During Monday's Synod debate on women Bishops I witnessed an interesting spectacle.
It has long been accepted in the CofE that women Bishops are
going to happen. The only question which
remains is how to accommodate the minority who still can’t accept the
Some of those are Anglo-Catholics
who believe that a Bishop must (by definition) be male, but others are
conservative Evangelicals who can’t accept the notion that a woman can have
authority over a man (except the Queen of course, who is supreme governor of
the CofE – I assume they think she is really a man!).
So the debate (which is still rumbling on) is about how to ensure that these minorities still feel welcome in the Church of England and
what system should be put in place for providing Bishops to look after them.
And in the debate yesterday, we had 2 or 3 conservative
Evangelical speakers pleading for a system that would mean that their minority
could remain in the CofE after women Bishops become a reality.
“Will there still be a place for us?” asked one speaker, “Will
we still be welcome?”
As I thought about this, the situation became more and more intriguing. Here was a minority in the CofE, which acknowledged
that they were a minority, pleading for special treatment because they were a
minority. There is nothing wrong with
this, of course. The Church should be a
place where everyone is welcome, even those whose picture of God and the church
is very different to the majority. It
should be a place where grace and acceptance is not dependant on having the
same theological view. Our unity should
be found in following the Lord of grace who reached out and embraced the poor,
the outcast and the sinner.
Yet at the same time this particular minority is the most
vocal group in the fight against the acceptance of another minority in the
Church – lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Christians.
When it comes to gay Christians, who (on this issue)
understand the Bible differently, they vehemently deny the possibility of a
special place in the Church. They want lesbian
and gay Christians to be barred from ministry unless they promise to deny
themselves and bow to enforced celibacy.
They would like to see Bishops taking action against gay and lesbian ministers
in relationships and Civil Partnerships instead of turning a blind eye. They want enquiries made about their sexual
conduct and public repentance for past errors as a condition of continuing in
ministry. They want to see the Church
continue to deny same-sex couples who are seeking blessing or dedication for
their loving commitment to each other. And
they certainly do not want to see openly gay Bishops – even if they are
Yet they plead for a ‘special place’ in the CofE with their
own Bishops who will share their minority theology while at the same time seeking
to exclude others.
I am sure that I was not the only one who shared the irony of
If the CofE does manage to square the circle and provide a
framework which creates a space for them without undermining the authority of
woman Bishops, then perhaps we ought to require of them a little grace and
charity towards the minority which they have been trying to drive out.
Perhaps a commitment should be required from them to show
respect and acceptance to the minority of Christians who are lesbian, gay, bisexual
or transgender, before we let them stay?
Perhaps we ought to ask them to publicly repent of their failure to love
and to listen to their brothers and sisters, and in a particular, the 1500 LGB&T
clergy in the Church of England? Perhaps
they need to be ready to accept that there is a place in the Church of England
for gay Christians – in the pews – in the pulpit – and in the House of Bishops.
And perhaps the CofE should seek to cater for all its
minorities instead of picking and choosing which ones to protect.