Is this a justice issue? Thoughts on the inclusion of women as Bishops

I hadn’t planned to write a blog this week but the recent outcome of the Church of England Synod‘s vote narrowly against the appointment of women to the role of Bishop and the ensuing reaction, not least across the social media, made me resolve to highlight a few commentaries which I have found helpful!

  • It seems that a growing consensus is emerging that the outcome of the vote which was swayed by a minority bias in the weighting has called into question a possible fault in the electoral process which ended up not reflecting the majority position but which, as argued by some, offers to protect and project the views of a vocal minority within the Church. We may no longer use the Urim and Thummim to discern God’s will on a matter but maybe there is still work to be done in this area?
  • A central issue is not that the Church needs to ‘get with the program’ (imagine the horror of ‘getting with a program which the State orchestrates!) and modernise but rather that maybe (elements in) the Church need to ‘get with’ a properly contextual and accurate interpretation of what scripture is really advocating. Perhaps also, some of us also need to humbly recognise (and call to remembrance) the historical catalogue of blind spots in the (mis)interpretations which have been made using Scripture and listen more deeply both to the sincere scholarly work being done around these issues and the incarnational witness and fruit of God-fearing women and men themselves, both in Jesus’ time and throughout history in every sphere of the Church’ ministry. Below is a quote from Michael Wenham, a retired minister, who with integrity, confesses his own ‘blind spot’ and goes on to defend the appointment of women to the role of Bishop as being centrally a justice issue. You can read his full blog here.

I have to confess that not so long ago I would have been among 45 clergy voting against the women bishops’ measure yesterday and I might well have used sermons to say why. About twelve years ago, when the possibility was beginning to be mooted, I remember being asked over lunch at Lee Abbey what I thought about women being bishops and answering that I was against it and wouldn’t serve under one. I have repented since.

Tom Wright, New Testament scholar has provided a clear response to the issue in contradiction to the maelstrom of commentary calling the church to ‘modernise’ and ‘get with progress’ which I find very helpful. You can read his full article here but I quote him below:

It won’t do to say, then, as David Cameron did, that the Church of England should “get with the programme” over women bishops. And Parliament must not try to force the Church’s hand, on this or anything else. That threat of political interference, of naked Erastianism in which the State rules supreme in Church matters, would be angrily resisted if it attempted to block reform; it is shameful for “liberals” in the Church to invite it in their own cause. The Church that forgets to say “we must obey God rather than human authorities” has forgotten what it means to be the Church. The spirit of the age is in any case notoriously fickle.

He goes on to note the central place of Easter in interpreting the roles and disciplines of men and women in the light of Jesus’ own corrective bias:

The early Christians got a reputation for believing in all sorts of ridiculous things such as humility, chastity and resurrection, standing up for the poor and giving slaves equal status with the free. And for valuing women more highly than anyone else had ever done. People thought them crazy, but they stuck to their counter-cultural Gospel…All Christian ministry begins with the announcement that Jesus has been raised from the dead. And Jesus entrusted that task, first of all, not to Peter, James, or John, but to Mary Magdalene. Part of the point of the new creation launched at Easter was the transformation of roles and vocations: from Jews-only to worldwide, from monoglot to multilingual (think of Pentecost), and from male-only leadership to male and female together.

Wichael Wenham, having read, reflected and distilled his own experiences in ministry concords with Danielle Strickland, and her thinking in her book The Liberating Truth: How Jesus empowers women that this is indeed a justice issue:

There is the burning conviction that a church which institutionalises discrimination has no moral ground to speak against injustice elsewhere. There is St Paul’s ringing charter, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”

I was once proud of the label “conservative evangelical” as that’s what I considered myself, as my father was before me. However having heard it yesterday cheerfully used as a justification of inequality I don’t want it. I still believe in the unique truth and authority of Scripture, but I don’t believe yesterday’s vote was faithful to the living Word to whom the written word bears witness.

I have a sense that the immense outcry following the vote and the many commentaries which have followed have their own place in the challenging and possibly renewing of our minds and visions. The Church in our times more than ever needs to be a place of hope and strength and refuge for those who suffer persecution and injustice; it needs ‘all hands on deck’ to minister compassionately the great hope of the Gospel entrusted to it. It needs to be full of men and women who mutually respect and honour God’s gifting and equipping on each other’s lives without slur or competition. It needs a Church full of people, in whatever place of service from whom the Spirit of justice, righteousness and peace flow.   The world is watching. The world is waiting. We need to ‘get with the Gospel’

I conclude with a final thought from Tom Wright:

The resurrection of Jesus is the only Christian guide to the question of where history is going. Unlike the ambiguous “progress” of the Enlightenment, it is full of promise — especially the promise of transformed gender roles.