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By David W. Virtue, DD
April 27, 2022

The recent skirmish over the possibility of a woman being ordained a bishop in the orthodox (evangelical) Anglican Province of Uganda, a staunch GAFCON supporter, raises the specter of a growing number of Global South provinces capitulating to the idea - a possibility thought impossible just a few short years ago.

A recent news report that Uganda is ready to ordain women bishops, a move that could usher in the most substantial change to the highest order of ministry in the Anglican Church of Uganda, shook up GAFCON leaders. It was later qualified by the Ugandan Archbishop, Stephen Kaziimba, that they would stick with an agreed upon moratorium until there is a consensus among GAFCON primates.

That is hardly reassuring. At a meeting of GAFCON primates in Entebbe in 2018, they resolved not to consecrate further women bishops until a consensus in favor of the innovation is reached. The Primate of South Sudan endorsed this decision.

It is ironic that the Jerusalem Declaration, the theological backbone of GAFCON, has no language for the purposes of denying the ordination of women. All it says is that they uphold the classic threefold order of ministry as understood and proclaimed in the BCP 1662. There is nothing about the gender of the clergy.

The more obvious authority for GAFCON's drift and crisis is their failure to uphold the Report of the Task Force created by the GAFCON Primates themselves. The Task Force was led by Bishop Samson Mwaluda, a retired Kenyan Anglican bishop who delivered their Report to the Primates recommending against women bishops. Later, the Kenyan archbishop did a complete volte face without any explanation or addressing the GAFCON Task Force report when Kenya consecrated its second female bishop following the GAFCON Primates' meeting which dodged the issue.

Since then, a small handful of Global South provinces have ordained women to the episcopate. They include the Province of The Episcopal Church of South Sudan in the person of Elizabeth Awut Ngor, Diocese of Rumbek in 2016. The Anglican Church of Kenya in the person of Emily Onyango, Diocese of Bondo in 2021 and the Rev. Rose Okeno, 52, of Butere, a rural diocese. The Anglican Church of Southern Africa in the person of Ellinah Wamukoya, Bishop of Swaziland in 2012 and Margaret Vertue, Bishop of False Bay, in 2012.

Western provinces had long ago capitulated to the idea. The first woman to become a bishop in the Anglican Communion was Barbara Harris, who was ordained suffragan bishop of Massachusetts in February 1989. A network for opponents of women's ordination called the Evangelical and Catholic Mission was established in 1976. Following the consecration of Barbara Harris, a group of 22 active and retired bishops established the Episcopal Synod of America, subsequently Forward in Faith North America. A sister organization, Forward in Faith UK, was established in 1992.

Of the 115 bishops in the Episcopal Church today, 25 are women, with two being lesbians - Mary Glasspool (New York-Assisting); and Bonnie Perry (XI Michigan).

The Episcopal Church elected its first woman presiding bishop, Katharine Jefferts Schori. She was elected 26th Primate at the 2006 General Convention for a nine-year term (2006-2015).

On 12 May 2018, Melissa Skelton was elected Metropolitan (which includes the title 'Archbishop') of the Ecclesiastical Province of British Columbia and Yukon.

On 13 July 2019, Linda Nicholls was elected the first female Primate of the Anglican Church of Canada. She was installed as the 14th primate on July 16, during a service at Christ Church Cathedral, Vancouver, BC.

The ordination of women in the Anglican Communion has become increasingly common in certain provinces since 1970, but the ordination of women to the episcopacy is relatively new, starting in 1989.

Countries that now ordain women bishops are Aotearoa. Australia, Brazil, Canada, England, Ireland, Japan (very recently), Mexico, Scotland, South Africa, South India, South Sudan, Sudan, US, Wales and Cuba.

The Mother Church -- Church of England ordained its first woman, Libby Lane, whose appointment as Bishop of Stockport (a suffragan see in the Diocese of Chester) was announced on 17 December 2014. Alison White was appointed Bishop of Hull (suffragan, Diocese of York) on 25 March 2015. The third woman to be appointed bishop, and the first to be a diocesan bishop, was Rachel Treweek, whose appointment as 43rd Bishop of Gloucester was announced on 26 March 2015. She became Bishop of Gloucester on 15 June 2015 following the confirmation of her election. On 22 July 2015, she and Sarah Mullally (Bishop of Crediton, a suffragan see in the Diocese of Exeter) were the first women to be ordained as bishops at Canterbury Cathedral. She was made Bishop of London in 2018.

