The Ordination of Women and an Apology to the LGBTIQA+ Community

The Rev’d Canon Peter Sandeman, Canon for Social Justice and Advocacy, Adj Professor UniSA Business on developments at Murray Synod.

Following the presidential address by Bishop Keith I was able to successfully move the following motion at he recent session of The Murray Synod:

That the Legislation Review Committee prepare an ordinance to be bought to the next session of Synod to consider the ordination of women to the Priesthood.”

The presidential address contained words that I never thought I would hear from the mouth of a Bishop of The Murray which I have enclosed below. I have also included the text of the advice which the diocesan Canon Theologian Bishop Stephen Pickard provided on the ordination of women.

It’s worth reading Bishop Keith’s charge in full, both public documents can be found at Papers | Diocese of The Murray.

Bishop Keith also collated me as an Archdeacon at the same session of the Synod to assist in welcoming members of the LGBTIQA+ community and other peoples previously excluded by the church.

Change is coming to the Diocese of The Murray!

Extracts from the address of The Right Rev’d Keith Dalby, to The Murray Synod Friday 3 June 2022.

“…I have discovered that about ten years ago when Fr. Richard Seabrook was the Administrator of the Diocese a Synod in that time passed a motion requesting that the next Bishop when elected would allow discussion on the Ordination of Women. That was not honoured, and so I feel that it is important to honour that request of that Synod. Therefore, today I am announcing that I am opening a discussion on the Ordination of Women in this Diocese. During the next twelve months this diocese will have an opportunity to discuss this issue at length. The clergy will have the opportunity amongst themselves at a clergy school. I have asked two significant clergypersons to come and speak. Each person will present a case that some will not agree with. It is important that the clergy hear from a perspective they will not necessarily agree. This is important for even if one is not persuaded to change their mind on this issue, it is still important we all hear the differing opinions so we can make sure our position is from a position of informed knowledge rather than a caricature. I will also distribute amongst the Diocesan Synod Reps, clergy and lay various papers putting both opinions so that discussions in parishes can be had if necessary. To further facilitate a good listening discussion in the next twelve months I will call the Synod together, not to be Synod, but to come together and discuss the issue in a combined workshop day. Ample time will be given to allow maximum involvement. If parishes wish to facilitate discussions I will be supportive and if you need help in that space please let me know.

“I will then allow appropriate legislation to come forward to the next Synod to permit the adoption of the General Synod Canon which enables women to be priested in the Diocese, and we will have a full debate at the next Synod on that, and I will allow a vote. The Synod will have the opportunity to debate it, and to vote on it at that Synod. Whatever the decision of Synod I will support that decision. If it passes, I will not block it.

“I have taken this decision for a number of reasons. While I have in the past been not in favour of the OOW it has not been because I don’t think that women can’t or shouldn’t be ordained. I simply felt that it was an ecumenical decision that needed to be made. However, it would appear that such a decision is not possible given the ecumenical climate. This understanding has been helpfully reinforced for me by Professor Stephen Pickard, former Assistant Bishop in Adelaide and the Canon Theologian of our Diocese. In a recent paper I asked him to prepare for me on this issue, he noted that my position is really a variation on the so-called Branch Church Theory which was prominent in the 17th and 18th Centuries. His searing critique of this theory is that such a position cannot help us now as it no longer gives us a true picture or an accurate account of the body of Christ in its modern diversity and division, nor does it provide a basis for a new mission for a new time.

“He also helpfully exposes the incongruence of those who claim that because Jesus in his earthly life was male, therefore only males can be representatives of Christ. He achieves this critique by reminding me that Jesus is raised from the dead and is the second person of the Trinity. His resurrected body is representative of all humanity, male and female, not just male, and so the one who stands at the altar should represent all humanity and cannot therefore be gender specific. He makes other observations which are most helpful. I will be placing his paper plus all other papers made available to me on our website so that everyone in the Diocese will have access to the information being discussed.

“Furthermore, influenced by the understandings I have gained by doing my leadership courses and being mentored by the likes of the late Bp David McCall and my reading it is clear to me that as a Bishop my responsibilities are different to when I was a parish priest. A fact I had not appreciated until I became a bishop. I have a responsibility to lead this diocese of many parishes, not just one parish into the future and to position it for future development and growth despite my own personal views….

