Sunday, December 1, 2013

"not biblically backed" and "not proved to help the Church"

The Church of the Province of Central Africa (Anglican) has rejected ordaining women at its recent synod meeting. According to Bishop of Northern Malawi, the Rt Revd Fanuel Magangani:
“One person ordained in one diocese may get rejected in another thereby compromising the collegiality of the Province. ... The ordination of women is not biblically backed and has also not proved to help the Church since inception in the 70s.”
Really? There's so much misinformation in this statement that I can hardly believe this bishop ever made it through seminary, let alone become a bishop. Let's unpack this statement point by point:


Collegiality among clergy is important; however, it lacks ultimate importance. This Gospel is of ultimate importance. Collegiality is nice and to claim that somehow women will "compromise" it is foolishness. Women have been spreading the Gospel for 2,000 years and were the first witnesses to the resurrection. Did the fact that our risen Lord began his revelation of resurrection power to women and entrust that message to them compromise the collegiality of the male disciples? I think not. Did the fact that Phoebe of Cenchrea, a deaconess in the first century Church there, delivered Paul's letter to the Romans compromise that church's collegiality? I think not.

Florence Li Tim-Oi was the first Anglican woman to be ordained priest in the 1940's to serve as a priest in Macau during the Japanese occupation in WWII. She gracefully resigned her license (but not her priestly ordination) at the end of the war and in 1971, when Hong Kong ordained two more women, her license was reinstated. Recently, the Windsor Report discussed how women's ordination was handled throughout the Anglican Communion and how we could move forward even when collegiality is impaired.

When we make collegiality more important than recognizing the Spirit's outpouring of gifts and graces on women (and LGBT persons too), we raise collegiality up has having ultimate importance - and this is idolatry. Christ and the Gospel have ultimate importance. Collegiality is nice ... but is not requisite for salvation.

Not biblically backed

If we get down to it, no ordination is "biblically backed." Jesus never ordained anyone. Care to show me in the Bible where he did? I'm waiting ... and hearing nothing but crickets.

In my tradition, Holy Orders is a sacrament - an outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual grace. Yes, Jesus called twelve male disciples. On this we can agree. But none of them was ordained in the sense that we understand this sacrament today. Jesus also had many women following him, some of whom were bankrolling his operation (see Luke 8:3). It was women who were the first to witness the resurrection and to share its good news. Women were prominent leaders in the churches which received letters from Paul. Read the end of Romans, 1st & 2nd Corinthians and notice all of the female names Paul mentions! If these women were not Spirit filled leaders, what exactly were they? And they are all mentioned in the Bible ... yes, biblically backed indeed.

Not proved to help the church

First, the idea that the inception of ordaining women dates to the 1970's is ridiculous. The aforementioned Li Tim-Oi notwithstanding, other branches of the Christian family have been ordaining women in this country since the mid-19th century. And if we include all the women who worked with Paul ... well now we're going back to the '50's ... I mean as in 50 A.D.

And so we have not "proved to help the church" ... really? I daresay those Anglicans who received the sacraments from Florence Li Tim-Oi were helped when they were under occupation (and they kept the church going in Macau with her help). I know of many churches in redevelopment where women have entered as their priests to heal conflicts, provide the sacraments, and are now growing vibrant congregations. I would love to invite Bishop Magangani to come to where I serve at Grace Church in Brunswick MD - a church which in 2 years time has gone from having 15-18 people in worship on any given Sunday to a worshiping community of 60+ who are actively engaging the gospel in our community and the world.

But this is Africa. They are more conservative.

One might argue for the cultural context to be considered here. After all, Central Africa's countries are "more conservative" than the United States. Well, to say Africa is a monolithic entity is false. The Bishop of Chad made the motion to allow women's ordination. There are provinces ready to affirm the gifts and graces of women ... and they are being spiritually impoverished in order to protect "collegiality," a faulty biblical interpretation, and the completely false assertion that the church has not been "helped" by women clergy.

And it isn't just in Africa ...

On November 13, 2013 Pastor Nadia Bolz-Weber of the House for All Sinners and Saints in Denver was excoriated on Twitter as an "unsanctified mess belonging to an "unbiblical office." Rachel Held Evans pointed out that a recent evangelical Christian conference only had four women speakers out of a roster of over 100 male speakers - she was denounced as "divisive." We'd like to think that we are more progressive than our sisters and brothers in Africa, but we are not. As a woman priest, I know I cannot serve throughout the Anglican Communion like my male colleagues can. There are those (both male and female) who still question the validity of my Orders strictly because I don't have a "Y" chromosome ... or as Pastor Nadia said they think in order to "be like Jesus, we have to pee like Jesus."

I pray for my sisters and brothers in Central Africa. I pray for those here who still cannot see the gifts of leadership bestowed by Christ on women for the benefit of his Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church.

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