An announcement at Saint James Fordham • June 25 2006Last Sunday was Father’s Day, but it was also the day upon which the gathered bishops of the Episcopal Church — numbering almost 200 — elected the first woman Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church — the first woman primate of the Anglican Communion, ready to take her place alongside the leaders of the other thirty-seven independent provincial churches of the Communion.
We have indeed come a long way from the days in which Saint Paul said it was not proper for a woman to speak in church or to teach, but that she should learn in all submission. It is evident that although Saint Paul was doubtless guided by the Holy Spirit in much that he said, he was also limited — as he admitted — as a man of his own time by the culture of his own time. Even today there are human cultures that do not allow a role of leadership to women. But divine order overturns human limitations.
In his better moments, Saint Paul knew this: that woman’s submission was not part of God’s original will for human beings; that indeed when God created man and woman he created them as equals. Adam himself recognized this fact when he greeted Eve by saying, “This at last is one like me: bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh.” Eve was meant by God to stand at Adam’s side, from which she was taken — not cringe under his feet! It was only the fall that led to her submission and subjugation to the husband from whom she came, just as Adam was forced into subjugation to the earth from which he came: to toil at it with a sweaty brow until he would return whence he came.
But as Saint Paul also recognized, in his better moments: in the redeemed life in Christ, the effects of the fall are reversed: the world is leveled out, and there is no more domination or subjugation, but rather mutual love, as God’s curse is reversed by God’s grace. As Paul wrote to the Galatians, in Christ there is no more slave or free, no more male and female. These differences have lost their importance, and more importantly, their power to enslave.
It is true that Paul found it hard to give up the cultural beliefs in which he was immersed like a fish in water. He approved of slavery — even though we now consider that for one person to own another as a piece of property is not acceptable in God’s sight. So too Paul tolerated the subjugation of women, and would not allow them to teach or hold authority.
Fortunately, Paul knew that his vision was limited, clouded as it was by his own cultural limitations, and he admitted to his partial knowledge in struggling to see the truth through a glass darkly. But even more importantly, Paul’s limitations in this regard are more than offset by our Lord Jesus Christ himself, who made no such distinctions: who in fact allowed women to be the first apostles of his resurrection, the first to bear the word that he had risen from the grave — to be apostles to the apostles.
And so it is we welcome Katharine Jefferts Schori as the first woman Presiding Bishop, Chief Pastor and Primate of the Episcopal Church — and perhaps we should, as Anglicans, be reminded that the supreme governor on earth of the Church of England is also a woman: Queen Elizabeth the Second; and that our Anglican tradition came into its own under the loving and careful direction of Queen Elizabeth the First. So perhaps Bishop Katharine might well echo the famous words of Elizabeth the First as she prepared for battle against foreign invasion, when she said: “I know I have the body of a weak and feeble woman, but I have the heart and stomach of a king, and a king of England, too!”
God bless Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori, and may she guide this church in the light of the Gospel.
• Tobias S Haller BSG
Note: my congregation consists largely of West Indian and West African members, many of whom come from parts of the Anglican Communion that do not ordain women even to the priesthood, let alone the episcopate, and many of whose cultures still regularly subject women to a secondary status. I can report that this somewhat extended announcement was very well received!