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Sarah Lindsay

The Pain of Exclusion: the ACNA and the Ordination of Women

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On Friday, the Anglican Church of North America (ACNA) released its statement on the ordination of women, following a 5-year study. This statement essentially affirms the status quo: individual dioceses retain the ability to accept or reject women’s ordination, while women remain barred from the office of bishop.

As a long-time member of ACNA churches, some for and some against the ordination of women, I have many thoughts. First, I am glad that the ACNA did not come out against ordaining women; second, I understand the impulse to value unity over uniformity and leave this decision up to each diocese.

But as much as I sympathize with the ACNA leaders who don’t want to precipitate a split (as either wholly affirming or denying women’s ordination could do), I am also disappointed. While this is a theoretical issue for the male bishops deliberating the question, it’s not a theoretical issue for me, a woman.

I am angry and disappointed that the matter of my full inclusion in the life of the church isn’t worth taking a stand on.

I’m angry that the Council of Bishops can’t see that it’s sinful patriarchy that has led the church to see 1 Timothy 2:12 as a blanket prohibition for all times and places, while ignoring the literal writing out of the apostle Junia.

I am disappointed that Council of Bishops say in their statement, “We agree that there is insufficient scriptural warrant to accept women’s ordination to the priesthood as standard practice throughout the Province.” There may be no formally ordained New Testament women — but are there any formally ordained New Testament men? The qualifications for leaders in 1 Timothy and Titus are about as close as we come to ordination requirements, although that terminology isn’t used, and 1 Timothy includes requirements for women as well as men.

I am sad that, while the Council of Bishops would affirm that there is no male or female in Christ, they allow a division between male and female in the Church. And moreover, that as they allow this divide they ignore the many women in the New Testament honored by both Jesus and Paul for their work in the church.

Jesus honors and elevates women at every step of his ministry, from the Samaritan woman at the well who proclaims Jesus as the messiah to Mary, sister of Martha and Lazarus, who learns at Jesus’ feet, to Mary Magdalene, the apostle to the apostles.

In his letters, Paul greets and commends both men and women for their work in the churches. Paul praises Timothy’s mother and grandmother for their faith that they have taught to Timothy. Priscilla and Aquila travel and evangelize with Paul, and there’s no indication that Priscilla’s role is different from her husband’s.

I’m disappointed that the Council of Bishops defers to traditional patriarchy, referring to ordaining women as “recent innovation” rather than embracing the spirit of Paul and Jesus who invited women to participate fully in the life of the church.

I’m sad because, despite all their protestations otherwise, this position tells me that I, and my daughters and sisters and aunts and friends, are lacking in the eyes of God. We lack the proper anatomy for certain, perhaps even the moral stature of men.

And if we don’t lack, then those who oppose women’s ordination are telling me that God is arbitrary. For no reason other than biology, neither I nor my sisters can consecrate the elements, can lead the church as priest or bishop.

How am I supposed to understand that as the will of a loving God, of a God who created woman and called her very good? Of a Jesus who loved and honored and elevated women?

I understand the desire for unity. The ACNA is still in formation, and a split could be catastrophic. I don’t plan on leaving the Anglican church over this.

But I still mourn.

I mourn the patriarchy that has limited women in the church for centuries. I mourn the lack of empathy, the lack of understanding of how this position makes women feel inferior, unwanted in the church. I mourn the ways in which my sisters’ gifts are denied or constrained.

And I will continue to work towards the full inclusion of women in the church, the recognition that we, too, are daughters of God and co-heirs with Christ.

(For resources on women in the church, I highly recommend Christians for Biblical Equality and the Junia Project as starting points.)