Friday, July 3, 2015

How long, O Lord? How long?

It hasn't been a very quiet week in the news, both secular and sacred. SCOTUS cleared the way for same-sex marriages to be recognized in all 50 states thus upholding the 14th Amendment's guarantee to equal protection under the law for our sisters and brothers in SS relationships. Now the Episcopal Church followed suit at their triennial General Convention with opening up the marriage rites for SS couples and removing gender specific language. A robust parental leave policy was passed by our General Convention bringing justice to families having children. Money was allocated to new church starts and advocacy for women serving the church. I celebrate and give thanks for all these developments. But as an ordained woman, there is, in the words of Jesus, "one thing lacking." We still, as a Church, bow to the conscience clause.

While this is a bit of "insider baseball" to the Episcopal Church, it has serious ramifications for ordained women. We have ordained women for almost 40 years and, when women's ordination was originally approved in 1976, a "conscience clause" was put in place allowing bishops who did not agree with women's ordination to refuse to:
  • Ordain women
  • Allow congregations under their jurisdiction to call a woman priest
This allowed the Episcopal Church to be the "big tent" it historically has been in accommodating disagreement and holding the tension.

In 1997, the "conscience clause" was technically repealed. Technically. Bishops could no longer refuse ordination to women just because they were ... women. Technically. They also could not prevent a church from calling a woman priest to serve them. Technically. But there are ways around this letter of the law. Like still refusing to ordain women but directing them to a "friendly diocese" or a "friendly bishop." Like not promoting qualified women for calls to churches and not hiring them for diocesan positions even though they are eminently qualified.

Those who oppose women's ordination to the priesthood base their foundational argument on two points. First, a woman cannot stand "in persona Christi" (in the person of Christ) at the altar due to their chromosomal make up. The counter argument is that Christ is not the same as the human Jesus of Nazareth (who we affirm as the human embodiment of the Christ of God). Christ consciousness is not limited by biological limitations. It is found in Spirit and in Truth ... and among women and men.

The second point is that Jesus never called women as disciples - he only called 12 men. Well, that's true. But if we step out of gender for a moment and apply that argument in a different way, its foolishness becomes evident. Jesus never called any Asian, Black, Latino or ... wait for it ... White men either! Jesus called Palestinian Jews as his inner circle. If we apply the logic based on ethnicity, then most of our House of Bishops should immediately resign. Clearly, that's not going to happen and it sounds utterly racist and ridiculous. So if it is bigoted to apply the logic based on race, why is it acceptable to apply it to gender or sexual orientation?

I hope one day we can truly repeal the "conscience clause" once and for all. Getting off on technicalities isn't edifying the Body of Christ. It's time ... 40 years is long enough ... too long actually.

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