Inclusive women

by Phyllis Zagano

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What next? Now even the Church of England is talking about admitting that maybe, just maybe, inclusive language can be used to describe God. You know, the whole "She Who Is" business.

Next thing, they'll be saying women can image Christ.

Oh, wait, they already did that.

Members of Women and the Church (Watch) meet in Lambeth Palace, the official residence of the archbishop of Canterbury, to talk about women in the Church of England. The palace spokesperson says the group is not an official body but that the archbishop is happy to grant space for its meetings.

Things are very different for Anglican women in England. They have one female bishop to look toward and two more on the way. Just in January, Elizabeth Jane Holden Lane was consecrated a suffragan bishop -- the equivalent of a Catholic auxiliary bishop -- for Anglican diocese of Chester. Married with two children, she is best known as Libby and has created yet another stumbling block -- or yet another excuse -- to complicate ecumenical dialogue.

British Anglicans, as one might assume, are somewhat divided on women bishops. Despite the fact that the Episcopal Church in the United States and other members of the Anglican Communion had female bishops for quite some time, female bishops in England created quite a different stir. Many Anglicans there are not quite sure they like the idea, even though it was voted in -- after several tries -- by the Church of England in 2014.

Some years ago, Cardinal Walter Kasper delivered stern warnings about the pending possibility of Church of England women consecrated to the episcopate, saying such a move would endanger Catholic-Anglican ecumenical relations.

Despite Kasper's dire warnings, which echoed 1970s hierarchical angst over the ordination of Anglican women to priesthood, ecumenical relations seem to be going along just fine. That is, at least the rules have not changed: Anglicans can receive Catholic Eucharist and penance and be anointed in danger of death when there is no alternative for them. But following 2013 meetings between the archbishop of Canterbury and Pope Francis at the Vatican, the chill in the air became apparent. Other issues -- especially increasing recognition of homosexual unions by many Anglicans on the one hand and the acceptance of entire congregations as "Anglican Use" by Catholicism -- have deepened the metaphorical Tiber River waters separating Canterbury and Rome.

The Texas-based Personal Ordinariate of the Chair of St. Peter, to which approximately 33 former Episcopal congregations in the U.S. and Canada are now attached, is headed by a former Episcopal bishop who is not and cannot be a Catholic bishop because he is married. Separately, the "pastoral provision" to accept married convert clergy as Catholic priests has gained about 75 married priests across the U.S. Similar structures operate around the world.

Why the conversions to Catholicism? Ask the Rev. Jody Stowell and the members of Watch, who led the winning campaign for female bishops. There are deep pockets of resistance to women in ministry throughout the Anglican Communion. Having won the female bishop battle in England, Watch members now want liturgical language to recognize theology -- and not limit God to one gender.

As Stowell recently said: "Orthodox theology says all human beings are made in the image of God, that God does not have a gender. He encompasses gender -- he is both male and female and beyond male and female. So when we only speak of God in the male form, that's actually giving us a deficient understanding of who God is."

Think it will catch on? I mean, what if all Christianity understood God as the limitless being beyond gender, in whose image all are created? That would mean women could image Christ. And you know what that could lead to.

[Phyllis Zagano is senior research associate-in-residence at Hofstra University in Hempstead, N.Y. She will speak Sept. 19 in Philadelphia. Her newest books include Mysticism and the Spiritual Quest: A Crosscultural Anthology and Women in Ministry: Emerging Questions about the Diaconate.]

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