Friday, 16 July 2010

Women bishops and all that

All eyes were on General Synod (of the Church of England) last weekend as they met in York to discuss women bishops.

As the dust begins to settle, arguments abound as to whether the archbishops' amendment should have been passed, or whether what was passed was the best possible outcome.

And while some are saying, 'full steam ahead for women bishops' - it only has to go to dioceses and parishes and come back to Synod, and go before Parliament! - some of those opposed are warning that by not producing legislation with the protection they desire, General Synod is heading for a train crash.

I have deep sympathies with those who feel marginalised, particularly those who are evangelicals. It's their church which is changing, just as it is also my church which, in my view, is moving in a particular direction. I really liked a sentence in the pastoral letter written on 14th July by the Bishops of Oxford, as he reflects on the fact that the Body of Christ is both hurting and rejoicing: women priests should not feel blame, 'women priests have borne their cross of ambivalence and prejudice very graciously for a long time'. I can still remember back in 1992 when we were not allowed to rejoice too much over the vote for women priests.

What I find really frustrating is the way those on the side of 'bible' or 'tradition' treat their 'opponents', people like me. Beyond Equal Rights is a recently published booklet from the Reform stable. Well, some people might argue that this debate is about 'equal rights', but many would not.

According to the author, egalitarians stress Galatians 3:28 'and largely ignore the other passages or write them off as cultural'. So why do my bookshelves groan with scholarly egalitarian books which seek to understand those passages often called 'difficult'; they conclude that the evangelical scholarly consensus is that the Bible endorses the equal participation of men and women in leadership. I would not be writing this if that were not the case!

Nor do I think this debate about 'innovation'. I was equally frustrated by someone I was in conversation with recently who claimed that having women bishops (and priests) was a complete novelty in the church, an innovation after 2000 years of male-only leaders.

Is this true? There are plenty who see current moves as an attempt to restore the Church of England to the position of the early church. I remember writing an essay at theological college about the decline of women leaders in the first centuries of the Church. The recent work of Dorothy Irvin and others has uncovered archaelogical material including frescoes and tomb inscriptions attesting to women as prophets, stewards, deacons, presbyters and overseers, and other research points in a similar direction.

Let's keep the lines of communication open, and be accurate in the way we represent those who disagree. Then, perhaps, the train won't crash, but will take us into a better future.


Rachel Marszalek said...

Thank you Rosie, much that I resonate with here, especially your frustration at the idea that this is 'innovative'. You are graceful in your expression and I feel for those hurting too but also feel that difficult to put into words 'relief' that the church of England is now enabling for true complementary leadership - men and women together.

Mr Gnome said...

Thanks for this helpful combination of clarity and kindness.