Such innovations have had far reaching consequences on some Anglicans. Two notable Anglican bishops, one in the Church of England, Dr. Michael Nazir-Ali and another Anglican bishop, Dr. Gavin Ashenden both believe that Anglicanism was coming off the rails ecclesiologically and theologically over this and other issues and departed for Rome. A "Personal ordinariate" offered by Rome for former Anglicans arose in part because of the theological innovations were found to be intolerable by some orthodox Anglicans and Episcopalians. The most notable departure in the US was TEC Bishop Jeffrey Steenson, now a monsignor in the RCC.


It should be stated that neither the Roman Catholic Church, nor the great Orthodox churches of the East and West allow the ordination of women to any order of ministry. The Southern Baptist Convention (the largest of the various Baptist denominations) and the largest protestant denomination in America, does not support the ordination of women; however, some churches that are members of the SBC have ordained women.

Several provinces, however, and certain dioceses within otherwise ordaining provinces, continue to ordain only men. The Anglican Church of Nigeria, The Anglican Church in North America and the Anglican Diocese of the West (USA/Canada) a branch of the Church of Nigeria North American Mission, are on record saying they will never ordain women to the episcopacy. The Diocese of Sydney restricts ordination of women to the diaconate, rejecting the ordination of women as priests (or presbyters) and bishops.


But what of the theology of ordaining women to the episcopacy?

Christian scholar, anthropologist and former Episcopal priest, Alice C. Linsley is adamant in her condemnation of the practice. Linsley argues that neither history, tradition, Scripture or theology supports such ordinations.

"It is surprising that Africans are struggling with the issue of women priests and bishops since they are usually at the forefront in defending the binary reasoning of Scripture which undergirds marriage between a man and a woman. That same binary reasoning protects women as mothers and homemakers and men as hunters, warriors, and priests who offer blood sacrifice."

"In a recent conversation about the binary reasoning of Scripture, my niece, who lived in Niger, recalled that women there were not permitted to slaughter animals. Taking life was considered the work of men. Giving life is the work of women. The priest at altar represents the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. The priesthood is about His atoning blood, His Real Presence. Women are more likely to be ordained in Anglican jurisdictions where there is confusion about the nature of the priesthood or where a Protestant view of Communion has been adopted."

"The binary distinction between the blood work of men and the blood work of women in their monthly cycle and in childbirth is expressed in the fact that the two bloods were never permitted to mix or even to be present in the same space. There was to be no blurring of the distinction between life and death. Men were not permitted in the birthing hut. Women were not permitted where animals were sacrificed."

"Many prohibitions of Scripture are to preserve in the minds of God's people the boundaries established by the Creator in the beginning. The people were not to boil a baby goat in its mother's life-sustaining milk. Two types of seed were not to be sown in the same field. Males were not to have sex with males. These prohibitions reinforce the distinctions God established in the order in creation."

"The prohibition against mixing types extends to plants and gender. The spilling of human semen (onanism) is regarded as an unrighteous act in the biblical worldview because this violates the divinely established order in creation. The seed that should fall to the earth is the seed of the plants with roots in the earth.

The seed of man should fall on his own type (the womb), from which man comes forth. This reflects the ancient wisdom that was informed by observation of immutable (fixed) patterns in nature. It is based on reality, not imagined entities or moral relativism. In 191 AD, Clement of Alexandria wrote, "Because of its divine institution for the propagation of man, the seed is not to be vainly ejaculated, nor is it to be damaged, nor is it to be wasted." (The Instructor of Children)

"The biblical objection to homosex has the same basis. It is a violation of God's order in creation. It is ironic that Christians who speak against homosexual relations are tempted to toss out the biblical distinction between the work of men and women when it comes to holy orders."

Disputes over the ordination of women have contributed to the establishment and growth of progressive tendencies such as the Anglican realignment and Continuing Anglican movements, the latter going back to 1977.

For those who don't believe in the slippery slope, one need only look at the American Episcopal Church. Three known bishops - one known homosexual, (several closeted) and two lesbians, give the lie to that.

Only time will tell if the ordination of women to the episcopacy in the mostly orthodox Global South will unravel the realignment. Clearly, though, it will take more than the Jerusalem Declaration to hold it together.


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