Monday, November 13, 2017

ACNA, Part 1: the Bishops

I wanted to collect some thoughts on the issue in light of the recent conclusion of the theological study and it's consideration by the bishops. It may be useful to you as well. I initially did a column in my parish's Sunday bulletin, and I also did a video version on Youtube. These are further thoughts. To begin, here is the bishops' statement of September 7, 2017:

Having gratefully received and thoroughly considered the five-year study by the Theological Task Force on Holy Orders, we acknowledge that there are differing principles of ecclesiology and hermeneutics that are acceptable within Anglicanism that may lead to divergent conclusions regarding women’s ordination to the priesthood. However, we also acknowledge that this practice is a recent innovation to Apostolic Tradition and Catholic Order. We agree that there is insufficient scriptural warrant to accept women’s ordination to the priesthood as standard practice throughout the Province. However, we continue to acknowledge that individual dioceses have constitutional authority to ordain women to the priesthood.

I was pleasantly surprised by the statement. It was far more than I was expecting (I was expecting a total white-wash). And yet, here they go on record with the acknowledgement that the Scriptural support for this innovation is lacking and that the only justification for it is our own man-made church law.

But I have been disappointed by the responses of various traditionalist groups about the bishops' statement. The reason is that they all seem to fall for a distraction, focusing on the canons of ACNA and the task of amending them to make the male presbyterate the standard throughout the province. Focusing one's energies on the legislative process at this point seems to me to be a great mistake. It's a fruitless endeavor, a non-starter. Or more accurately, it's the wrong place to start. The real place to start is with the bishops. It's all about the bishops. 

Case in point: the Episcopal Diocese of Fort Worth. This diocese became (in)famous for being one of the last holdouts when it came to the ordination of women spreading as a standard practice throughout the dioceses of the Episcopal Church in the 1980s. One by one, dioceses began the practice. But not Fort Worth (and neither Quincy nor San Joaquin). 

It may surprise you to learn that in all that time, there was discussion about the issue in the diocese, but no motions on the convention floor to change the canons to allow for the ordination of women. Why? Simply because there was never any canon that prohibited it in the first place. It was never a problem that had to be addressed by canons. There's still no canon prohibiting the ordination of women in Fort Worth. Because it's all about the bishops.

It's true that there was never a majority of popular support among the diocesan clergy and laity for such an innovation in Holy Orders, but then there wasn't in Dallas either when Donis Patterson was elected bishop in 1983. Helen Parmley reported in the Dallas Morning News that a survey done by the search committee to elect a new bishop for Dallas in 1983 indicated that most of the laity in the diocese wanted their new bishop to take negative stands on the ordination of women, charismatic renewal, and homosexual ministries. Donis Patterson ordained female priests in Dallas. While over on the Fort Worth side, Donald Davies, Clarence Pope, and Jack Iker did not. Again, it's all about the bishops.

It's all about the bishops because they are the ones charged with the responsibility above all to guard the faith, order, and unity of the Catholic Church. Their role is to teach the truth and to expose and drive away error (and the practices it leads to). 

What needs to happen in ACNA is for the bishops to first exercise their role as teachers of the faith. There needs to be a moratorium on the practice put in place. No canonical changes are needed, because it's all about the bishops. They are the ones who ordain or don't ordain. The rest of us are only to call them to faithfulness in their teaching responsibility.

If a moratorium is not doable, then at least a minority of the bishops and the dioceses that engage in the aberrant practice could be contained in a sub-province of ACNA with it's own standards and practices. The ACNA would be faithful to scripture and the apostolic tradition. It would be a church, and a church in communion with itself. It would also have a sub-province of Christians in the Anglican way who (like Apollos) can be taught the whole council of God and nurtured in the tradition of the ancient Fathers.

After 5 or 10 years, most of the female clergy (less than 1% of the total clergy in ACNA) will be retiring anyway. Even without a moratorium, new ordinands are trending more and more male. So in time, it will become more and more of a non-issue in a practical sense. But the important part is for the bishops to come to a common mind. Again, it's all about the bishops.

Then, when it's clearly a thing of the past, the constitution and canons can be cleaned up at a provincial assembly.