Academic journal article Journal of Ecumenical Studies

Ecumenism at a Cost: Women, Ordination, and Sexuality: "Disagree with the Umpire-Take the Ball, and Go Home"

Academic journal article Journal of Ecumenical Studies

Ecumenism at a Cost: Women, Ordination, and Sexuality: "Disagree with the Umpire-Take the Ball, and Go Home"

Article excerpt

During the late 1970's the author, then a young woman, was invited by her bishop to represent him and their church in the state Council of Churches in Australia. She was a "convert," well grounded in the faith tradition of her birth-right family church and chrismated into her husband's church prior to the birth of their children. The bishop stated that he had confidence she would bring the distinct gift of her past experience in her family church, an enthusiasm and faith commitment to the Orthodox Church of today and the future, and the ability to dialogue with Protestant and Catholic men and women likewise committed to the ecumenical movement. For nearly thirty years the author has committed herself to serving the Orthodox Church: serving as a representative member and past president of a state Council of Churches, coordinating a national ecumenical "Women's Desk" for five years, editing an Orthodox women's journal for eight years, and as a participant in a number of international ecumenical seminars and Orthodox women's consultations.

Though well aware of the conservative, compliant, and traditional attitudes of most Orthodox women, as well as their apathy toward the ecumenical movement and the movement of women in other churches, the author perhaps could still be forgiven for thinking that some progress was being made through these particular forums. Especially, it was hoped, a more inclusive and creative dialogue among the churches would eventually develop, leading to an understanding, if not altogether a mutual acceptance, of major issues of contention among member churches on a global scale. The complex issues of women's ministry and ordination, human sexuality, equal participation of the laity, the witness of social justice to the world, and the imperative to engage in dialogue on all these issues continue to be the focus of the author's work as a social historian and an Orthodox woman in the ecumenical movement.

The Special Commission on Orthodox Participation in the World Council of Churches was formally proposed at the W.C.C.'s Eighth Assembly in Harare, Zimbabwe, in early December, 1998. The concerns and negative perceptions of membership by the Orthodox churches had accelerated after the Canberra Assembly in 1991; they were confirmed at the meeting of fifteen Eastern Orthodox member churches held in Thessaloniki in May, 1998. (1) Atter claims of years of increasing discomfort and disapproval of the W.C.C. by the Orthodox members, based on a perceived growing influence of liberalism and secularism in the social and theological programs proposed and encouraged by many Protestant member churches, the Harare Assembly requested that the Special Commission analyze a wide spectrum of issues related to Orthodox participation in the W.C.C. However, even with the positive response and proposal from the Central Committee that was announced at the Harare Assembly, by December 31, 1998, two Eastern Orthodox churches (the Georgian and Bulgarian churches) had withdrawn their membership, and participatory membership in the W.C.C. was placed on a "wait and see" policy by the Russian Orthodox Church. (2)

Among the various complaints voiced by Orthodox delegates were three formally stated reasons, relevant to this essay, that were identified by the exiting Orthodox churches when relinquishing their membership in the W.C.C. These three areas of concern were the ordination of women, inclusive language, and the debate over homosexuality, all of which, it was claimed, were diametrically opposed to Orthodox dogma, tradition, and practice. (3) Following the recommendations for future process and dialogue, theologians and prominent church leaders from member churches were appointed to the Special Commission. Among the thirty-two members from the Orthodox churches were twenty-four hierarchs and clergy and two laywomen. These were matched by an equal representation of Protestant members, which included twelve women among the clerics, theologians, and eight bishops. …

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