Don’t Stir the Pot?

I’m pondering the “don’t stir the pot” reaction that reliably happens every time we publish something on women’s ordination—most especially anything in favor of women’s ordination—over at Anglican Compass, where I’m the Managing Editor.

(Note: This post is not a subtweet of anyone in particular. It’s just me thinking out loud about a phenomenon that keeps occurring.)

Almost every time we post something about women’s ordination, a controversial issue has been whether or not doing so needlessly “stirs the pot,” as in “causes trouble, unrest, dissent.”

On the one hand, some argue that this issue has already been debated to death. From this perspective, continuing to post about women’s ordination simply exacerbates a condition that would be better off left alone—the “dual integrities” diocesan-level division on women’s ordination that currently characterizes the ACNA.. On the other hand, however, others argue that, since this issue is not settled, it’s perfectly appropriate to blog about this.

The issue, then, is whether or not women’s ordination is worth talking about, at least among Anglicans in public.

My own personal view is that it is worth talking about the Anglican debate over women’s ordination in public. Though I concede that needless provocation (“stirring the pot”) is vicious, I still maintain that there is an important difference between causing or exacerbating a division and describing one.

For example, it would be vicious to take pot shots across the divide and try to get everyone to think either that (1) all egalitarians/mutualists completely ignore Scripture and tradition and choose to follow cultural trends instead, or that (2) all complementarians/hierarchicalists/patriarchalists hate women and want to keep them out of positions of power and influence. This would be “stirring the pot” and exacerbating our divisions.

However, I think it is an importantly different endeavor to try to help people on both sides of the debate see where the others stand. To remind the egalitarians that it’s unfair to say that all complementarians hate women. To remind the complementarians that it’s unfair to say that all egalitarians prioritize cultural trends over Scripture and tradition.

Some might object that giving both sides of the debate airtime means that we’ve abandoned the truth in one direction or the other. But given that this is an important and ongoing division within the ACNA, between conservative and orthodox Christians, this seems like necessary work. It strikes me as unduly tribalistic to either pretend like the other side doesn’t exist, or to condemn anyone who would listen to arguments from the other side as a dangerous traitor.

Furthermore, some might object that this work has already been done. By and large, I would agree. But just because almost every facet of the debate has already been covered in various settings—books, articles, etc.—doesn’t mean that we don’t have room to grow in understanding of our differences. There may be nothing new under the sun, and yet we still keep writing and talking about other things. Why not women’s ordination as well?

On the issue of women’s ordination, we obviously disagree with one another—both within the ACNA and within the Anglican Communion. And yet I’m not quite sure that we fully understand one another. From my limited perspective, it’s worth “stirring the pot” until we at least reach full, respectful understanding—even if we never reach full agreement on this side of eternity.

By Joshua Steele

Anglican Priest, Managing Editor of Anglican Compass, Ph.D. Candidate in Theology at Wheaton College Graduate School.

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