Back when I studied International Relations—before I was introduced to the glories of theology—there was an aspect of American foreign policy I found perplexing: the U.S. supports democracy in Taiwan, arms the country, and makes it clear that a mainland take-over of the island is unacceptable. At the same time, the U.S. officially supports a One China policy. That is, the U.S. supports the reunion of Taiwan with the mainland. How can this be? How can a democratic Taiwan reunite with a Communist mainland?
It took me a while but I eventually realized that reunion can happen when the mainland becomes democratic. For the two to be reunited, both have to change: Taiwan by sacrificing its independence from the mainland, China by changing its political system. Such changes may seem a long way off, but the policy is at least minimally coherent.
One of the arguments catholic-minded types use in opposing the Church of England’s move towards women in the episcopacy is that it would harm chances of reunion with Roman Catholics. Basically, the argument goes, if we have women in the episcopacy, Rome will never talk to us again.
Readers of this blog will know that I take the unity of church seriously, and I take this objection seriously. There are profound historical, theological, and spiritual reasons why Anglicans should be seeking closer relationship with Roman Catholics, and ecumenical reunion is something for which all Christians need to pray.
But I’m not convinced by this catholic-minded argument against women in the episcopacy. There is an important and deeply true argument for having women in all orders of ministry, which I won’t rehearse here. It is one that needs to be affirmed by the church. Let’s do it already!
But what about Rome? Well, it’s kind of like China and Taiwan, Rome being China, and Anglicans being Taiwan. Reunion will come, but it will come when Rome comes to accept the validity of the argument about ordaining women. It’s not that the Anglicans need to knuckle under, sacrifice their principles, and reunite with an unchanging monolith. That monolith needs to change to make the reunion possible.
This points to a larger objection I have to the catholic types in Anglican circles, a tendency to deny the charism of Anglicanism. I don’t see the role of the Anglican churches to be to emulate Rome as closely as possible in the hopes we can rejoin them. Instead, I see that Anglicans have a unique role to play in the family of churches, one that, for instance, upholds a middle way between Roman Catholicism and Protestantism and combines a catholic ecclesiology with an evangelical commitment to the faith. Ordaining women as bishops is part of that role and helps churches around the world see larger truths of the gospel, just as Anglican learn others of these truths from other Christians.
Some people see Anglicans as little more than warmed-over Roman Catholics. Rather than acquiescing to this view, I’d like to see Anglicans fill their role in the body of Christ and share their gifts with the greater church—Rome first among them. That way, we can all as Christians move towards a greater embrace of Gospel truths, first among them “that they may all be one.”