Wednesday, July 11, 2018

My Perspective on Women Priests

Alice C. Linsley

Some readers and former students are aware that I was a “priest” in the Episcopal Church. I was ordained by Bishop Allen Bartlett in 1989 at Trinity Church in Swarthmore, Pennsylvania. Over a span of about 18 years, I served in the Diocese of Pennsylvania, the Diocese of Southern Ohio, and the Diocese of Lexington, Kentucky.

During those years I began to discern widening cracks in the theological and ecclesial foundations of that body. However, at least 20 years passed before I was able to appreciate how the ordination of women signaled that the foundations of our Anglican heritage were in rubble.

After I left the Episcopal Church, I began to investigate the question of women’s ordination from the perspective of the science of Anthropology. In fact, research on the priesthood has been central to my work in Biblical Anthropology, a field that I have been pioneering for over 30 years.

Before I set forth some of my discoveries in Biblical Anthropology, it would be helpful to explain that I was always a lover of Tradition and a student of Scripture. I was raised in a profoundly Christian home by parents who were sophisticated thinkers, world travelers, and fond of intellectual conversation. My father was an attorney and he challenged his daughters to think critically about social issues, interpretations of the Bible, and even about the boyfriends we brought home. We did this less often as we grew older, as our father had the habit of cross examining the poor fellows!

While in the Diocese of Pennsylvania, I became acquainted with 3 women who would become bishops in the Episcopal Church: Barbara Harris, Geralyn Wolf, and Mary Glasspool. Barbara was the first African American female to pose as a bishop. Geralyn was the first female convert from Judaism to be consecrated, and Mary was the first female bishop to dress like a man. Talk about diversity!

I didn’t foresee that the ordination of women was the proverbial “foot in the door” and that the door would swing open to non-celibate homosexuals and transgender persons. I didn’t realize that such dangerous innovations signaled the collapse of the foundations of our Anglican Faith.

Bishop Lyman Ogilby and Bishop Charles E. Bennison, both of the Diocese of Pennsylvania, were among the bishops of the Episcopal Church who signed the "We Too" statement for Homosexual Roman Catholics. The document had been prepared by Brian McNaught, the founder of the Detroit chapter of Dignity, the homosexual activist organization for Roman Catholics in the United States. The document was submitted to the Catholic bishops in November 1975, one year after the ordination of eleven women in Philadelphia. Several of the “Philadelphia Eleven” were known to be lesbians.

The year 1974 also marked the founding of the Episcopal homosexual activist group Integrity under Louie Crew and Ellen Marie Barrett. The 1977 General Convention of the Episcopal Church made the ordination of women canonical, and Bishop Paul Moore of New York rushed to ordain Ellen Barrett that same year.

In September 1975, several more lesbians were ordained in Washington D.C. Here is the account in Louie Crew's words: "More 'irregular' ordinations of women took place… after our convention. In Washington at the time, on a missionary journey to our new chapters in the east, Jim Wickliff and I yielded to the counsel of friends who advised that our visibility at the ordination might put in jeopardy lesbians among all early ordinands."

In retrospect, it is remarkable that I was ordained in the Diocese of Pennsylvania. I was an evangelical traditionalist who believed the Bible to be a primary authority for Christians. I had little in common with the feminists, and I did not embrace the progressive ideology that would break the back of catholic orders. My fairly easy slide into holy orders reveals the eagerness of the Diocese to put women forward for the priesthood.

Once women were ordained on the platform of equal rights, there was no further obstacle to the ordination of partnered gay and lesbian persons. In 1976 the General Convention affirmed full participation of non-celibate homosexuals when it passed the “we are children of God” resolution.

The undermining of catholic orders by activists has been persistent and steady. If only right-believing Christians were as persistent in our efforts to bring poor sinners to the Savior!

Episcopalians largely slept through the onslaught of the radicals, many of which were launched with great stealth, as Crew admits in his account, a revealing document titled “Changing the Church” that is found online. Some woke up after the consecration of Gene Robinson in November 2003 and realized it was too late to reverse the disastrous course of the Episcopal Church. The battle for the soul of that body had been won by the radicals. Though all who uphold Holy Tradition are on firm ground, we are hated for our resistance to a demonic vision.

I had begun to doubt my vocation as a priest as early as 1995, but didn't feel that there was anyone with whom I could share these doubts. After taking a position in Kentucky, I asked my bishop to meet with me because I wanted to share my doubts. He took me to lunch and we chatted, but when it came time to share my heart, something constrained me. I didn't tell ask him why only the Episcopal Church had women priests. I didn’t tell him that I felt as if I were wearing someone else's shoes.

During these years, I had many significant dreams related to spiritual authority and the priesthood. In one dream, which I titled “The Pearl of Great Price,” I was vested and standing in the procession of priests. We were preparing to enter into the church. I was following the Bishop who was in the procession ahead of me (not where a bishop would be). Suddenly, off to my right there appeared a gleaming white pearl, shaped like a teardrop. I knew that it was the “Pearl of Great Price” but the only way I could take hold of it was to leave the procession of priests and to turn my back on my bishop.