“The ordination of women is no longer a liberal / conservative issue. Some of the most conservative people I know ordain women. The head of GAFCON which is about as conservative as you can get in Australia outside of Sydney ordains women, the son of a former Bishop of a Diocese which still does not ordain women, ordains women in the Diocese he now leads. On top of that there is hardly any serious catholic theologian who does not support the ordination of women.

“All this and more will be some of the ground we will need to cover in the next twelve months as we move towards the next Synod.

“A second existential flex we have to make is about becoming intentionally more welcoming and inclusive to the people which Jesus identified in his sermon in the Synagogue in Nazareth, the poor, the stranger, the single person, the broken-hearted, the downtrodden, those who feel excluded by society and by us as the church. At the recent General Synod, we had a number of debates on the issue of LGBTQIA+ people.

“We need to be welcoming to our LGBTQIA+ brothers and sisters in Christ for they along with all the other people Jesus mentions in his sermon, are made in the image and likeness of God and therefore they have value and worth in the eyes of God and therefore we must look on them in no less a way. We cannot simply have a note on our sign board or our web site saying all welcome if we do not truly welcome all into our faith communities. I understand that this will be a huge challenge for some of our people, but we must do this for we need to be loving and caring and kind and compassionate to those who come through our doors to seek the solace and comfort of our loving God…..

“As mentioned I have recently been to General Synod where there has been a big debate on Gay Marriage. In preparation for that I read a number of books and watched a number of debates about this issue. The issue of Gay Marriage is important, but it seems to me that there is a much bigger issue before we get to Gay Marriage, and that is the reality that this topic is not an issue, it is about real people, who have real struggles, and are genuinely believers in Jesus.

“I am not sure what the statistics are here in Australia, but in America, over 80% of LGBTQ people were raised in the church. Over 50% of that 80% left the church by the time they were 18, and of that 80% who left, 97% left not because of the church’s teaching on marriage, but because they did not feel loved, or welcomed, but demonised and considered evil for even being same sex attracted, EVEN IF THEY DID NOT ACT ON THOSE IMPULSES. They did not feel like they belonged in the presence of God. In short, they did not experience what Pauls talks about in Romans 2:4, the kindness of God.

“The title of one of the books I read on this issue is entitled “People to be Loved.” The LGBTQ community has been anything but loved by the church in the past and we need to repent of that, and seek God’s forgiveness and theirs. The General Synod addressed this issue in a specific motion of apology to the LBGTQ community.

“So, to follow the example of General Synod, I also wish to apologies to the LGBTQIA+ community and to their families and their friends, many of whom have left our churches, but many have remained. I am sorry for our Diocese and church’s role in ostracising, demonising and refusing to recognise you all as loved and precious children of God who have been made in His image and likeness, and have value and worth in that createdness

“While I cannot undo what has happened in the past, and I cannot promise I or the Diocese will get our restoring of relationship with you right straight away I can promise you we will try. I also recognise that you will, with justification be somewhat sceptical and wish to see real change. I get that. I also get that me saying this is one thing, where the real change will need to occur is at the grass roots of the Diocese, and that is in the parishes. Clergy and lay people together will need to have a commitment to this change. I am committed to starting the journey, and encouraging it in the parishes. I acknowledge it will take time, and there will be fits and starts and there will be frustration on both sides….

“So my apology needs to be not just in words, but in deeds as well, from me all the way down to the parishes as we seek to show the kindness of God to the LGBTQ community, but also to others as well. The homeless, those suffering mental illness, the poor, those who have experienced relationship distress and breakdown, those who hate us. We need to reach out to those who have been abused in the church by leaders, especially, but not limited to, clergy.

“We need to apologise for the cover ups, the moving on of clergy known to have offended, and in seeking to protect the good name of the church have further traumatised victims. I have heard that for some victims the trauma of abuse will take a lifetime to recover from, but the treatment, even abuse, by the church of them to their claims they will never recover from. Woe betide us when we stand before the Lord on the day of Judgment for that.

“There is much to be done. I get that it seems overwhelming, and where do we start? I think on my Leadership mentors advice, how do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time. We can not fix everything, and we cannot fix everyone. However, what we can do is be like Jesus.

“Here is what I think we need to do as a diocese, as a bishop, as clergy and as parishioners.

“We must be deliberate and obvious disciples of Jesus. It is as simple and as complex as that.

