8th assembly/50th anniversary

Together on Holy Ground
Ordination of Women -- Still an Issue for Some

Questions about inclusive language and whether or not women should be ordained emerged as key issues at the Harare assembly. The ordination issue divides Orthodox churches, which like the Roman Catholic Church do not ordain women, from many churches of the Protestant and Anglican traditions, which ordain women as ministers and, in some cases, as bishops. In one plenary session, Vsevolod Chaplin of the Russian Orthodox Church described the call for inclusive language as "blasphemous". As long as other WCC churches advocate an agenda calling for all churches to ordain women and accept inclusive language, he said, "eucharistic unity is a dream that will never come true".

Silvia Regina da Lima, a liturgical dancer from Brazil, who performed during worship at the Decade Festival

Photo by Chris Black/WCC
Click on the photo to order (ref. 7012-21)

Janice Love, a delegate of the United Methodist Church (USA) and a member of the WCC's outgoing central and executive committees, called Chaplin's speech "one of the saddest I have ever heard" in her 23 years as a member of the WCC central committee. Love, herself a layperson, said she was particularly upset by its "anti-ecumenical spirit".

The question of the ordination of women to the priesthood in Orthodox churches is not "closed", according to WCC general secretary Konrad Raiser. When a journalist asked Raiser to comment at a press conference on Chaplin's remarks, the German theologian pointed to recent research about women's ordination by two respected Orthodox theologians, Bishop Kallistos Ware and Elisabeth Behr-Sigel, who he said had reached the conclusion that "there are no essential or ecclesiological reasons preventing the ordination of women in the Orthodox tradition". Raiser said this research, which reflects "emerging perspectives" within Orthodoxy, shows that "if you take seriously the Christian affirmation that men and women are created equally in the image of God..., the systematic exclusion of women from the ministry cannot be defended on purely theological grounds".

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