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Women, Priesthood and Religious Struggle 20 June 2006

Posted by Todd in Christianity, Gender, Religion.

Having been raised in a religion that demands obedience and deference to leaders, I find the internal strife of the Episcopal Church U.S.A. refreshing. The threat of schism has been looming since the Diocese of New Hampshire elected Gene Robinson to its bishopric. Yesterday, the American Episcopal church elected Katharine Jefferts Schori to be the Primate of the American church, to serve a term of 9 years. At least three diocese of the church who do not recognize the ordination of women have decried the retreat from tradition and have even said that Bishop Jeffrets Schori won't be welcome in their churches.

All of this, however, feels exciting to me because the structure of the church is so much different from the Mormonism I grew up with. Here you have a group of people who are actually struggling with each other over what compassion means, what the message of Jesus actually was, what it means to embrace our humanity and extend an arm of welcome and love to the outcast of society. And in having that discussion, what does that mean for a 2000 year old religion, especially a religion, along with the other monotheisms, whose historical claims have been severely undermined in the past 25 years.

As someone who doesn't believe in a separate, transcendant, personal God and one who values and insists on evidence and rational thought for the establishment of knowledge, I still find a depth of possibilities in the Christian tradition, possibilities missed and denied by most Christian churches in America today. Perhaps the Episcopal church, and other denominations whose focus is on ethics rather than orthodoxy, are working out a Christianity that can still be relevant in the 21st century.

Salon.com's analysis struck a chord with me:

The struggle isn't just about gayness, of course, but, rather, a more fundamental conflict between believers who crave certainty and those who embrace ambiguity; those who insist Scripture is inerrant and unchanging, delivered once and for all time, and those who believe the Bible is only part of God's ongoing revelation. The struggle is also about how to define a Christian: as one who seeks to keep religion “pure” or one who welcomes outcasts. It's hardly a conflict unique to Anglicanism or, for that matter, Christianity. As Chris Linzey, an English priest who edited a book on Anglicans and homosexuality, wrote, “The agenda of conservatives is a rolling one: today it is gays, but biblical inerrancy, interfaith worship, women bishops, remarriage after divorce will surely follow. The logic of all purity movements is to exclude.”


And yet God, according to the stories we know, tends to show up in the most unlikely places: in humiliated, unclean women, in helpless babies, speaking in ways that upset the established order and turn tradition on its head. As with Bishop Robinson, Jefferts Schori may provoke schism, and further dismembering of a denomination that has shakily held together despite differences in style, politics and theology. But she may also be a reminder that the institution of the church — of any human religion — is, finally, so much smaller than the promise it embodies.

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