June 25, 2006

Our New Primate: God Bless Her!

An announcement at Saint James Fordham • June 25 2006
Last 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!


Anonymous said...


I don't mean to be a downer after such an uplifting post, but this seems to be the most germane place to ask this: what do you make of what has been reported elsewhere that some of the more conservative bishops voted for Jefferts Schori in a move calculated to hasten schism?

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

Dear Douglas (H),
Thanks for the note. I too had heard this rumor, but I don't know whether to credit it or not. Ultimately I can't imagine more than a handful of conservative bishops voting this way, and as the ballots were tending I think +Katharine would have prevailed on the next ballot regardless of any such political mischief.

Anonymous said...


I'm not so sure that Schori basically had the election and could have gotten it without conservative bishops' support.

In looking at the official results from each ballot, taking into consideration each candidate's stand on GLBT issues, and hearing even Griswold comment that conservative bishops voted for Schori in order to facilitate schism, I think it could easily have gone to Parsley. Especially if conventional wisdom is on target with the number of conservative bishops voting for Schori being between 6 - 9.

On the fifth ballot Sauls had 0 votes, Gulick had 0 votes, and Alexander had 2. If you take 6 - 9 bishop votes away from Schori and give them to Parsley, plus take Duque-Gomez's 6 votes and Jenkins 3 votes and give them to Parsley, Parsley could have won with 97 votes.

Somewhat speculative, but as for political mischief it could have been pretty easy to do.

Frankly, Schori won, I'm glad (well, I was until Wednesday... now "the jury" in my mind is re-deliberating), and any political mischief by conservative bishops voting intentionally for Schori doesn't taint her as a Presiding Bishop in my mind.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

Dear DF,
You may be right; but I suspect that a number of the Jenkins supporters would rather take the high road and not "vote for schism" -- and more importantly could not bring themsleves to support Parsley because of his strong anti-Network stand. In the long run I think it was their unwillingness to give up on Jenkins that led to ++Katharine's election, although as a matter of fact, since she won by the minimal required majority, a single mischievous vote may have been decisive.

There is, of course, a strange history in episcopal elections of people using the ballot for something other than actually expressing their favor for a candidate. I've heard it said in the present case that a number of bishops voted for +KJS on the first ballot as a "courtesy" to show support for her, intending to shift in subsequent ballots. Again, this is a rumor and I do not know it to be true -- but it is plausible.

Anonymous said...

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.

Um, better NT scholars here than me (by a long shot!) . . . but I thought that "the ink was still wet" on these ones? (i.e. they're not by Paul, nee' Saul, of Tarsus?)

I mean, not that it matters: Paul was (IMO) wrong (when not unintelligible) about plenty of other matters, so he could be wrong about this one, too!

I am precisely 0% interested in the alleged "motivations" of some of those who elected +Katharine. God has worked in far weirder ways, than to use "what some meant for ill" for GREAT good (Joseph in Egypt? Ultimately, Jesus on the Cross?)

+(+)KJS is my PB: that's all I need to know.

That said: I think she screwed up w/ B033, and---since she is a bishop who enthusiastically affirms "the ministry of ALL the baptized"---I feel it's part of my ministry, to tell her so! ;-/

Anonymous said...

Paul might or might not have been the author, or wrong, about some of the passages in question. What makes it interesting is that if you read it whilst noting that the cultural norm was for women not *even* to learn at all, then `in silence at home' makes Paul out to be a *liberator*. Go for it!