friday, November 03, 2006

Katherine as Patriarch, Primate and Presiding Bishop

reflections from Peter Toon

We must suppose that The Episcopal Church knows what it is doing in terms of its innovations for it has been creating them and pushing them since the late 1960s. On November l 2006 it revealed to the world yet another innovation—a married lady as its new patriarch and primate. This Church has been encouraged often by its ecumenical partners from the main-line denominations of the U.S.A. even as it has been warned by fellow Anglicans and Catholics of varied kinds.

Despite the clear doctrine of male headship in family and church set forth and presupposed throughout the whole of Scripture, and witnessed to by the church in virtually all its history since the close of the Canon of the Bible, the Episcopal Church claims to consecrate women as chief pastors (Prayer Book, 1979, pp.510ff). It also claims to have the authority to make a female bishop into its Presiding Bishop and actually did this in 2006 by electing Bp Katherine of Nevada. On November 4 she was publicly acclaimed as such in the National Cathedral in Washington D.C.

Let us get more clarity on the role of the Presiding Bishop of The Episcopal Church.

Functions and authority of the Presiding Bishop of ECUSA under Title I of Canons:

1. Chief Pastor and Primate of ECUSA. Canon I.2.4 (a).
2. Responsible for leadership in
• initiating and developing policy and strategy in ECUSA, and
• speaking for ECUSA as to its policies, strategies and programs. Canon I.2.4 (a) (1). 3. Speak God’s words to ECUSA and to the world, as the representative of ECUSA and its episcopate in its corporate capacity.Canon I.2.4 a) (2).
4. In the event of a vacancy within a Diocese, consult with the Ecclesiastical Authority to ensure that adequate interim Episcopal Services are provided. Canon I.2.4 (a) (3).
5. Take order for the consecration of Bishops, when duly elected, and assemble the Bishops of ECUSA to meet. Canon I.2.4 (a) (4).
6. Preside over meetings of the House of Bishops;and recommend legislation to General Convention and the Houses of ECUSA. Canon I.2.4 (a) (5).
7. Visit every Diocese in ECUSA for the purpose of:
• Holding pastoral consultations with the Bishop or Bishops thereof and, with their advice, with the Lay and Clerical leaders of the jurisdiction;
• Preaching the Word;
• Celebrating the Eucharist. Canon I.2.4 (a) (6). 8.
Report annually to ECUSA and, from time to time, issue pastoral letters. Canon I.2.4 (b).
9. Make appointments and delegate authority as appropriate to carry out his duties assigned by the canons or General Convention. Canon I.2.4(c).
10. Appoint a Chancellor to serve for as long as the Presiding Bishop may desire. Canon I.2.5.

Functions and authority of Presiding Bishop under disciplinary canons (Title IV).

1. The Presiding Bishop is the focal point for all disciplinary procedures
relating to a bishop under Title IV (The Disciplinary Canons).

• Charges against a Bishop are filed with the Presiding Bishop. Canon IV.3.24 & 26.
• The Presiding Bishop forwards the charges to the Review Committee. Canon IV.3.26.
• The Presiding Bishop on his own initiative may require the Review Committee to investigate any Bishop whom he believes has committed an offense. Canon IV.23 (b). • The Presiding Bishop appoints the five bishops who make up the episcopal membership of the Review Committee whose job it is to cause the charges to be investigated and to determine whether to issue a presentment against the Bishop charged. Canon IV.3.27 and 43.
• The Presiding Bishop may issue temporary inhibitions against bishops (Canon IV.1.4-6); and may determine punishment and sentence of bishops who may submit voluntarily to the discipline of ECUSA without trial (Canon IV.2.9-14).
• The Presiding Bishop receives and acts upon the certificate of the Review Committee when it finds that a Bishop has abandoned communion of ECUSA, including the imposition of an inhibition of such Bishop. (Canon IV.9.1).
• If a Bishop inhibited under Title IV.9 does not recant within two months of inhibition, the Presiding Bishop presents the matter to the House of Bishops for the Bishop to be deposed. (Canon IV.9.2). In addition to the foregoing functions and authorizations, there are a number of administrative functions provided in Title III (i.e., giving notice of a Bishop’s election, preparing a list of episcopal resignations, etc.), not viewed as substantive and not included here.