In reality, that is what happened. Bishop Stacy Sauls threatened to inhibit me unless I jumped on his pansexual bandwagon. I told him to do whatever he felt necessary because I would no longer walk with him. My last day of service as a priest was the Sunday that Gene Robinson was consecrated.

Two years later, in March 2005, I renounced orders in order to take hold of something far greater. That something is really Someone, Jesus Christ, the Son of God, who came into the world to save sinners like me. To Him I offer joyful praise and worship! I can do no other. This is my goodly heritage, which extends to all who are in the Kingdom of God.

It is now apparent that Episcopal Church’s departure from the faith set forth in Scripture, in the writings of the Church Fathers, and in the Book of Common Prayer has led to a total loss of spiritual authority. It is an empty vessel. This was evident to catholic-minded Anglicans even before 1975, the year that the eleven women were ordained in Philadelphia. Steeped in the unified witness of Holy Tradition and Holy Scripture, these traditionalists were clear about where the line is drawn, and they confronted corruption in the Church in the same spirit as Martin Luther who proclaimed in the words of Psalm 16:6: “The lines have fallen to me in pleasant places; Indeed, my heritage is beautiful to me.”

Why should the line be drawn at the Priesthood? A right understanding of the priestly office is necessary if we are to rebuild the foundations. The royal priesthood of Jesus Christ is the foundation. Understanding the antecedents of the priesthood of the Church is essential. We cannot rebuild unless we know where the walls were and how they were sited and aligned. We cannot restore a firm foundation unless we understand the work of our ancestors in the faith who lived in what is today less than “Merry England.”

The Church is divided, yet there is but one Priesthood - that of Jesus Christ, the Eternal Priest - whose priesthood is given to the Church. The priesthood is a unique gift and it speaks of Jesus Christ, so we must get it right or we send a false Christological message to the world, such as that delivered by Presiding Bishop Curry at the Royal Wedding.

For some Anglicans a woman priest reflects a pagan worldview and their use of the word “priestess” is intended to underscore the danger of this innovation. For a time, I resented being called a “priestess” by the clergy that I most admired. I thought they were being ungracious, yet they were telling the truth.

To Anglicans who ordain women, the term “priestess” seems insulting to the gifted and devoted women who serve in their churches. There was a time when I felt insulted, but after years of study I now believe that attempts to justify women priests are hollow. There is no justification for this radical shift, and I am committed to resisting it, and speaking against it.

It is time for orthodox Anglicans to rebuild the foundations. We must be unified in our efforts so that the walls of our New Jerusalem will be stronger than ever.

For Anglicans the authority of Scripture and Tradition is central to our identity. Not a single woman can be found in the Bible who was a priest. The all-male priesthood is a feature of the Tradition received from Jesus Messiah and his faithful ancestors. Further, Anglicans share a rich heritage of reasoned observation of the natural world. Therefore, we recognize that gender differences are important.To disregard our Anglican heritage in favor of a false narrative that presents women as priests is fatal to our identity. It also allows people to perpetuate the lie that gender no longer matters if we are in Christ. That is not what the Scriptures say.

The Anglican heritage is a beautiful one. True Anglicans uphold the authority of Scripture, catholic orders, the integrity of the male priesthood, apostolic doctrine and discipline, and the instruction of the Fathers. We have nothing about which to be ashamed. Were we defending something false and unholy, the devil would not expend such great energy to destroy us.

Bishop Keith Ackerman has said, “If you see a disconnect between what the deacon does at the altar and what he is doing in the world, the fault lies in the fact we are not doing in the world what God has called us to do.”

Likewise, if the priest isn’t about the sacramental life of the Church, he is not doing what God has called him to do. Yes, the priest must be a pastor. He must prepare sermons, visit the sick, and see to the proper preparation of confirmands. Yet the priest’s most sacred duty is at the Altar. This is his unique duty and his primary testimony.

The priest of Jesus Messiah must never lose sight of the reality that the priesthood speaks of His blood work on the Cross. By that work, all who put their trust in Him receive the Blood covering. Life is in the Blood!

For 10 years I taught World Religions at Midway University in Kentucky. The text we used claimed that the office of shaman was the first religious office. I doubted that and delved into the matter. I found that shamans are mainly found among people groups who are geographically distant from the point of origin of humans in Africa. When we move closer to the point of origin, we find practices that we associate with the ancient Hebrew priesthood: animal sacrifice, circumcision, concern about ritual purity, sacred moral codes, etc.

Thus, it is safe to conclude that the priesthood is older than the office of the shaman. Its point of origin is among Abraham’s Nilotic and Proto-Saharan ancestors. These peoples had already dispersed into the Arabian Peninsula, Mesopotamia, Southern Europe, and the Indus Valley between 70,000 and 50,000 years ago.

