Friday, July 11, 2008

women bishops

If you've been keeping up with the news recently, you won't have missed the fact that the Church of England's governing body (General Synod) had an emotionally charged vote on the issue of Women Bishops at the beginning of the week.

 

It's certainly an interesting and complicated issue.  Personally, I am saddened by the fact that the main picture painted of the church in recent weeks has been one of division and apparently irrelevant bickering, whilst the good news of the Christian message has been left unproclaimed.  I would. however, like to offer one or two thoughts on the matter.

 

Firstly, a comment was made in a news report I saw that "both sides were taking their arguments from the Bible".  There is a popular, if ignorant argument which claims that the Bible is full of contradictions (and therefore unreliable and irrelevant).  Unfortunately, I suspect that such comments have only served to reinforce such a notion, whilst my perception of the news report is that both sides have just been very selective in using the Bible to back up their own arguments.  The Bible is a big book (or, rather, collection of books) and if you start quoting passages in isolation you will - as with anything else - find apparent contradictions. 

 

In this case, the Anglican Church was not around in Biblical times, which makes finding anything in the Bible specifically relevant to the gender of its bishops somewhat tricky.  The so called 'traditionalists' who are against women bishops have been citing the passage from Matthew's Gospel, in which Jesus chooses his 12 disciples, and noting that they were all male.  The difficulty I have with this is that there is nothing in this particular episode which gives a reason for this; if my historical understanding is correct, it was a very male dominated society and so it could just as easily be a product of the culture of the day rather than a specific precedent set by God.  Now I do believe that God formed us as men and women with different roles to play (more on that in a minute), but I think that it's dangerous to look at this one passage in isolation.  For example, the sub-department I belong to at work is entirely male, but not many people would condone using this fact as a sole reason for not employing a woman in years to come.

 

I'm also less than enamoured with the 'Biblical argument' put across by those in favour of women bishops.  They were quoted as citing the passage from Paul's letter to the Galatians, in which he writes that "There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus".  At the time this was written, there were those who believed, for example, that the Jewish converts to the Christian faith were superior in some way.  Paul is challenging this view and saying that as far as God is concerned we are all equal.   But (and you knew this was coming) I think we need to be careful here.  We are not all clones, and we each have different gifts and different roles to play.  So, despite the assertion that "there is neither slave nor free" Paul also says in his writings that "slaves should be obedient to their masters".  Equally, when it comes to the relationship between men and women, Paul treats them differently; see Ephesians 5:22-30 for example.  This passage has caused controversy because of the concept of male 'headship'.  But you might want to pause and think what it means to be "as Christ is the head of the church".  Christ did not succumb to the devil's temptations to play a power game; rather he humbly submitted himself to a death on a cross for those whom he loves.

 

If you go right back to the creation in Genesis, the Bible is quite clear.  "Male and female he created them".  I don't for one moment believe that men are superior to women (or vice versa) but crucially, I don't think that God intended us to be the same.  I've just finished reading an excellent book by John Eldridge called 'Wild at Heart' which considers this issue, and I'd thoroughly recommend it.

 

Of course, the fact that men and women are not the same should not by default mean that women cannot be bishops.  But it is certainly a good reminder that God has called us to play different roles, and to prayerfully consider how that might work out in practice.  I was less than impressed by the person who praised the outcome of the debate by saying that "the church has now come in to line with society".  This is not automatically A Good Thing, and it wouldn't take much time leafing through Biblical history to realise that it was often when the people sided with society that they ignored God and went somewhat astray.

