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Women's Ordination: A Crack in the Cathedral?

Jul 2 2009
Female bishops outlawed, female priests tacitly allowed at last week's Anglican gathering in Bedford, Texas.

After the Anglican Church in North America's (ACNA) momentous inaugural gathering, the verdict is out on whether the issue of women's ordination will inhibit the budding alliance from moving forward.

Last week more than 800 men and women gathered in Bedford, Texas, to elect an archbishop and ratify a constitution for the ACNA, a new alliance for churches that have left the Episcopal Church. Led by Robert Duncan, bishop of the Diocese of Pittsburgh, the ACNA comprises more than 700 theologically conservative churches with about 70,000 parishioners.

There were many central theological beliefs that last week's attendees could agree on in their constitution and canon laws, including the full inspiration of the Bible, the centrality of baptism and Communion to church life, and the authority of the historic church creeds. But for the time being, ACNA leaders have not reached full agreement on female priests. At this time, each jurisdiction is free to decide whether or not to ordain women, but jurisdictions cannot force others to either accept women's ordination or to stop practicing it. Women bishops are forbidden.

"For those who believe the ordination of women to be a grave error, and for those who believe it scripturally justifiable … we should be in mission together until God sorts us out," said Duncan in last week's opening address. "It is not perfect, but it is enough."

Religion journalist George Conger told Christianity Today that Duncan himself has ordained women priests and that all of his key aides are ordained women, including Canon to the Ordinary Mary Hays, who was profiled in last week's Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. "Of course there is disappointment that there is less openness to the ordination of women among some," Hays, ordained for 25 years, told the paper. "But we are agreed on the essentials of the faith."

Julia Duin of The Washington Times reported today that only 6 of the 28 ACNA jurisdictions currently allow women priests. Duin spoke with the Rev. Travis Boline - Duncan's right-hand woman during last week's deliberations - who noted that even the conservative Anglican provinces of Africa are split on this issue: Kenya, Uganda, and, most recently, Ghana allow women priests, while Nigeria, Tanzania, and Central Africa do not.

Conger explained the ecclesiastical distinction between allowing female bishops and allowing female priests. "In the Anglican understanding, a bishop is a bishop of the whole catholic church, meaning that person should be acceptable in all places that the catholic church is," Conger told CT. "[The ACNA] can live with women being at the local level of priest, because a woman priest in New York doesn't do anything to the people in Fort Worth, Texas, who think it's contrary to Scripture."

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Women's Ordination: A Crack in the Cathedral?