Monday, June 08, 2009

IV The Seven Devils of Women's Ordination, or, She Who Lie Down With Dogs Catch Fleas

Institutional Contradictions

In the light of these observations, the contradictions (not paradoxes) inherent in the present situation are untenable. Here are a few more:

— In Christ, both sacrifice (self-emptying) and priest (the will and gift to manifest this self-emptying) are indistinguishable. Why then do we create a duality?
— This sacrifice is made in the solitude of every human heart, and the body is the altar on which the Eucharist of each human life is made. Why then do we continue to allow the exaltation of one group of human beings to the denigration of others? What has happened to wonder, awe, reverence, before the unique mystery of each human person in whom God dwells in Christ by the Spirit? and by extension, before the unique mystery of creation?
—The purpose of Christian life is to realise our inherent gift of participation in God by becoming other Christs. Why do we imply that the ordained are more ‘Christ’ than the non-ordained?
—The Holy Spirit blows where she will, bestowing her charisms on the just and the unjust, but she unfailingly bestows grace through those who humbly wait on her, who, in attentive receptivity, are emptied of their self-preoccupation and drawn, in Christ, to the Father.
—Christ refused the temptation in the desert, and continued to refuse throughout his life, to lay claim, to grasp, equality with God (Phil. 2,5-11). The Eucharist is the sacrament of his life. Why then do clerics and would-be clerics presume to ‘claim’ the Eucharist? Eucharistic celebration is not a ‘right’, nor a ‘call’, nor an ‘exercise of power’, nor cause for preferment. Life in Christ operates on the law of ungrasping, the principle that humility is divinity, which has its corollary in the law of the paradox of intention, the fundamental law of prayer. [19] It is the life of one who is the most humble servant of all.
—The Church of England and Anglicanism in general has not become inculturated, it has become acculturated, compromised, corrupted by the very values the Christian vision opposes. Clergy no longer seem to be accountable beyond themselves. In Britain, this acculturation is tied up with Establishment; in America, with the deliberate adoption, fifty years ago, of a business model for the church. Nothing could have been more destructive or self-refuting. Acculturation is always a problem, but today there seems to be a total lack of discernment between the two, and claims of inculturation are used to justify acculturation, or hedonism, or, worst of all, ‘human nature’, which is a slur on the divine image and the true greatness of which human beings are potentially capable. While it could be argued that people have always used the church to further their own power, this does not make it right or necessary, and things certainly do not have to be as bad as they are at this time.
— Religious orders also are dying. [20] This is a pity because, if nothing else, they could provide a counterpole to marketplace ‘spirituality’. Having done exemplary work for years, they are affected by the same diseases as the rest of the church and society. They are dying from all the ills cited above and a few that are peculiar to themselves. They are not dying from lack of vocations: there are many thousands of vocations, but these vocations need simplicity, the basics, wise discernment, and thus have nowhere to go.
Like Christianity itself, Christian religious life, specifically monastic life, began as a lay movement. Benedict himself was a layman. Yet religious life, like Christianity, became clericalised within three centuries. It is arguable that any sort of clericalisation leads inevitably to decline. The ordination of women may hasten or slow the process of dying in women’s communities. One of the best-kept secrets in male communities [21] is the underlying animosity between the ordained and the non-ordained. With the clericalisation of the self-image of religious orders (a contradiction in terms), and the greater freedom men superficially appear to be able to give one another, it is a problem rarely voiced and often squelched. Male bonding and all that. The ordained, after all, run the communities. The lay brothers—well, ask them.
This situation gets even more interesting as women’s communities try to decide whether to admit ordained women or whether to allow any of their own members to ordained. Women seem to have a greater need for everyone be alike, caused in part by their second-class status in church and society. Competitive envy is rampant. [22] One can only hope that communities will awaken to the realisation of how deeply infected they are by the pathology of clericalism. After ten years in England I still find it difficult to watch what British women, especially in the church, put up with from men. Perhaps they feel denial is the only way they can survive. But it is deadly for both men and women.
—The nature of theological debate at the official level throughout modern Christendom reeks of presumption, i.e., imposed, arrogant ignorance. Some of those involved still operate on a so-called ‘natural law’ that has little to do with the way we now know that God in fact makes the creation (attitudes towards women and homosexuals, for example), and even less with Christology. Others presume to know what God thinks and what makes people tick, as if they were psycho-biological or theological-ethical machines stamped to a universal template. There are universal laws, but they work from within, not from without. These people seem unable to comprehend that by condemning parts of creation, they are condemning God who made it as it is. Whatever happened to humility before the mystery? To faith in search of understanding?
—Domestication, recent scientific studies tell us, whether the co-domestication of animals and humans, or human attempts to domesticate God, leads only to the behavioural regression of the parties involved, and, in the latter case, the trivialisation of God by religion. One does not have to look far among the clergy to see infantile behaviour.

It does not take a theologian—many theologians would be the last to be able to perceive them—to see that life in Christ and the concrete situation among Church of England leaders (as opposed to their public pronouncements) are completely at odds. It almost seems as if we have entered the phase of life in an organism where the body is killed and only the sickness, which has destroyed it, remains, having, in the process, condemned itself. It is also a commonplace that organisations have a terminal phase in which those who are less healthy and more oblivious retain control and drive the more healthy and visionary away.


[19] See Marvin Shaw, The Paradox of Intention, Atlanta: Scholar’s Press, 1988.
[20] The full text of this section had to be cut, due to length. It will be appended at the end of the article.
[21] A perennial problem, it is acknowledged in Benedict’s Rule, ch. 62. There has begun a movement in men’s communities whereby the superior can be a layperson, but clericalism still predominates.
[22] ‘...the women were virtual prisoners, living in a state of permanent squabbling and bickering, largely induced by insecurity. The only security they had was their husband’s favor.’ Jung Chang on the competitive envy of concubines in Wild Swans, London: HarperCollins, 1993, p. 40. For ‘husband’ read ‘male clergy’.


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