An unequal struggle

Geoffrey Kirk


The unspoken assumption of the debate about the ordination of women to the priesthood and the episcopate (and related issues in human sexuality) has been that both sides are arguing about the same thing; that two sets of propositions are being placed on the scales and that, in time, it will become apparent to everyone which has the greater weight.

That this is not the case ought by now to be fairly obvious. But since it is not, it may be helpful briefly to point out why not.

The whole thing is a matter of questions and presuppositions. To every theological dilemma there is both an orthodox and a liberal question. Take two simple examples. The liberal question about the priesthood and episcopate is, ‘Why not have women priests and bishops?’ The orthodox question is, ‘What is the significance of the maleness of the apostolic ministry?’ The liberal question about the incarnation is, ‘Does it matter that Jesus was male?’ The orthodox question is, ‘What do we learn from the maleness of the Incarnation?’

The two sorts of questions derive from two opposing views of the very nature of Christianity. Liberals view Scripture and the tradition through the lens of what has been usefully described as the ’hermeneutic of suspicion’. If historical or scriptural evidence of what they take to be axiomatic is not available, they assume that there has been a conspiracy of concealment.

Orthodox affirm the trustworthiness, both of the Scriptures and the tradition. They seek to read both, so far as possible, in the context of their own time and culture; yet they accord them all the respect (and, of course, more) that they would give any modern authority.

So there it is. The orthodox suppose that, in the ordination of women (as in all matters), we stand as dwarves upon the shoulders of giants; that we must approach truth diligently along the path which has been pioneered for us. Liberals, by contrast, suppose that we all have a clearer insight now than before, because now is the kairos of God. In the prophetic words of Mrs Baker Eddy, we have ‘Science and Health, with a Key to the Scriptures.’

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