Monday, January 08, 2007

Fear Wins A Round?

Well, sorta'.

The Anglican Communion's Panel of Reference has released their recommendations regarding Fort Worth's appeal over its moratorium against ordaining women.

Based on the report itself, it seems Bishop Iker and his Diocese appealed because they were afraid of the following:

(1) That a canonical change passed in 1997 by General Convention would force the remaining holdouts (three dioceses) in The Episcopal Church to begin ordaining women.

(2) That Fort Worth would not, upon Bishop Iker's retirement, be able to elect a new bishop opposed to the ordination of women and successfully see him through the required consent process.

(3) That Forth Worth would no longer be a member of the Anglican Communion. There's a subtext there worth noting, but I'll leave that for others or maybe another post here at some point.

Here's a quote from the Report proper: Ideally the Diocese of Fort Worth ought to be able to find a place within ECUSA without a sense of isolation or victimization.

I'm reminded of a scene from Monty Python's Quest for the Holy Grail, in which a peasant yells, "Help, help, I'm being repressed!"

More seriously, I am reminded of the complaints of a white supremacist at an undergraduate school I attended. He frequently opined he was being marginalized because his views (which included heterosexism, antisemitism, overt racism, and a denial that the Holocaust was an historical event) were not given a "fair" hearing. It's an extreme example, but one worth noting as it highlights what can happen when our oppressive or exclusivist viewpoint is no longer mainstream in a given context. We might suddenly cry foul and assume our own victimization.

The Panel found that, in fact, Fort Worth has a process in place in which women seeking Holy Orders are referred to the Diocese of Dallas, and, if ordained women enter the Diocese of Fort Worth (25% of the diocesan members support the ordination of women, according to the report), they are overseen by Dallas with Fort Worth's cooperation.

On the surface, this seems to be a compromise worthy of being called Anglican, but when I put myself in the shoes of a woman seeking Holy Orders, at best I would feel patronized. At worst, this is what I imagine I would be hearing:

"That's okay, I'll send you elsewhere, because I don't want to soil my hands or conscience by ordaining you." The message this sends: I'm dirty or there's something wrong with me since I am a woman seeking Holy Orders.

The problem here is that all of this appears to be deeply rooted in a theology of fear:

Firstly, fear of change.

Secondly, fear of the other: fear of other dioceses who ordain women (that they might not consent to the consecration of another opposed-to-ordination-of-women bishop in Fort Worth).

Thirdly, fear of women. That they might somehow contaminate the holiness of the Church? Or the sacred hands of men? Or the sacraments would be less than valid? Or a sacred apostolic tradition would be lost? (That the essential apostolic tradition makes no mention of gender requirements seems not to apply.) But there are plenty of theological arguments on this elsewhere. Scholarship and incarnational witness around the ordination of women is easy to find and very well-developed, now that it is almost forty years in practice in The Episcopal Church.

Fourthly, fear of The Episcopal Church proper and recent decisions of General Convention. Fort Worth and Bishop Iker seemed to lose very little time in launching their appeal as soon as the Panel of Reference became available. They are eager to distance themselves from the authority of The Episcopal Church and get close, along with other "network" constituents with the Archbishop of Canterbury and other Primates so they can survive somehow as Anglicans when, in some hoped-for apocalyptic moment, The Episcopal Church ceases to be part of the Anglican Communion. I hear echoes of Revelation or maybe even the Left Behind series.

The Panel of Reference, in some attempt to be evenhanded, recommends that The Episcopal Church "clarify" its stance towards dioceses not ordaining women.

It seems to me an effort to assuage the fears of Fort Worth and +Iker. This the Panel justifies with the process of reception by which the Anglican Communion as a whole discerns the ordination of women (and makes room for provinces who disagree to remain in communion). I am tempted to call this a lengthy probation period, in which, as Bishop Iker indicates in response to the Panel's recommendations, the church may decide, even after several generations, to turn back the clock and end the ordination of women. Or so he hopes, it would appear.

I find this at first to be an uncomfortable warning. If we take +Iker's understanding of reception seriously, no ordained woman in this church or anywhere in the Anglican Communion can presently be assured that her ordination will be considered valid, simply by virtue of her gender, in ten, twenty, or fifty years -- and that includes ++Katharine Jefferts Schori.

Fear begets fear. That the women priests, deacons, and bishops I know and, I'm sure including ++KJS, have chosen to end the cycle by refusing to live into this fear commends courage and exemplifies a deep trust in God. May we all learn from them.

At the end of the day, this is not ultimately about +Jack Iker, Fort Worth, Quincy, or San Joaquin. . .or The Episcopal Church. . .or The Anglican Communion.

