Reflections upon Reflections: General Synod and all the Sydney Women

AdelaideI realise this is a few months old, but someone pointed this out to me today. Some reflections on General Synod from the Newcastle Diocese. Here’s some of what Bishop Peter Stuart had to say.

The General Synod did not talk about human sexuality as part of its business. There were behind the scenes conversations and a mood that suggested avoiding further tension and division. In some ways the building blocks for that discussion were being put in place at this General Synod recognising that actions in other parts of the Anglican Communion and the mood in the broader community will require our national engagement.

It is also impossible to come back from the General Synod without sensing that we have become a more conservative church and will in the foreseeable future become more so. The election for clergy members of Standing Committee saw nominations equally split between two dominant groups for which how-to-vote tickets then circulated. The result was likely to go one of two directions and it went conservatively. It was good to note that our Archdeacon Arthur Copeman was elected with wide support! The makeup of
the General Synod is changing from those that made it possible for the ordination of women and supported A Prayer Book for Australia.

It’s an interesting read, and pretty fair report from someone who, no doubt, is not happy about the moves towards becoming a more conservative church.

But here’s the stuff that really caught my attention.

It is impossible to come back from the General Synod and say that women in Sydney are not involved in ministry.

While I’m very pleased about this, it really does show how much egalitarians misunderstand complementarianism. The suggestion that in a complementarian diocese women would not be involved in ministry is, quite frankly, ridiculous. So I’m really pleased that it was clear at Synod that this is not the case.

Then there’s this.

There were a good number of Women Ministers present each of whom is engaged in creative ministry yet none will be ordained as priest or considered for the episcopate as would happen in this Diocese. At the heart of this position is 1 Timothy 2:12 which those in the tradition of Gore might see as a household rule limited to the time and context whereas those in the tradition of Ryle would see as an enduring command. I was moved by the ministries I learnt about but deeply saddened by the position that means that the insights and learning of these women are not available to men through teaching ministries. I came away with the view that the inclusive God witnessed to by the breadth of scriptures calls us beyond boundaries of race, gender and economic status in discerning leaders in his mission through the Church.

While I’m sure the intention of what’s written here is to point out the value of the ministry of the women he met, when I read this I hear the exact opposite. Let’s look at the first sentence for staters. Notice the word ‘yet’?

There were a good number of Women Ministers present each of whom is engaged in creative ministry yet none will be ordained as priest or considered for the episcopate as would happen in this Diocese. [emphasis added]

The implication being that there is something about the ‘creative ministry’ of these Women Ministers that is somehow lacking because they won’t be ordained as priest or considered for the episcopate. Far from valuing the ministry of women, this values the position one holds.

And again,

I was moved by the ministries I learnt about but deeply saddened by the position that means that the insights and learning of these women are not available to men through teaching ministries.

In this case it’s not the position someone holds but who they teach that provides the value of their ministry. I didn’t get to meet Bishop Peter at Synod and it’s not the ministry I do he heard about, but as one of the ‘Women Ministers’ to whom he is generally referring, I’m insulted at the thought that anyone would be saddened by hearing about what I do. While Egalitarianism claims to be about gender equality, it’s actually about gender uniformity. There is no room for any kind of difference between men and women. So, as a woman, if I don’t do what a man does, I’m not equal to him.

This is a doctrine that at it’s core places value on anyone, not based on who they are – people made in the image of God and saved by the death & resurrection of Jesus – but based on what they do. Whether or not I’m a rector, or whether or not I teach men, shouldn’t factor into the discussion about the value of the ministry I do. But for Bishop Peter, anything less then women being rectors or teaching men, just leaves him ‘deeply saddened’.

I came away with the view that the inclusive God witnessed to by the breadth of scriptures calls us beyond boundaries of race, gender and economic status in discerning leaders in his mission through the Church.

I actually completely agree with this. And I love to ask the Bishop why he doesn’t consider the women he met to be leaders in Jesus’ mission through the Church? They are.

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11 thoughts on “Reflections upon Reflections: General Synod and all the Sydney Women

  1. Hello Katie, thank you for posting this thoughtful reflection. I think you have made a couple of misunderstandings of egalitarianism which, in the interests of showing that our positions are closer than people tend to imagine, I’d like to point out.

    Firstly, you takes issue with Peter Stuart’s “yet”, concluding:

    “The implication being that there is something about the ‘creative ministry’ of these Women Ministers that is somehow lacking because they won’t be ordained as priest or considered for the episcopate.”

    This is a misunderstanding because you has focussed the ‘yet’ on the implied value of the ministry of the person, where Peter is focussed on the beneficiaries of the ministry. The bishop’s point is not that the ministry women who minister only to women is less valuable because it doesn’t extend to men; but rather that the potential benefit of it is, in his opinion, unnecessarily curtailed from men who might share in those benefits.

