Tuesday 10 July 2012

Women Bishops - a Minority report ...

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 fact. 

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 celibate.

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 the moment.

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.


  1. Hi benny, a good point well made. We all have ways of selectively interpreting the Bible and we kid ourselves if we think otherwise, but it's always more disconcerting (and annoying) when Reform-types do it in this way, as they set themselves up as the arbiter of the ultimate interpretation - so when they break their own rules without noticing (or caring) it seems all the more bizarre.

    Considering that most Conservative Evangelicals I meet have such a low regard (even disdain?) for Bishops anyway it seems odd that they are making such a fuss.

  2. Begs the question. Why don't we just leave. Do i(we) really want to be associated with this perverse group of self rightous people.

  3. Hmmm.. It sounds reasonable until you unpack it a little. And I think you and I have been here before on this one Barry. Conservative Evangelicals and Anglo-Catholics (I sit in neither camp by the way) find themselves in a church which is about to 'change the rules' from the set of rules they originally signed up to. The LGB&T didn't come that route. Practicing L&G knew that the CofE wasn't wholeheartedly embracing them and while we read the HoB policy on Sexuality differently, it still suggests to me that practicing LGB&T are not supposed to be ordained ... again, no comment from me on whether that's right or wrong, I'm simply observing. So in essence there are two different types of minority groups being mentioned here. One which is legitimately in and we are suggesting a radical change to the Church they signed up to and one whose legitimnacy is the subject of a whole different debate that is far from resolution.

  4. Mark; whilst I agree with you to a point, I think that many inclusive Anglicans similarly feel that the rules have been changed. The pressure that came from conservative evangelicals to prevent Jeffrey John accepting his appointment as Bishop of Reading in 2003, and again in 2010 to block his candidacy for Bishop of Southwark, is probably the clearest example of this. Add to that such things as the doublespeak about whether or not the Church supports civil partnerships and the impression is that even those LGBT Christians who stick to the rules remain unwelcome to many.

  5. Mark your use of the word 'practicing' is offensive. Did you not know that ?

  6. Benny what you have forgotten is that they are right --

    and we are wrong !

  7. I am not convinced that everyone who supports female bishops also support committed same sex relationships. Otherwise we would be in a very different place.

    1. Hi Edward. You are right, of course, but that is not the point I was making. However I would say that the way women have been excluded from some areas of ministry means that supporters of women bishops understand how it feels to be excluded.

  8. Apologies Laurence. No I didn't 't know that. No offence intended.

  9. I am wondering this week at the place of the Holy Spirit in the decision making of the Church. Mark Griffiths writes as though the church is making independent decisions of its own, whereas surely, what is happening is at the behest of the Holy Spirit. 42/44 Diocesan Synods voting in favour of "Women Bishops" seems to me to be a considerable movement - which hopefully, after prayer, is Spirit led. If this is the case, then it is not for the Church to accommodate the minority, but for them to turn to what the Spirit is saying. Christianity is a growing, changing faith. No? Then Christianity is about Love and love is about growing and changing (amongst other things).
    And the Bishops' amendment which caused so much distress lately. How can it be that something which affects the heart of the ministry of women is decided only by men. How arrogant and unsympathetic and cold hearted. And sexist.
    And, as a Gay Priest, I address myself to your secondary point about the acceptance of LGBT ministry.
    If we look at the Spirit moving in the more established anglican churches, it is clear that the move to embrace LGBT people is growing, as in society (where the Holy Spirit may also be at work) the barriers of condemnation and hatred are also melting away. Jesus said nothing about homosexuality. How do we know that none of the 12 were gay? We don't. The people that Jesus let go were those who were unable to let go of the past and of prejudices (e.g. The Rich Young Man).
    Perhaps those who are against the Ordination of women to the priesthood/episcopacy should consider the rich young man and walk away from their own obsessions with the past and with a male centred church. First Witness of the risen Christ was a woman. Get over it.

  10. Thank you to everyone who has joined in this debate so far.

    Mark - you are right when you say that the church is changing and that is what has left some Conservative Evangelicals (and some Anglo-Catholics) as a minority which needs accomodating.

    Stephen - you are also right in noting that as the Church changes, we hope and trust that is is under the guidance of the Holy Spirit.

    I personally don't want to lose Conservative Evangelicals from the CofE (or Anglo-Cathloics) but I do think it is rich when any minority group who pleads for a 'special arragement' then opposes the inclusion of another minority whose place is beginning to be recognised.

    However you read the HoB reports and statements, change is occurring - the most recent example of that being the warm words from people like the Archbishop of York towards Civil Partnerships.

    As that change continues, it is the Conservative Evangelicals who, once again are threatening to leave if the the change goes 'too far'. I long for a Church which can embrace differing views of what the Bible says as we all walk in the Way of Christ.