COLUMBUS, OH: No female Presiding Bishop for Fort Worth Diocese
By Peter Toon
There have been appeals over the centuries to the Archbishop of Canterbury for help for a variety of reasons but none has previously asked for "alternative Primatial oversight." This is what the Diocese of Fort Worth has requested in Letters sent to London, England, from Columbus, Ohio, on Monday June 19, 2006.
Certainly for the Primates' Meeting and for the Anglican Panel of Reference (which seeks to mediate in internal Anglican disputes) it is certainly a first, a remarkable first, to be asked to help to provide the equivalent of a stand-in Archbishop for the duly appointed local Presiding Bishop and Primate of the Episcopal Church, the Rt. Rev. Katherine Jefferts Schori (elected as such on June 18).
What the Diocese of Forth Worth is asking for as it requests an alternative Primate may be compared to, say, the diocese of Newcastle in northern England, whose Primate is the Archbishop of York, asking to be placed under the Archbishop of Canterbury, whose own province is geographically the south of England. It is a nearly unthinkable thing ; but in the present crisis of the Anglican Communion it is not unexpected!
The reason why the Diocese of Fort Worth is making this amazing request is very clear. The diocese has consistently opposed the ordination of women to the Presbyterate and Episcopate; and so it is logical that it should oppose having a female bishop as the Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church. In practical terms, her appointment means having a woman over men in the hierarchy of the Ministry and Episcopate and this is seen as being against the biblical teaching on headship and against the consistent teaching and practice of the Church through space and time. There is, also, in the case of Bishop Katherine her clear commitment to a variety of modern innovations in worship, doctrine and discipline (particularly in regard to matters of sexuality). In fact for Fort Worth Diocese she is not in the apostolic succession of bishops or apostles' teaching!
But have the Bishop and the Standing Committee of the Diocese of Fort Worth by this action gone farther then they realize? Have they effectively said that they will not be any longer a diocese of the Episcopal Church when from November there is a female Presiding Bishop? Are they stating that they will be leaving the Episcopal Church soon (and looking for an overseas province of which they can become a member diocese)?
The answer to these question is technically speaking, "No." However, the fact that the Diocesan leadership has acted so quickly in appealing to Lambeth Palace in London suggests that opposition to female ordination is deeply embedded in their understanding of the Anglican Way, and they may have come near to the end of their patience with the progressively liberal Episcopal Church. This Texan diocese is probably the most coherent and unified diocese in this Church even though it is united in a traditional form of the Episcopal Religion which a majority in the Church actually rejects.
In fact, though it identifies with the Anglican Communion Network, Fort Worth does have a major difference with the majority in the Network, in that it stand so firmly for the male-only priesthood, on the basis that the priest is an icon of Christ who was/is male. So any action it takes on the basis of this commitment would make it to act as a minority, since the Network has worked hard to prevent the ordination of women becoming an issue within its ranks, who are united organizationally on the lowest common denominator rather than on the highest.
What Fort Worth could seek to do within the Network is to persuade Network partners that there is no biblical basis for ordaining women as presbyters or consecrating them as chief pastors (bishops). Further they could try to show that when the Scriptures are "bent" to make them allow such ordinations, a method is established that has been used to justify other things, from the blessing of second and third marriages (serial monogamy) to the blessing of same-sex couples.
Possibly the time has come for The Network - as did the AMiA - to appoint a theological commission to look critically and prayerfully into the matter of ordaining women and placing them in positions of headship - especially within the social context in the Episcopal Church where the relation of women's ordination to radical changes such as the language used to describe and address God is clear.
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