The ordination of women to the priesthood : a critical examination of the debate within the Anglican communion, 1961-1986

Doctoral Thesis


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University of Cape Town

This thesis sets out to make a comprehensive study of the debate on the ordination of women to the priesthood in the Anglican Communion. This required, first and foremost, an historical examination of the development of the debate. Chapters 1-3 trace the movement of thought and attitude within the churches which make up the Communion, focusing particularly on the Church of the Province of Southern Africa, the Church of England, and the Episcopal Church of North America. A gradual shift in attitudes is revealed, away from grossly sexist understandings of women's roles in the church, and towards an acceptance that women have both the gifts and the calling for priesthood and indeed, for any role in the church. The next step after tracing the movement of attitudes in the past, was to examine the attitudes of the present. Chapter 4 contains the results of empirical research, undertaken in South Africa, on present-day attitudes and arguments in the debate. These, as might be expected, reveal a wide spectrum of opinion, from ultra-conservative stereotypes of women's role to an open acceptance of women occupying any role for which they have the gifts and abilities. Each response, of course, produced theological and scriptural evidence in its own support. Chapters 5 and 6, therefore, provide a biblical and theological evaluation of the evidence and arguments upon which these responses were based, both for and against the ordination of women to the priesthood. The biblical and theological evaluation revealed the crux of the thesis - namely, that the debate on the ordination of women to the priesthood is an integral part of the phenomenon of ecclesial and social sexism. The arguments of the opponents of women's ordination are invariably based on sexist modes of thought. At the same time, however, the arguments of the proponents of women's ordination are, to a large extent, influenced and. shaped by those same sexist modes of thought which they are attempting to address. For this reason the arguments in favour of women's ordination are unable to create a new theology in which the full humanity of Christian women as created in the image of God is a non-negotiable assumption; a theology in which therefore the priesthood, and women's participation in it takes on a new form closer to the revelation of the servant priesthood of Christ. Chapter 7 thus moves beyond the debate on women's ordination to an analysis of the structures and principles of sexism, and especially the manifestations of the sexism in past and present church history. It is only by the complete abolition of sexism in the churches that the true priesthood of both women and men can be achieved. In Chapter 8 the first tentative steps towards this goal are explored. It is obvious that the abolition of sexism in the churches must primarily take place through the self-liberation of Christian women and men from sexist patterns of thought and behaviour. Groups such as the Movement for the Ordination of Women in Britain can contribute much towards this end by their outreach to their members who in turn can communicate with fellow parishioners. In this way various groups may be started in the parishes, and house churches may be influenced in their teaching and thinking.

Bibliography: pages 407-418.