Women bishops - without doubt one of the most controversial issues facing the Church of England today, both theologically and practically.
Creative Commons - (c) Scott Gunn
There are those arguing on both sides who passionately want what is best for the Church, holding firm to their interpretation of Scripture.
I wouldn’t dream of trying to advocate either position adequately in the space of a brief article; rather, what I’m interested in is how the recent delay in voting on the matter affects this debate, regardless of which side you fall on.
Certainly, this is not straightforward. The vote, which needs a two-third majority in each of the three Houses of the Synod, was due to take place on 9th July but was postponed after objection to a last minute amendment to the draft law.
This amendment would allow parishes not in support of women bishops to request a male bishop, who was sympathetic to their views, which in practice would mean he had not been ordained by a woman, nor ordained women himself.
This is not a time for the Church to bury its head in the sand, constantly buying time, attempting to forever put off what will always be a difficult issue.
Generally speaking, those in favour of women bishops are frustrated by the delay, whereas those against welcome it. Both positions can be sympathised with; certainly a last minute amendment is going to require extra consideration, especially given its nature, which, as those in favour of women bishops have noted, gives the impression that women bishops will still be ‘second class’.
So is the delay a good thing? Perhaps. Though the Church no doubt needs time to reflect on this latest tweak, I can’t help but wonder how much longer this can go on. It wouldn’t surprise me if when November comes around, there is another 11th hour adjustment which postpones any decision being made.
Of course this is not something to rush; it is an incredibly painful issue for the Church, sadly with much divisive power, and needs to be handled very carefully to avoid as much trauma as possible. But on the other hand, I’m not convinced the Church will be able to hold together in this limbo period for much longer either, constantly being pulled in two different directions.
I’m starting to think of this akin to a cashmere jumper (bear with me here) being stretched in different directions; it might not rip in two, but there’s a significant chance it will be left permanently stretched.
Our theology needs to shape our worldview, not the other way round
I’ve heard it suggested that it’s only fair the Church takes its time to consider this, given that the current position has 2000 years of tradition to back it, and therefore taking a few extra years to think it through is only reasonable. I am tempted to agree with this, but the Church has had 18 years to wrestle with the wider issue of women in leadership since it started ordaining women in 1994; debating women becoming bishops can hardly have come as a surprise, shall we say.
Ultimately, this is not a time for the Church to bury its head in the sand, constantly buying time, attempting to forever put off what will always be a difficult issue. Inevitably, one side will be let down, and as much needs to be done as possible to reconcile the two sides for the greater unity of the Church.
Our theology needs to shape our worldview, not the other way round, and so if this is at the heart of the Synod’s pondering in November, as I’m sure it will be, then I hope that a decision will be reached either way, with concern for the unity of the Church and a reverence for God’s Word as its priorities.
The Archbishop of Canterbury said that the delay gave a chance to ‘lower the temperature’ within the Church over the issue, and I think he’s right; such an important decision shouldn’t be rushed with such a last minute amendment. But I sincerely hope that this is not going to become the pattern for this issue, so that the Church can start to move forward, whichever direction that might be in.
July 20th, 2012 - Posted & Written by Grace Baxter