Now some of this can be seen as administrative; but stated or implied in many of these responsibilities and duties is a clear headship and rule. Of this there cannot be any doubt.

Therefore for The Episcopal Church both to consecrate women as bishops and to elect one such as the Presiding Bishop means that a significant majority in this Church has rejected the biblical teaching on and witness to male headship. They have done this for the following kinds of reasons:

1. Patriarchy and male headship were how society was organized in those far off days and do not belong to the core or essence of relationship with the Divine. As society and culture change so do our views as to the place and men and women in society. In 2006 there is equality and so what the Bible says or assumes is interesting but not mandatory.
2. Patriarchy and male headship were how God truly intended ancient Israel and the early Church to be the way the people of God were organized as a holy society. But God (who is in Process and in interaction with the cosmos) is changing (in fact has changed) and the will of God now is in accord with how things are within enlightened human society in this cosmos.
3. God is not male or female and, at a time and in a place where female and male have equal dignity and equality of rights and opportunities, it is important that God’s Ministers be not only both straight male and female persons but also homosexual, lesbian and bi-sexual persons.

In fact it seems all to go back to the basic questions: Who is God? Who is Jesus? And What is salvation? It does seem to be the case that classic Trinitarian Theism fits well with the presentation of generous and gracious patriarchy and male headship in Scripture. However for many Episcopalians such doctrines as Deism, Unitarianism, and especially Panentheism and Process Theology are common today and these ways of thinking about Deity actually undergird and propel novel doctrine and morality and the rejection of biblical patriarchy and ethics.

If we go outside the Canon of the New Testament and to the fourth century text known as “The Apostolic Constitutions” we find there in Book 3 (as we can find in other patristic literature) a doctrine that if one were to utter it today one would probably be prosecuted under some human rights law. It is this. The (supposed) sacramental ministrations of a (supposed) ordained woman are not merely invalid (they do not communicate the dynamic grace of God in Jesus Christ by the Holy Spirit) but they actually (because contrary to God’s Order) actually communicate the opposite of grace! (See further my Episcopal Innovations 1960-2004, 2006 from for more details of this patristic teaching).

One (contemporary Evangelical) way to reject male headship and continue to maintain both Trinitarian Theism and the authority of Scripture is to say—as does John G. Stackhouse. Jr., in Finally Feminist, Baker Books—that patriarchy was God’s chosen way of human organization in biblical times and afterwards and that to go against it then was certainly to go against his known will. However, one also goes on to say that God was knowingly then in his inscrutable wisdom accommodating his will to what was actually possible for human society—in fact he was accommodating to a necessary evil—and waiting for a time when under his providential superintendence his real will could be made known and genuinely experienced as good. Society is now reaching this stage and so the church can now at last proclaim the full dignity and equality of both women and men; women can now assume as occasion offers or requires headship in churches; and we can read the Bible without having to explain away or degrade its profound commitment to patriarchy (which was real for its time). [There is of course debate as to whether the thesis of Dr Stackhouse really works.]

The Roman Catholic Church and The Orthodox Churches say little these days, especially in Europe, about the biblical theme of patriarchy and male headship. They tend to justify the male only ordained Ministry on the simple basis of iconic representation—Jesus was a man and male in sex and so those who represent him at the Sacrament of the altar must likewise be men and male in sex, in order for the iconic reality to work as the divinely chosen way of grace and leadership.

So whether as Trinitarian Theists we follow the Scriptures in a common-sense literal way to accept male headship, or whether we simply follow the Catholic (West and East) doctrine of iconic representation, we end up with accepting both a male-only ordained Ministry and the doctrine that the sacramental ministrations of a woman, and pre-eminently of a woman as “Chief pastor and Priest”, are invalid and (dare we say it, echoing patristic thought) possibly spiritually harmful—at least to those who have been taught the true faith!

Kyrie eleison.

The Revd Dr. Peter Toon M.A., D.Phil (Oxford)

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