Tuesday, 29 July 2008

What difference has thirty-two years of women’s ordination made in the American context?

Looking for something else, I came across this piece by the Revd Margaret R Rose, Director of Women’s Ministries, Episcopal Church USA. The title is the original and I would emphasise therefore that this is strictly "in the American context". It is quite long, and I've not read it all, but I was intrigued - well, stunned, actually - by this bit:
Just 2 years ago, January 2004 a gathering of 25 women, diverse in age, race and career path, all ordained 20 years or more gathered to take a look back, and a look forward. The questions we pondered were various aspects of: Was it worth it—for ourselves, for the church? And where do we go from here?

What emerged was that our call to priesthood, as shamans, as a way of representing the holy was as strong as ever. But that our commitment to the church as institution — well, we could take it or leave it.
A "shaman" can be defined as "A member of certain tribal societies who acts as a medium between the visible world and an invisible spirit world and who practices magic or sorcery for purposes of healing, divination, and control over natural events".

There is no way on God's good earth I would ever describe myself in those terms or want Christian 'priesthood' to be thought of that way. Bear in mind, moreover, this is not some fringe whacko but TEC's Director of Women's Ministry.

And this is the body with which the Windsor Continuation Group apparently wants disaffected members to be reconciled, after they've done time in the 'sin bin'.

John Richardson
29 July 2008

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  1. John, you're such a rationalist! do you object to my referencing of shamanism here in the same way? And if not, why not?

    Interesting program on Premier btw.

  2. Sam,

    "Jesus saith unto him, I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me." John 14:6 (King James Version)

    This has been a stumbling verse for many, and I continue to wrestle with it, but Jesus is the Way for me.

    As an American Episcopalian, I am ashamed to be placed in the position where shamans are in charge of the Church. Jesus help us, only You can save us.

  3. Sam,

    I read your blog entry, and my one comment is that Christianity is the one faith that is wholly trans-cultural and is distinguished by the Godhead being both the (single) path AND the summit. As Jesus said "I am the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me" (John 14:6) We can also characterise God as the One who finds us, rather than us searching for Him.

  4. Er... I'm not denying that Jesus is THE way, certainly so far as I can understand it.

  5. Sam

    You won’t be surprised that I find your posting ‘Why am I a Christian?’ problematic in several respects, not just with regard to the use by Margaret Rose of the term ‘shaman’ to describe the Anglican priesthood.

    First, there is a philosophical issue. You write that if you’d “been brought up in another culture”, you’d have still been doing the equivalent of what you are today. But of course that is a deeply problematic scenario in itself. If you’d been brought up in another culture, it would have been the result of birth in another place to different parents (presumably — or are they also part of the ‘if?). In fact, the whole speculation really comes down to ‘if I were someone else’, at which point it rather falls apart.

    The criticism is not trivial, since we can plausibly regard the circumstances of our existence as an outcome both of providence and grace. Thus the fact that we were not brought up in another culture is a cause for thanksgiving. Like the Jew in Romans 3, there is ‘much advantage in every way’ in having been born and brought up where we were.

    Just as problematic, however, is your expression “the equivalent of a priest”. Ignoring the philosophical problem, suppose you had grown up to be a prophet of Baal in the time of Elijah. Would this be a case of spiritual ‘equivalence’?

    Or moving to another context, suppose the you that is you had been born and brought up as an Inca. Would your joining the human-sacrificial priesthood of Inca ceremonial have been the equivalent of what you are today? I cannot help musing that the sursum corda would have had very different implications. (For non-liturgists, this is the bit in the Anglican Communion service where the priest says, "Lift up your hearts.")

    As to the ways up the mountain, as you acknowledge, Jesus said very clearly, ‘I am the way’. He is thus not the summit, but the very path itself. Thus there is only one path (though it would be another topic to discuss whether one can be on this path without knowing it - some of what you say in your posting, incidentally, suggests salvation comes to overtly 'good' pagans, which would contradict the gospel itself).

    And this has nothing to do with the insights of ‘Christianity’ (which I agree is sometimes not the same thing at all — much less when we are talking about denominational structures). Rather it is all to do with the nature of the one by whom, through whom, and for whom everything exists.

  6. "I cannot help musing that the sursum corda would have had very different implications. Dear Vicar, you have made me laugh out loud!

    Your view of the American scene is correct. Much as those evangelicals who have found a way to approve of women's ordination dislike the idea, ordaining women has indeed enabled the growth of all sorts of heresies and neo-pagan ideas. In the USA, the gay/lesbian agenda was part of the movement from the very first, something else our evangelicals have had a hard time realizing. Reading some of the comments from the leaders of the "code of practice" advocates in England leads me to believe that the same sorts of ideas are involved on your side of the ocean as well.

    Congratulations and best wishes, by the way. With 37 years of experience I can still heartily recommend marriage.

  7. I published this over at Stand Firm - Thanks John.
    Unfortunately they insist on staying and not leaving. I returned to the US last week from a week of family business. I spent a day with some wonderful Christian folk from my past. It was face to face and on the ‘phone. I was raising some prayer support in our next year grand adventure as missionaries in Peru They were incredulous at what is happening over here. It boggles the mind!
    There are still many who have not bowed the knee to Baal, however we are a distinct minority and many have been hounded out and persecuted.
    Thanks for helping get out the truth.

    Ian Montgomery+

  8. ...this is not some fringe whacko but TEC's Director of Women's Ministry.

    This is of course the same Women's Ministry which has been caught using Wiccan and Druidic prayers with scant changes, and a church which offered on the official TEC web site a book of love spells for sale. As a former Episcopalian, and still Anglican, I shake my head and wonder that it has come to this in less than two generations.

  9. John - fair points in what you say there, so let me unpack it a bit more.

    1. I think that all things were made through Jesus so I think people can have access to him/his grace wherever they are.
    2. When I say I'd be the 'same sort of thing', what I have in mind is those elements of other cultures that respond to the logos, which would include (but not be identical with) some of the religious elements in those cultures.
    3. I do still think there is an innate element to being ordained (ie part of how we are created) which would seek expression in whatever culture we were born into. Obviously this is hypothetical, and I accept, ultimately, your point that if you push it too far it becomes incoherent.
    4. I think I would say that you can be on the path without knowing it, and I don't believe that it contradicts the gospel to say so. Indeed I think it coheres quite strongly with what Jesus himself says, especially in Matthew's gospel.

    Love the sursum corda reference - that did make me laugh out loud.