Women Bishops

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The first week after Rome made its generous offer to employ those who cannot accept the ministry of women was marked by amazement. Surely Rome isn’t doing this now? Wrong! Surely the Anglo-Catholics wouldn’t be tempted to jump ship? Wrong! Surely the Roman Catholics don’t want disloyal, disaffected Anglicans? As yet, unknown.

This week, while I’m still boggling at the sheer affrontery of Rome’s offer, I’m also struggling with why, why, why, in an age of post-Christian disaffection with the church, a group of Christians are more concerned with gender than telling people about Jesus.

I hope, I think, I pray, that this ridiculous power play will not bring down the Church of England. However, it does bring the universal church into disrepute, and the name of Christ too. I’d rather we put our energies into spreading the gospel – but part of being in the world seems to me to be the need for credibility of the church within our society. So allowing women through the purple cloth ceiling is important.

For the first time, I’m beginning to wonder if we should let them go and move on.

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The Church of England took another small step towards consecrating women as bishops today.  It’s been 30 years since the Synod agreed that there was no theological bar to women’s ordination.  Now we have got onto the process of making it happen.  We cannot accuse the C of E of acting in haste. As the Catholics and Orthodox have already told us, if they were going to ordain women they would have STARTED with bishops.  Still, at this rate, we might have women bishops by 2015.  And that’s going quickly, for Synod and Parliamentary legislation!

I thought the debate today was careful, considered and considerate.  But then, I didn’t have much problem with the July debate, and the bishops lost the plot over that (see previous post).  There were a few wonderful quotes from the debate:

  • we should welcome women to the episcopate for the sake of the kingdom
  • I can’t compel people to be in communion with me – if they choose not to be, then God bless them, and God bless me too
  • a code of conduct (as opposed to protective legislation) will not allow ministry to flourish – one is left asking, who’s ministry?
  • and, those opposed in conscience cannot stay in the C of E

The latter is really the crux of the matter.  If those who oppose women in ministry cannot ever accept the authority of a woman bishop, what does that do for the authority of the episcopacy.  Most of those ordained clergy on Synod who are opposed, were ordained after the Synod agreed on its theology in the 70s.  Even more so, those ordained since 1992 knew the theological statements of the church they were being ordained into.

Another generation of women are going to be too old to become the superb bishops we know they can be. The sword of time hangs over their heads, just as the sword of Damocles hangs over those who are opposed.  No wonder someone else commented today that there was little joy in this debate.  We have had it too many times, and with the taint of too much guilt and pain, for there to be real joy.  But there will be, one day…

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The Times suggested this week that bishops “represent a pre-modern for of Christianity, rooted in nostalgia for a powerful, authoritarian Church” (Theo Hobson).  They have doubled in number over the last 100 years, while Church attendance has shrunk by 50%.  For any Episcopalian, they are a sign and symbol of unity.  I wish!

Three weeks on, and I’m still angry about the aftermath of the debate on women bishops at General Synod.  As I see it, the House of Bishops brought a motion to Synod that they had voted for by a majority of more than 2/3s.  I have always understood that when something is debated and voted upon in committee, it is a matter of honour that those present keep some integrity about supporting the decision made in that meeting.

Not so for the bishops.  They seemed to be having a dog fight on the floor of Synod during the debate, quite unable to support each other (or trust one another).  And when Synod voted for the motion supported by the majority of the House of Bishops, one bishop told us we should be ashamed of ourselves, and another told us that he thought Synodical government was inappropriate for the church, and we should be led by the Bishops!

This week they meet at Lambeth, and most people, church going or not consider that to be irrelevant. What a mess; no visible unity (though there may be behind closed doors).  And while the Church eats with the Queen, avoiding at all cost talking about sex and gender (though the press still thinks that’s all we, the Church, talk about), millions around the world are suffering.  Relevance?

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