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We Can Agree to Disagree on Women's Ordination

Nov 8 2013
Bridging the battle lines of the female clergy debate.

When I was deciding if I should seek ordination, a friend and fellow pastor said to me, "I'm not sure where I stand on women's ordination. But I think you should get ordained." I laughed, unsure of how he holds those conflicting ideas together, but recognizing that for all of us, myself included, seeking God's will on this issue is rarely cut-and-dried. It is a process of study, prayer, listening, repentance, and discernment.

As someone who was uncomfortable with the ordination of women for years, but is now an Anglican clergyperson who will (God willing) be a priest soon, I often end up in conversations where I find myself in the ironic position of wanting to defend those who disagree with my ordination.

As I talk about women's ordination and read great discussions about the role of feminism in the church, this is what I want to remind those on "my side" of this issue on behalf of my brothers and sisters against women's ordination.

Objection to women's ordination is not equivalent to sexism.

Laura Ortberg Turner's recent article for Her.meneutics reminds us of the valuable legacy of first-wave feminism and the tragedy of widespread physical and sexual abuse of women. Too often the global plight of women is ignored or belittled in the church. Too often women are devalued and denigrated in the church. Too often sexism isn't treated as the sin it most certainly is.

However, we must decouple sexism and the objection to women's ordination. We do the church and Christian feminism a disservice when we use belief about women's ordination as a litmus test for sexism.

While some may oppose women's ordination for sexist reasons, others do so out of a genuine, even uncomfortable, conviction about the meaning of particular Greek words and the witness of Scripture. Friends, teachers, and pastors against women's ordination nevertheless encourage and disciple me in ways that profoundly benefit my life and ministry. (Likewise, I've met people who are for women's ordination but treat women in sexist ways.) It isn't fair for those who are against women's ordination but still encourage and value the gifts of women to be implicated in injustice.

When we reductively equate opposition to women's ordination to sexism, we ignore the complexity of the issue and the messy process of communal discernment in a church body. This false equivalency gives too easy of a pass to those on both sides—allowing them to take a position, sit comfortably with their ideological team, and no longer grapple with the larger, more invidious problem of sexism in the church and the wider world.

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