Gerald R. McDermott has done a huge favor for the Anglican Church in North America. Whether or not you agree with the argument he makes in his article, “God is Not Fair: Some Thoughts on Women’s Ordination,” the larger issue he raises takes the discussion to another level.
Debates over “women’s ordination” often become acrimonious, being driven more by emotion than by sound theology and exegesis. As an isolated issue, it can become the basis for declarations of impaired communion. Conflated, as it often is, with what should be the less controversial issue of “women in ministry,” it becomes fertile ground for accusations of sexism and exclusion.
The ongoing Taskforce on Holy Orders, under the direction of the College of Bishops, has managed, at least up until now, to navigate skillfully through the troubled waters this issue often brings. The bishops are playing the long game, wisely avoiding the pitfalls that have doomed so many previous attempts at Anglican reformation.
What stands out about McDermott’s essay, although written specifically to address the issue of “women’s ordination,” is his calling attention to a factor in the debate that has long been overlooked, if not entirely forgotten.
So if God believes in equality, it is a different equality from what most think. God’s equality does not mean giving every person the same chance to do everything.
Neither did Jesus’ equality mean that. He treated women in revolutionary ways, and had female disciples like Mary who studied with him in ways normally impossible for Jewish women. Women traveled with him and talked with him in public in ways that violated cultural conventions. So when he chose his twelve apostles, it wasn’t the culture or his own fears that prevented him from including women.
This is difficult to think through, because we want to believe that Jesus must have believed in equality as we do. But he did not.
Scripture presents us with a view of equality between men and women that is decidedly different from the view so often promoted by contemporary culture. McDermott reminds us of this, in all its gory details, noting that “we are revolted by what Paul said and by what Jesus did (or did not do) because they violate what recent cultural mavens have told us.” As is so often the case, not only with this particular issue but with many others, as well, contemporary debates are guided by things temporal rather than things eternal.
McDermott concludes with a not necessarily rhetorical question for all of us in the ACNA.
What do we do? Should we feel a bit uncomfortable about trying to improve on what Paul and Jesus thought and did?
It is quite obvious what his answer would be. Regardless of how others might answer, however, McDermott has challenged us to move the conversation to a much higher plane.