It's about misogyny. And, like all "isms," it is rooted in fear. My good friend, John Kirkley, sums it up in no uncertain terms over at meditatio. Just to be clear, most of us guys are recovering mysogynists at some level. It's still in the cultural water. Remember, for example, that women's suffrage only became reality in America in the twentieth century. I say this to make only one point: I am not, in this piece, trying to vilify +Iker or anyone else opposed to the ordination of women. He's certainly got a bad enough rap from me already. But I am trying to cast light on the root of the opposition in all of us.

Anglicanism has been a good place for pastoral accomodation. We have a penchant for giving each other room when we disagree. And every community has to deal and live with a certain level of fear much of the time if, for no other reason, to keep conflict at bay. Like a family, we have to find a way to relate with and even love the sexist uncle, the homophobic parent, or the racist sibling.

But, ultimately, the Gospel demands that the fear be addressed, and the resulting conflict must be managed.

We're not good at that yet. The present conflaguration over human sexuality is a case in point.

At some stage, The Episcopal Church will need to draw the line on the ordination of women. Apparently the 1997 canonical change wasn't clear enough. Having a woman Presiding Bishop is not yet a strong enough signal, either. Or perhaps she is. Maybe this is one reason Fort Worth was one of the first out of the gate with an appeal for "alternative primatial oversight." Ah, I begin to understand.

They see the handwriting on the wall: keeping women out of ordained ministry is a dying regime in this province.

I guess that would frighten me, were I in their shoes. But surely their God is greater than their fears.

Mine sure is.

Mark Harris has a take on this subject in light of the announcement of the Anglican Covenant Design Committee. Father Jake has additional insights on this as well.


Adam Jacob said...

Due to circumstance, our family currently attends St. Paul's Cathedral in Peoria, IL, the see city of +Quincy. This issue (among others) has made it difficult to live into the life of the parish as fully as I'd like. Quincy is a much smaller diocese than Fort Worth, and there seems to be fairly unanimous support of Bp. Ackerman here (we're the only AlPO diocese without a Via Media chapter, so I don't even know how to locate those who feel as I do). After meeting the Bishop myself recently, I understand why. He's an absolutely delightful and joyful person, completely at odds with the dourness I've seen from Duncan, Iker, Scofield, and especially our previous bishop, Peter Beckwith of Springfield.

I don't know how to reconcile my opposition to practically everything he's taken a public stand on (esp. ordination of women and GLBT persons) with the fact that he and I seem to get on famously. We're meeting later this week, even.

The fact is, it's over an hourlong drive to reach any progressive parish outside this diocese, including our beloved former parish. And being of modest means, we simply can't afford to make such a trek every week. And the cathedral community becomes more and more welcoming with each passing week.

Anyway, I have hopes that the next bishop here (which is at least five to ten years away, so hopefully we'll have moved to at least Chicago by then) will bring the diocese into line with the rest of the church, at the very least with regards to women's ordination. But I am concerned that, even if still somehow part of TEC, the diocese will elect another like-minded bishop, leading to a similar situation to what we see now in South Carolina.

Please pray for our diocese.

R said...


Thanks for visiting. Believe it or not, I was in Quincy for two years while attending Bradley University. I became a member at St. Paul's during that period and had a great time with delightful people. Even had a hand with some youth activities and co-taught Sunday School (albeit not very well!!!)

Bishop McBurney was diocesan then. He, too, was a delightful man personally, although I disagreed with his position on the ordination of women.

One thing I do clearly remember is that just before I moved away, Quincy was preparing to welcome +Ackerman. At their annual meeting, St. Paul's raised up a resolution to assemble a group of people to enter dialogue with the new bishop about the ordination of women. A number of clergy and a good portion of the congregation were supportive at that time. Those who were against stood up and were quite vociferous, if not mean, in their opposition.

I'll never forget the way the place became unzipped. People literally got up and went to one side of the room or the other either for or against the resolution. The resolute, and dare I say angry expression on McBurney's face (he was present) was one I had never seen before. Same was true of members of the congregation who had otherwise been friendly and generous with me and those who now I could see disagreed with them.

The resolution carried. And then everyone had lunch together (thank God.) But things in the diocese appeared to stay the same on the ordination of women.

Just an anecdote I wanted to share. Enjoy your time at St. Paul's, and you have my prayers, as does Quincy and Bishop Ackerman.

episcopalifem said...

Very interesting! And I couldn't agree with your thoughts more.


I once had a recent convert RC woman (who had been an Episcopalian) try to explain to me, while I was still RC, how a women representing Christ on the altar was a farce, and an embarassment, as it made fun of Christ's masculinity. She tried to tell me it would be like a woman actress playing Abe Lincoln.

UM...I don't think so.

Anonymous said...

It's all about power: Emotional, financial, psychological, ecclesial, and spiritual power. And it has no place in the Church.

Thanks for your good words, Richard.