AAC on Women's Ordination

[The AAC (American Anglican Council) is a conservative organization in all but the issue of women's ordination, which they support.  The Episcopal conservative organization which forbids the ordination of women is Forward in Faith.]

Here is the final statement on women's ordination, which was drafted ten days ago, and just put into final form.  I would draw your attention to a new term, "impaired authority," which is introduced and will be further explained in the future.

Feel free to circulate this around your networks.

Stephen Noll  

[received on 8/10/97  E. Fox]



Approved by the Board of the American Anglican Council

July 26, 1997

In July 1997, the General Convention of the Episcopal Church passed a revision to its canon law (Canon III.8.1) that makes acceptance of the ordination of women to the priesthood and episcopate mandatory in every diocese and parish.

After January 1, 1998, bishops, priests, and lay leaders will violate church law if they oppose women's ordination in any way other than holding a private opinion. Four bishops who conscientiously oppose it will be subject to presentment, trial, and removal from office. Priests will be subject to discipline as well and may be deposed, and laypersons who cannot accept women's ordination will be ineligible to serve on vestries.

This decision brings to a close twenty years in which the Episcopal Church changed from permitting only men to be ordained priest and bishop, to permitting diversity in practice from diocese to diocese, to requiring women's ordination everywhere. In passing this canon, the General Convention has rejected the guidelines of the Eames Commission of the Anglican Communion, which recognizes male-only ordination as a legitimate Anglican position and advises a reception period during which the Church might come to one mind on this divisive issue. It has also cavalierly dismissed the ecumenical dimensions of this decision to ban an order of ministry held by the Roman Catholic and Orthodox churches, as well as many Protestants.

The American Anglican Council vigorously opposed the revision of Canon III.8.1. Our membership includes many who find women's ordination warranted in Scripture and important for a full of ministry of the people of God. It also includes men and women who oppose the practice or are uncertain about it, both biblically and contextually. The AAC Board includes both a woman priest and a bishop from the Episcopal Synod of America [now Forward in Faith] (which has opposed women's ordination since 1976).

Despite our acknowledged differences, we are agreed that the Episcopal Church is not competent to make such a unilateral decision, especially by means of law. The new canon imposes a disputed doctrinal view on those who hold a biblical, historic, and ecumenical position to the contrary. The 1997 General Convention passed a canon (Canon IV.15) which affirms that "the Doctrine of the Church is to be found in the Canon of Holy Scripture as understood in the Apostles' and Nicene Creeds, and in the sacramental rites, the Ordinal, and the Catechism in the Book of Common Prayer." The ordination of women is not clearly mandated in these sources, and an appeal for "justice" based on the baptismal covenant cuts two ways, since both views claim to represent God's just design for his Church. 

We insist that the imposition of this new canon must be understood in the context of the larger doctrinal confusion in the Episcopal Church today. By tolerating leaders who publicly deny fundamental doctrines of Christian faith and morals, the Church has compromised its authority to compel obedience on what is surely a more "indifferent" matter. Until it cleans up its doctrinal house, the Episcopal Church cannot address this issue with anything more than an "uncertain trumpet." Therefore we have concluded that the Episcopal Church is functioning in a state of "impaired authority."

The crisis over women's ordination has highlighted two witnesses within the Episcopal Church. On the one hand, since 1976 many women have been ordained who hold to the authority of Scripture and who express a willingness to see the ordination of women received into the Church over a longer time and through a genuine process of discernment. These women stand as witnesses to the truth of the Gospel and the authority of Scripture in the Episcopal Church and as godly examples of leadership. On the other hand, the supporters of the Episcopal Synod of America have maintained a continuous and often sacrificial witness to the evangelical catholic understanding of church order by which only males can properly represent Christ in the orders of bishop and priest.

We believe that, in the providence of God, the crisis of authority in the Episcopal Church provides an opportunity for these two witnesses to be heard together. We believe that the past twenty years offers only a beginning of genuine dialogue, of genuine listening to Scripture - a genuine reception period. The Episcopal Church, perhaps uniquely among the churches holding to the historic episcopate, has had twenty years of experience of women functioning in the ordained ministry. We have also felt the tensions that this causes among evangelicals, catholics, and charismatics, as they seek to understand the question by their particular lights. We have seen the confusion caused when the rhetoric of "rights" is extended to moral practices rather than natural differences. The time is ripe, therefore, for biblical Episcopalians to tackle this delicate issue.

Those who have joined or identified with the American Anglican Council are radically committed to one another. We intend to study, work, and pray together in the years ahead, truly with no outcasts, until we can discern together the will of God for our branch of the Church (Acts 5:38-39). We hope to assist and learn from our partner churches of the Anglican Communion, some of whom ordain women and some of whom do not. We do not claim we will come to some grand compromise, but we do not wish to limit the grace of God to open our eyes to the truth and unity that is in Christ.

Therefore we will not be coerced by the imposition of a church law lacking spiritual authority, and we will stand with those who are prosecuted for their convictions. An assault on one is an assault on all.

Furthermore, we shall also take concrete steps to promote dialogue between those biblically minded Episcopalians who favor the ordination of women and those who oppose it, seeking understanding and reconciliation "with all lowliness and meekness, with patience, forbearing one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace" (Ephesians 4:2-3).


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