What Difference Does A Woman Make?

By Caroline J.A. Hall

[June 19] “History has taken an evolutionary turn,” said Bishop Knudsen today in response to a lengthy and obscure question from Anglican Mainstream, which concluded, “Has history ended?” As we come back down to earth, we're all wondering what difference (if any) Bishop Schori's election will make.

From the conservative evangelical perspective, having a woman as Presiding Bishop is not a problem in and of itself. But this election confirms that TEC is not about to make a radical change of direction, and therein lies the rub. Until the ordination of Gene Robinson, there was hope that God would call TEC back to what conservatives think is the Truth. Within this understanding of Truth, heterosexuality is integral to divine order, and is a fundamental aspect of God's plan for creation and redemption. A bishop essentially embodies not only the faith but also the doctrine of the Church.

Therefore, by consecrating an openly gay man, the Church has embodied a teaching (Gay is OK) which is contrary to God's revealed plan. Those who hold this opinion have hoped for the last three years that in its response to the Windsor Report TEC would show that it realized the huge mistake made in 2003.

Since Bishop Schori voted for Gene Robinson's confirmation, has allowed same-sex blessings in her diocese and attended the Integrity Eucharist last week, she clearly does not embody the hoped-for change of direction. In fact, she is clearly engaged with what is being called the 'New Episcopal Religion' - what David Anderson of AAC described as 'the same trajectory'.

For those with an Anglo-Catholic perspective, Bishop Schori's election is far more problematic. Calling on the tradition of the historic catholic church, they hold that women are not the proper matter for ordination as priests. How then can they acknowledge a woman as the chief pastor and consecrator of the Episcopal Church? According to the resolution of the Donatist heresy in the third century, a sacrament is not affected by the state (sinful or otherwise) of the officiant. In other words, when you go to the table for communion, you don't have to worry about whether the priest is holy enough to have consecrated the bread and wine you receive. However, the most traditional of the Anglo-Catholics do not believe that women can be ordained any more than horses can. Just as we would not consider a horse ordained even if in some odd ceremony it had the prayers of the ordination service prayed over it, and hands laid on it, so an ordained woman is simply not ordained. So for the most traditional Anglo-Catholics we have just elected a very talented but equally misled, lay person as our next Presiding Bishop.

The three traditionalist dioceses are going to have to work out some kind of accommodation with the new situation. Fortunately, Bishop Schori has a reputation of being able to bridge differences and to find creative ways to look at things. Those are some of the qualities that led her fellow bishops to consider her as an outstanding candidate. However the Diocese of Forth Worth has not wasted any time in writing to the Archbishop of Canterbury to request alternative arrangements for 'primatial' oversight. Can this happen within the Episcopal Church? Can we have a diocese that acknowledges a different Primate? On the face of it, it seems not.

The rest of the church have a wide variety of theological positions but most people have fully accepted the ministry of women over the last thirty years.

The joy that was evident here yesterday is a response to a sudden apprehension of God working in our midst in yet another surprising way, breaking down barriers and preconceptions. Bishop Schori is a very talented person, well able to articulate complexities in both English and Spanish, and who has already assumed a leadership role in the House of Bishops. She supports bringing all the marginalized into the church which will surely include gay, lesbian and transgender persons as well as those of minority cultural groups.

Although women can theoretically become bishops in 14 of the 38 Provinces of the Communion, only Canada and the US currently have women in the episcopate. Some of the most prominent Primates of the Anglican Communion are conservative evangelicals and some are traditionalists. They will have difficulty accepting a woman colleague. In fact, the decision to elect a woman this year may ultimately have more impact than the Convention's carefully argued responses to the Windsor Report....