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Women in the dominant tradition

November 25, 2012

In light of the predicament of the Church of England, now that the vote for female bishops did not get the two thirds majority it needed among the laity, here are a few positive words about the ministry of women. I wrote a few years ago about the strong tradition of women ministering in the interior of British Columbia. There is also a strong positive tradition of ordained women in British evangelicalism which Steve Holmes writes about at length at Shored Fragments. He concludes,

[T]he dominant tradition of British spirituality from (at least) 1870-1930 was a tradition that was aggressively and counter-culturally positive about the full ministry of women, and about female ordination. This is well established and straightforward historical fact.

In recent – very recent; I suspect the crucial turning point comes in the 1980s – years, there has been a strand of British evangelicalism that has been particularly unhappy with women teaching or exercising authority in the church, and that has tried to elevate that unhappiness into a defining point for the tradition; I do not doubt the sincerity of such people, but I do think honesty should compel them to acknowledge that their position is not ‘conservative’ but profoundly revisionist: it is a direct reversal of a settled and lasting evangelical tradition.

To be a ‘conservative Anglican’ might involve a desire to resist the elevation of women to the episcopate; a ‘conservative evangelical’ however, if words retain any meaning, should necessarily be actively committed to promoting the equal ministry of women and men at every level of church office.


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