For at least 40,000 years prominent persons of these the early dispersed populations were buried in red ochre dust, a symbol of blood. Anthropologists agree on the blood symbolism and most agree that the blood symbolism expresses the hope of life after death. Some argue that red ochre burial suggests that the archaic peoples hoped that the deceased would be born again from Mother Earth, the red ochre being symbolic of birthing blood. This view is not consistent with the archaic context. It seems more a modern projection of Neo-Pagan and Shamanic beliefs. Clearly, such a view poses difficulties if the office of priest is older than the office of shaman. It might also be true that the Lord of Life directed such highly symbolic burial to heighten human awareness of the Blood covering that brings eternal life through the long-awaited Messiah. Missionaries often say that when they arrive to preach about Jesus they find that God has gone ahead of them, planting seeds of the Good News of salvation through His Blood.


Simple1 said...

You have my full respect Alice for speaking on a subject that causes so much dissension in the Church body. Thank you for sharing!

jayward54 said...

I was present for your talk at the general convention in Kannapolis. I was struck by your research and enjoyed your presentation. What struck me the most had the least to do with “women in the priesthood”. Your comment by Bishop Anderson: “...the fault lies in the fact we’re not doing in the world what God has called us to do.”; hit home with me and has caused many a good conversation among the clergy at St. Augustine’s Anglican Church - as well as the wives of clergy. We have directed our prayer lives to discerning what Jesus would have us do - no matter what! Thank you Father.

Alice Linsley said...

Jay, What a wonderful way to focus your prayer life!

I am struggling with this too. It seems the Lord is asking me to do something that I resist out of fear. I simply must start the project (with my teeth clenched) and trust that HE will direct, encourage, assist, provide, empower, etc.

Rahabilitation said...

Hello, Alice, I am appreciating hugely your painstaking anthropological Biblical research - incredibly enlightening, thank you. In the course of finding out more about you, I came across your piece on female ordination. I have some observations and questions for you in response to it: It seems your objection to ordination of women in the Anglican church stems at least from there having been lesbians among the original 11 and this, you say, 'opened a door' or gave a 'satanic' (my word to summarise my understanding of the spiritual destabilisation you say this began) foothold to people who would - intentionally or otherwise - undermine the 'catholicity' and doctrinal foundations of the church. But how can this be a gender issue? In 1973 - a year before the first Anglican ordination of women - Archbishop Coggan said on BBC radio that many Anglican priests were homosexual. Corrupt Popes and other clergy are figures of historical fact, whether sexually, financially or hegemonically. Nepotism and simony were rife in the Catholic church centuries before women's ordination and one only has to read Chaucer to get a hint of the range of corruption in church ranks from the lowliest monk to the prioress of a convent. Sexual sin - including paedophilia - has always undermined the Catholic and Anglican churches. I wasn't aware that one type was more serious theologically than another. Six other 'deadly sins' and many others less clearly defined by historical theologising have been evidentially rife in the Catholic and Anglican Churches since ancient and Tudor times respectively.

Joan of Arc was burnt as a heretic and countless other saints and martyrs - of both sexes -were tortured and executed by the church. Galileo died under house arrest for challenging, correctly, the astronomical views of the Catholic church, as you know. How many men of science were burnt as heretics?

How does the ordination of women - even lesbian women - become the first foundational schism of note in a structure that has been undermined by sin since its inception?

I would urge people to look beyond doctrine and canon law to a simpler and more 'innocent' theology. ''Lest we become as little children, we cannot lay claim to the Kingdom of Heaven. The machinations and power struggles of organised religion are of no interest to people called to serve Christ truly. In fact, there is a potent Spirit of Religion that is pharasaical and blasphemous - and particularly insidious. A heart that yearns for Jesus and to share His love with others, accepting of Biblical grass roots principles covering all aspects of human behaviour, should not be rejected by or afraid to seek influence in any church, regardless of the gender of the body, in which it beats. And if legalism and doctrine prevent this, then such a heart should walk Jesus' path - outside temples and without the authority of priests, for Jesus is the only High Priest to whom we'll answer eventually - surely? I refer you to the ministries of Heidi Baker and Joyce Meyer. Who will say they are not daughters of God with whom He is well pleased? They both bring countless thousands to salvation each year and miracles of healing occur wherever they teach - these are verifiable and often, recorded. Certainly, there are countless testimonies of those healed and the medics they baffle, to support this statement. When was the last documented miracle of healing in an Anglican service in the UK? USA? I'd love to know - really, I would; it would be hugely encouraging and confirming that everywhere people gather to serve God, there will be hearts that are pure and sincere. Bless you, my sister in Christ :)

Olden Ears said...

Rahabilitation - there is a difference between acknowledging sin and accepting/approving of sin.

Rahabilitation said...

I couldn't agree more, Olden Ears! I am not advocating acceptance of sin, quite the opposite. But my post was trying to posit that sin is not graduated; sexual sin not more serious than murder or deceit and one sexual sin is not 'worse' than another and the gender of the sinner is totally irrelevant. I doubt that God shares people's views on the relative merits of male and female chastity.

The nub of my response to Alice's piece is that I believe the issue of women's ordination has nothing to do with man and womankind's sinful nature - no one would be ordained if sinlessness were a qualifying criteria. In fact, there would not be a Church of England, given the sexual and marital 'credentials' of its first Head and his reasons for separating from Rome! There are relevant issues to discuss in the female ordination debate.

Rahabilitation said...

erratum: qualifying criterion

Unknown said...

If women cannot lead, I will not follow....