It may at first seem ironic that an institution founded by a man and traditionally dominated by men—the Church of England—is currently headed by a woman, Elizabeth II. And while the individual churches within the Anglican Communion are officially independent of their Mother Church, each has inherited a deep-seated legacy of bias against the executive power of women and sexual minorities. This tradition has been changing, since the ordination of women as priests has become commonplace in many Communion churches. Albeit not without controversy, Anglican—and even some Catholic—clergy have begun to view the church not as a rigidly unchanging authority founded on fixed doctrine, but as a fluid, flexible institution inspired by universal principles. Still, women—especially homosexuals—hold few bishoprics and archbishoprics. Thus, while change is afoot in Anglican churches and, to a much lesser extent, the Catholic Church, much progress has to be made in the struggle to realize equality for all church members.
The gradual shift in the Anglican church to a less patriarchal system took an important step in Perth, Australia, when the Diocese of Perth appointed Australia’s first female bishop, Kay Goldsworthy, in 2008. In a decision that recalls the controversial decisions of many lower-level U.S. “activist” judges on the constitutionality of marriage equality, the diocese ruled that “nothing in its constitution could stop the consecration of a female bishop”, rejecting concerns that “the appointment of Australia’s first female bishop will cause division within its ranks”, according to Australia’s ABC News. Indeed, appointment of female bishops is a relatively well established practice which has failed to lead to any sort of schism, as Goldsworthy herself reminds us: “‘There have been female bishops for 20 years, bishops who are women for 20 years, in churches all around the world, and it has not fractured the [C]ommunion'”. Indeed, the erosion of patriarchy and racism within the Anglican church took yet another, highly significant, step forward when a Hispanic female bishop, Right Rev. Bavi Edna Rivera (a provisional bishop from eastern Oregon), ordained another woman, the second female priest in the Diocese of Fort Worth on Friday, just a month after the ordination of that diocese’s first female priest, reports Jim Jones of the Star-Telegram.
Nevertheless, the slow-dying controversy surrounding the appointment of higher-tier women clergy sparks to life once again when it becomes known that that woman is also homosexual. The lingering prejudice against sexual minorities, even in the Communion, became evident in 2003 with the election of the Right Rev. V. Gene Robinson of New Hampshire. According to Larry Stamer of the LA Times, “Robinson’s election threw the Episcopal Church and the global Anglican Communion into an uproar, leading to decisions by some conservative parishes and dioceses to leave the [U.S. Anglican] church and resulting in a de facto ban on the election of additional gay bishops”. However, even this prejudice is slowly decaying: Stamer also reports in the same article that last month, following the recent lifting of the ban, the Diocese of Los Angeles elected as bishop the Rev. Canon Mary D. Glasspool, who is not only a woman, but also an open lesbian. The fact that the Anglican Communion has been moving away from male domination and homophobia is perhaps exactly why it may survive longer as a church in the future.
But imagine if authorities in a more centralized church, such as the Catholic Church, took a similarly progressive stance, threatening division within that ancient institution; the question then becomes whether or not a system which marginalizes over half its followers is worth preserving in the first place. Should women and sexual minorities be supporting such a system, or should they be working within it to change it? At least in the Anglican Communion, these groups have shown that change from within is possible, and that the church can prove itself a relevant, adaptable entity rather than an archaic regime mired in strict Biblical doctrine.
If we are to defer to Biblical texts, however, even the infamously misogynistic Apostle Paul ironically admits in Galatians 3:28 (KJV), “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus.” It is therefore the responsibility of ecumenical churches, such as Universal Life Church Monastery, to offer its egalitarian structure as a model for the modern-day, color-blind and gender-blind church.