 

I'm going to duck out here, and say that I don't honestly know where I stand on the issue at the moment.  If I fall off the fence one way or the other, I'll let you know.  I do know, however, that I am concerned about some of the motives for the debate.  Anyone considering being a church leader would do well to read Paul's advice to Timothy, and I would not condone anyone becoming a leader on the grounds of personal ambition.  "It's not fair that he's a bishop and I'm not" doesn't strike me as a great example of humility.  I also think that the Anglican Church needs to review its entire leadership structure.  One of the good reasons for having women priests (and bishops) is that you can, in theory, meet with someone of the same sex for the spiritual support a church leader can provide.  Of course, this goes out of the window when you have one female vicar covering five village churches and no male clergy in the vicinity (or vice versa).  My experience is also that sometimes the church hierarchy can be too pedantic on what jobs must be done by someone who is ordained.  This often leaves perfectly talented laity unable to use their gifts to their full potential, whilst vicars are quite often left without enough hours in the day to do everything which is expected of them.  I was struck recently by the fact that the Anglican Church in Paphos, Cyprus apparently has several weddings a day during the summer season.  I don't know anything about the minister there, but can't help wondering if spending the whole time doing weddings is a good use of the theological training they will have received.  Furthermore, when are they going to have the time to really reach the community with the good news of the Christian faith?  Back in this country, what about those with responsibility for five village churches?  After all the running around from church to church and endless church council meetings, how are they going to be able to pastor the communities effectively? 

 

I'm in danger of getting on my high-horse, going off topic and ranting for a while, so I shall leave it there.  As ever, it is The Metro which has provided me with words of wisdom, and I end by quoting a letter published today:

 

"I'm appalled at the amount of attention paid to the issue of women bishops.  Surely the main concern for every priest, whether they be male or female, Church of England or Roman Catholic, should be his or her parish.  The quicker the church gets back to its basic duty of inviting people to have a relationship with God, the better."

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

"so it could just as easily be a product of the culture of the day rather than a specific precedent set by God"

-- I see what you're saying; only, surely God chose His historical moment very carefully, knowing full well the influences of the culture of the time, and whether they would impact Christianity positively or negatively. Further, where negatively, it seems clear Christ had no problem in bucking them (e.g. mingling with prostitutes and tax collectors). He might just as easily have scandalised the world and had female apostles etc. But he didn't.

-- The main objection to priestesses and bishopettes isn't the Apostles (although that, and the totally male Apostolic succession for 2 millennia is a pretty good back-up), but passages such as 1 Tim 2:11-14. Sadly, I think Paul's warnings are borne out: for having let in priestesses against Scripture, we have a) put down our best weapon against heresy, that sharp two-edged sword of the Word; and therefore b) seen all manner of worse heresies and deceptions come gladly in. Sodomite bishops, sodomite Deans of St Alban denying penal substitution, agnostic priests, archbishops in favour of Sharia... etc, etc. Much of them of course supported by priestesses - most of them encouraged and indeed perpetuated by the most senior rebellious woman in the church, the modern Jezebel, Katharine Jefferts Schori. (Who is full throttle behind the queer takeover, for instance).

I appreciate we must be humble, speaking all in love - although Paul certainly knew how to exercise discipline, e.g. handing over a Corinthian pervert to satan for the destruction of the flesh - so it's difficult. But the short of it is: these women are, like many men and women of our times, nothing but rebellious, worldly, short-termist, self-obsessed vandals. They are leading the brethren astray. This is, so far, but a 14 year blip, set against a 500 year - and then a 2000 year - pedigree of orthodoxy. We must ride out the storm, and not give up to it. It will pass, for not being of God, it has no hope of standing.

csuhar said...

Personally, I'm neither hot nor cold about women bishops. We do run into the issue of the validity of priests who are ordained and one of the bishops at the ordination is a woman; because not all members of the Anglican communion recognize female ministers of any degree. So if a priest was ordained by a female bishop, does that mean he cannot celebrate in certain countries?

The big issue I have is when it's not a matter of who is the better spiritual leader, but when it's about gender. I've seen women priests with (and an equal number without ) the "I'm a woman" agendas, so it might be possible they use the fact to get in. I, personally, think the presiding bishop here in the US was chosen mostly because of the "chosing a woman is the new, cool thing to do" simply because she had diddly-squat in ways of actual experience.

I really think the thing the church needs to be careful of is the "it's new, therefore it is good and the right thing to do" mentality. The church was set up not to be the "cool" place, but a place that provides spiritual guidance, something that is impossible if you always try to ride the wave of popular sentiment.