03 October 2011

Women's ordination: The real question is...

I wrote this in German as a post on the blog "Frech. Fromm. Frau.", but felt it is useful as a worthwhile summary of my views on the issue of women's ordination. Here is a translation into English, slightly edited.

As a child, I experienced the controversy in the Episcopal Church USA over women's ordination, which was emotional and at times bitter. My mother was a diocesan delegate at the time and took me along to the plenary sessions. I can't remember much of the content, but I will never forget the very tense and angry atmosphere.

In the end, many opponents of women's ordination left the Episcopal Church and formed their own splinter churches, usually referred to as "Continuing Anglican" churches. Many of these are now forming a new anti-church, the Anglican Church of North America, or ACNA.

Thus after those bitter times, women's ordination was "legal", but it took some time before female priests became a reality for most people. After all, it takes time to educate and examine potential candidates. So you could say I experienced the whole development of women's ordination live.

For me, women's ordination is simply reality. Granting women holy orders is thus quite possible, period, end of story. Female priests are an enrichment of our lives -- insofar as one is open to the possibility.

I would say that they are not merely priests with XX-23 chromosomes. Women as priests bring change with them, and that is to be expected. However, I would also say that their gender had less to do with the changes relative to Roman Catholic priests than the fact that most are married and have children. That is the critical difference between Roman Catholic and Anglican or Old Catholic priests, not their gender. I am convinced of it.

There is also the question of whether such changes can be accepted by the grassroots. Here are the strongest arguments against women's ordination. It has little to do with Holy Scripture or dogma. Instead, it has everything do to with acceptance. The arguments for and against women's ordination are plainly smokescreens for what the individual people want -- otherwise one or the other side would have won the debate long ago and it would no longer be an issue. Instead, it grows.

If one tries to force their own idea through against the will of the grassroots, then schism is pre-programmed. You have to be honest enough to accept that as reality, whatever your theology. The only question is how this schism is handled or discussed. The model of "flying bishops" in the Church of England was a messy compromise, but it did work rather well for a time, until that compromise began to crumble because of pressure from the left, and until Rome decided to try luring conservative Anglicans across the Tiber.

Naturally you can dismiss the necessity of open discussion and just say the church is being held hostage by conservatives (or liberals). Maybe there is even something to that. But in the end, we must all ask ourselves the question: What is more important? Equal treatment of man and woman? Or the unity of the Holy Church? It is highly unlikely that both will be possible in the foreseeable future. And that is the question that everyone who discusses the issue must ask, and answer honestly, before any discussion can be productive.