    That is what he laments. The ministry itself is not less valuable because it is not heard by men; but the variety of gifts received by half the church is lessened – if men can only receive teaching ministry from men, while women can receive it from both genders, men miss out on all that female teachers can offer.

    This matters precisely because egalitarians reject that there is no difference between the kind of insights brought to and from the scriptures by different sexes. This is exactly the opposite of what you think we think!:

    “While Egalitarianism claims to be about gender equality, it’s actually about gender uniformity. There is no room for any kind of difference between men and women. So, as a woman, if I don’t do what a man does, I’m not equal to him.”

    Again, exactly the opposite is the case. If we thought genders were uniform, then it would not matter if men never heard from women. In fact it is those who forbid women teaching men who must, I guess, assume there is no difference in the teaching perspectives women would bring, or at least that such difference would contribute nothing of value to men.

    So I think Bishop Peter is right to lament this loss of female teaching to the men of the church in Sydney – because the focus of his comments is quite rightly not on people actualising their own value through ministry, but rather on the church being blessed through the diversity of its ministers. If you read his comments again in this light I find it hard to see how they could be insulting, any more than someone saying to me “I loved that sermon, I wish all my friends could have heard it too!”

    Of course none of this touches on the question of which of us are right about God’s purposes for men and women in the church! But I hope this helps reduce some misunderstandings. May God bless you in all you do for his kingdom!

  2. I might also say that this is almost true to the egalitarian position but not quite on a crucial point:

    “So, as a woman, if I don’t do what a man does, I’m not equal to him.”

    Egalitarians certainly don’t think each woman must DO what men do to be equal to them! Everyone does different things and that doesn’t make them unequal to each other! The logical principle of equality is that if you CANNOT – that is, are not allowed to do something solely because of something inherent, unchangeable and unchosen – like sex, or race, or social class, etc.; then you are not being treated as equal. You don’t have to then do that thing to be equal. It’s just that, all other things being the same, you would have the same opportunity to do so.

    So specialised ministries will always have their place in an egalitarian ideal, including gender specialised ministries. It’s just that they won’t be the only option.

    Part of the confusion arises because we do not use words properly. The position we call ‘egalitarian’ is the true ‘complementarianism’, because it wants to discover and release the true functional complementarity of men and women in all areas of service in the church. The position usually denoted ‘complementarianism’ is, strictly speaking, ‘patriarchalism’, because no matter how gifts and abilities are distributed in a set of people, the ‘patris’ will always hold the ‘arche’ – a man will always hold the authority.

    • Hi Matthew, Thanks for sharing your comments.

      Even in what you say value is assigned based on what you do (or what you CAN do)
      “Egalitarians certainly don’t think each woman must DO what men do to be equal to them! Everyone does different things and that doesn’t make them unequal to each other! The logical principle of equality is that if you CANNOT – that is, are not allowed to do something solely because of something inherent, unchangeable and unchosen – like sex, or race, or social class, etc.; then you are not being treated as equal. You don’t have to then do that thing to be equal. It’s just that, all other things being the same, you would have the same opportunity to do so.”

      If not being allowed to preach means that I’m not equal to men, then it’s the action of preaching and the determination of what I’m allowed to do that gives me value (or not). This idea completely devalues me and everything I do. That’s why I find it offensive.

      (And just for clarity’s sake – I object to the idea that I’m not allowed to preach. I’ve made that decision based on my convictions about God’s word and my obedience to it.)

      • Hi Katie,

        I think you’re still missing some critical logic here. Try substituting ‘black’ for ‘woman’. If a black man is not allowed to preach to white men because he is black, but white men can preach to black men, then black men are not being treated as equal to white men. They are functionally unequal. We are implicitly declaring that black men need to learn from white men but not vice-versa. What that would certainly not say is that black men’s ministry to black congregations is worthless. But nonetheless black and white ministers would not be being treated as equal.

        So likewise if a woman is not allowed to preach solely because she is a woman, then she is not being treated as equal to men. She is functionally unequal.

        If it is equally likely a black person will be called to be a preacher as a white person (all other things, like ability, holiness of life etc. being equal), then and only then do they have equality. We understand this in regard to race, surely? Why not in regard to sex?

        Pointing this out does not devalue what you, or a black person, actually does in any way. On the contrary. No-one is saying that your ministry is less valuable because it is focussed on a particular demographic. But they might be saying that the church is missing out on the full potential benefit of your ministry because it refuses to call anyone like you (women) to other spheres of influence.

        I do accept and respect that you have made your own decision about how God’s word should be understood and you are seeking to be obedient to that. Indeed I would not want you to do anything else. But I don’t see why you therefore object to the idea that you are ‘not allowed to preach’ based purely upon your sex. Locating the prohibition with God doesn’t change that. It just says that God is the one establishing the patriarchy and the prohibition rather than mere men.