“This means that we have to be committed to the mission and ministry of Jesus. Isaiah is often seen as the fifth Gospel and Stephen Mason on his essay on Holistic mission says that Jesus’ Gospel is essentially Isaiah’s Gospel, and if that is true then maybe we had better pay attention to what Isaiah has to say, especially in this context. The passage of Isaiah 61 outlines what is expected of Israel, and thus we can read today, the people of God, and therefore read us in the Diocese of The Murray….”

Canon Theologian on the Ordination of Women

Dear Bishop Keith,

I’ve been conscious that I said I would write something regarding the ordination of women as priests, a matter that will come before your forthcoming diocesan synod. This is not a long note as the issues have been rehearsed many times. However, I thought I would briefly note the following.

There are a number of different grounds offered for refusal to ordain women to the priesthood. I would identify under three main headings: biblical, theological/anthropological and ecclesial. It is clear from the recent history of the debate that different people and churches place different weight on the importance of each of these three areas. Moreover, they all deserve careful consideration. My one comment is that generally speaking the question of context seems to be too easily glossed over. I believe that the influence and shaping power of host cultures is both more significant and more resistant to interrogation than usually recognised. This failure inevitably skews any assessment of the grounds for refusal and is also the reason that in recent decades the sociological dimension of arguments about the ordination of women have been pursued more vigorously. In what follows I make some brief notes on the three areas. Having studied this matter for many decades particularly in the Anglican tradition I am of the opinion that the ecclesial argument concerning the unity of the Church is the most significant for Anglicans; particular for those in the Anglo-Catholic tradition.

Biblical. The main issue here is identified by conservative Protestants in terms of the doctrine of headship. It has different forms but essentially the argument is that males have authority over females (both in the order of creation and in redemption) and that this is to be observed in the life of the church. Of course, the restriction of this headship doctrine to the ecclesia introduces a fundamental incoherence given that this pattern of authority ought in fact to be observed throughout all of society but in fact is not nor is it taught by those who espouse the doctrine of male headship. The doctrine of male headship unsurprisingly is contested amongst Protestants. Kevin Giles’ writings examine and critique the doctrine of headship, and in this context special attention is given to the position of the Anglican Diocese of Sydney. Giles’ scholarship is well known and has never, to my mind, been adequately refuted. The doctrine of headship is increasingly otiose in the world of twenty-first century Australian society and ecclesial life. Moreover, the doctrine of headship has never been given prominence in Anglicanism beyond a certain kind of conservative evangelicalism.

Theological/anthropological. It is in truth hard to separate these two areas. The argument is familiar enough in the Orthodox and the Roman Catholic traditions. The argument is that in so far as the priest is an ikon of Christ, in ministry and especially at the Eucharistic feast; and in so far as Jesus Christ was in his earthly life male; then in like manner a priest in the Church of God is required to be male. There are some nuances to this position and a richer ecclesial framework in which the argument can be made. Of course, there have been and remain Anglicans who have held to this view as justification for not ordaining women to the priesthood. It is also a fact that this argument has never been convincing for the vast majority of Anglicans. And in the modern context awareness of the powerful shaping impact of inherited patriarchy has rendered the argument about the maleness of Jesus impotent (pardon the pun). Theologically the resurrected Christ present in the Eucharistic celebration is the second person of the Holy Trinity. How this reality can be trumped by gender is a puzzle to say the least. The priest who stands at the Altar in persona Christi is an ikon and representative of humanity before the Lord. This could be developed but suffice it to say this argument has not commended itself even for most Anglo-Catholics.
Ecclesial. The argument here has its roots in the Reformation whereby the Church of England understood itself as both Reformed and Catholic. Accordingly, it saw itself as a protest within the great Catholic tradition and also understood itself as a Protestant church to that extent. But essentially the Church of the Tudor Settlement conceived itself as representing a third continuing strand in Christianity tracing its roots to earliest times; the other two being Roman Catholicism and the Orthodox Churches. This self-understanding sharpened in the early nineteenth century into what became known as the Branch Theory of the Church. This can be found in William Palmer’s famous two volume Treatise on the Church. It became common parlance and endured as such. The argument was important and had been going back to the 17th and 18th centuries when it was associated with, for example, William Wake and ecumenical initiatives. The Branch Theory was important because on contentious matters the Church of England’s position was, de facto, that only when the three branches of the great Church were in agreement was change of a fundamental kind permitted. Of course, exactly what constituted such fundamentals remained contested. But nonetheless the branch theory of the church, albeit as wooden as it might appear, was a very useful way of preserving some notion of the unity of the Church.