        If God is saying that of course we should listen and obey, but we also should use the correct terms for what God is saying. I disagree with your understanding of the scriptures here, but that is a much bigger discussion than you were opening up. I just wanted to say at this point that I think your derivation of insults from Bishop Peter’s words is based upon a misconstrual of egalitarian beliefs, and indeed of his actual words.

        When someone says to me that they wish more people were there to hear my sermon, I don’t take that as an insult that my ministry was worthless because it was only heard by the people present. I take it as an affirmation that they benefited so greatly from it they would like still others to be able to share in that benefit. That is the kind of thinking Bishop Peter is offering here – he has seen how gifted you and other women ministers from Sydney are. He affirms that, and considers that the benefits of that ministry could be profitably enlarged in the church were it not for restrictions on your sphere of action (which you believe are necessary for godly obedience but he does not). He clearly wants to affirm your ministry by this, so I do think it is a bit uncharitable to pervert his words and spirit of commendation into something insulting!

        Blessings
        Matt

      • Sorry about the double post. The blog comments section seems kind of inflexible about editing and deleting posts (or possibly I’m just too technologically challenged to figure it out!) and it reposted my edited version as a new post. They’re the same except one doubled up word!

      • Sorry about the comment issue – I’ll try to sort that out!

        It is certainly not my intention to pervert anyone’s words, and I don’t believe I’ve done that.

        The Bishop did not say “There were a good number of Women Ministers present each of whom is engaged in creative ministry yet I wish all of my friends could hear about them.’
        He did say ‘yet none will be ordained as priest or considered for the episcopate as would happen in this Diocese.” He put the focus on the role.

        This statement – “I was moved by the ministries I learnt about but deeply saddened by the position that means that the insights and learning of these women are not available to men through teaching ministries.” – assumes that the only way for insights and learning of women to be heard and benefited from by men, is through the teaching ministry of rectors and bishops. Which is simply not true.
        Despite not being a rector or a bishop I believe that the entire congregation has opportunities to benefit from my insights and learning – because we intentionally make sure that they do. We do this by working together as a complementarian staff team made up of men and women, and ensuring that we look for biblically appropriate ways for everyone’s insight and learning to be shared.

  3. Hi Katie, like you I have based my convictions on God’s word I just have a different understanding of it. I moved from a complementarian to an egalitarian position while studying at Moore. I would agree with Matthew’s comment that the egalitarian position is not about uniformity and also where he talks about the church not being able to fully benefit from the diversity of ministry available if all roles are open to women.
    For me the fundamental problem is the ability of women to carry out the ministry God has called them to. While the main thing is not position there are some ministries that require a particular position. I believe God has called me to lead a congregation. This is only possible if given a position that allows that.
    My sadness when confronted with a complementarian view of church is that the church as a whole is not benefiting from the variety of gifts given by God and women are not able to follow God’s call. Neither of these are healthy.

    • Hi Amanda, Thanks for commenting.

      You say
      “For me the fundamental problem is the ability of women to carry out the ministry God has called them to.”

      If this is the fundamental problem it’s worth exploring this question: how do we know what ministry God has called us to?

  4. Hi Katie

    A few people have brought your response to my reflections to my attention. As you say, I don’t think we met at General Synod.

    I think Matthew, who I also don’t think I have met, has largely offered the corrections to your reading of my reflection that I would make.

    The dichotomy of egalitarian and complementarian is a false one and neither would describe my, or others, theological and philosophical positions. On the basis of scripture I affirm the equality of male and female, I submit to authority and allow others to submit to my authority, I affirm the mutuality of the gifts and the need within the body for the variety of gifts and services that disciples (lay and ordained) bring to the assembly and Christian mission.

    I disagree with the conclusion of the report received in your Synod in 1988, and acted on by since then, that a woman is not permitted to assume the office of faithful transmission and defence of the apostolic faith and the passing on the fundamental structure of the faith. I disagree with the approach that allows a woman to speak to a congregation in which men are present as long as she doesn’t take on teaching authority. To lament that men cannot receive the blessing of a woman having authority over a mixed congregation (like a parish) or group of congregations is not to deny the mInistry women are undertaking or to be focussed on role or to be focussed on the sacramental ministry alone. It is to question the way the scriptures have been interpreted and applied as well as being concerned for women who think in their heart, that they are truly called, according to the will of our Lord Jesus Christ to such ministries.

    I look forward to hearing about your ministry and telling you about mine as we rejoice in what the Lord is doing.

    • Hi Peter,

      Thanks for taking the time to comment.

      As you rightly pointed out in your article, the difference between egalitarian and complementation is really a matter of the doctrine of scripture. In fact I believe this is the fundamental issue behind many of the dividing issues in the Anglican Church of Australia. I wish we had more time to address this in the discussion groups at Synod.

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