But it can’t help us now because it does not give a true and accurate account of the world wide Body of Christ in its diversity and division; nor does it provide a basis for a new mission for a new time.

The question about the unity of the Church is a critical one for the Church of God and especially for Anglicans. Schism undermines the witness of the Church to the gospel and as the history of Christianity shows once a major break occurs in the Church the resulting harm and disunity can quickly become chronic. That in fact is the reality of the history of the Church: East/West division; the Western schism between Roman Catholicism and Protestantism; and the chronic ongoing fragmentation within Protestantism. In truth the unity of the church is properly an eschatological hope for which we work and pray.

Interestingly it is the 19th century missionary movements that gave birth to modern ecumenism. But for many reasons the hope of a more united Church seems more distant and impossible than perhaps half a century ago.

What then of the branch theory of the church as espoused by the Church of England and more latterly in Anglicanism? In important respects it is a theory that flies in the face of empirical reality. Moreover, what now constitutes a legitimate branch church? The world-wide emergence of Pentecostalism has significantly disturbed the once familiar alignments of the earthly Body of Christ. In truth the more the people of God have become aware of one another as part of a global Church in a way hitherto not possible (due to ease of travel and communications; missionary endeavours etc) the more the question of church unity has to be reconceived in terms of radical diversity and richness. The older branch theory was never equipped to deal with the actual reality on the ground and worked as an abstract construct that could be called upon to silence challenges to the status quo. It became essentially a recipe for do nothing.

The complex contemporary situation is the context in which the issue of women’s ordination as priests in the Church of God has to be addressed. To what extent does ordaining a woman as a priest constitute a schism in the church of God? It is hard to see how this ministerial practice (which is very different from a departure from the ancient Creeds) creates an intolerable ecclesial rupture in an already deeply fractured world-wide Church. Moreover, the fractures can no longer be conveniently identified across traditional ecclesial boundaries e.g. Orthodox, Roman Catholicism, Protestantism. In truth the fractures run through these very ecclesial bodies wherein Orthodox churches disown and reject other Orthodox Churches; where Roman Catholics across the globe are engaged in major dispute and contests and in places functional (though rarely formal) rejection of the Magisterium of the Roman Church. For example, witness the way in which the various Religious Communities and Orders in the Roman Catholic Church challenge and ignore Papal authority. Unity, such as it exists, is increasingly formal and paper thin and reduced to somewhat transactional institutional forms.

The problem with the traditional branch theory of the church is that it always was and is now clearly seen to be an abstraction. The argument that Anglicans can only accept women as priests when the Roman Catholic and Orthodox Churches of the East do, simply ensures that, this side of the eschaton, women will never be priests in the Anglican Church. But in fact they have been so ordained across global Anglicanism.

At this point I believe John Henry Newman’s theory of development has great value. Newman was trying to find a way for him to justify leaving the Church of England and being received into the Roman Catholic Church. His theory of developments was a way to satisfy himself that, notwithstanding that Rome had added many things to its belief and practices over almost two millennia; it still remained a true church in which he could find salvation. In short, he had to find a theory to account for what he called a ‘difficulty’ i.e. that the Roman church of his day was not like the Church of the apostles. Hence, he developed a raft of criteria that had to be met to justify a change. In a sense Vatican 2 is the Roman Church’s effort to update itself in the spirit of Newman. The Roman Church may finally get there regarding women priests but even if it does the old branch theory would still prevent women priests in Anglicanism because the Eastern Orthodox Churches (deeply mired in their own cultural contexts) will remain staunchly opposed to women priests.

In brief to resist the ordination of women as priests on the basis that it undermines the unity of the Church simply does not square with what unity actually looks like on the ground in the twenty-first century global Christianity. Indeed, women priests provide a remarkable window into other dimensions of the unity of the gospel that resonates powerfully and authentically with our current cultural context. It is a development that we can confidently embrace for the sake of the coming one church of Jesus Christ.

Rt Rev’d Dr Stephen Pickard
Canon Theologian
Diocese of the Murray
Adjunct Professor
Charles Sturt University
30th May, 2022

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