Friday, 4 July 2008

How to solve the question of female bishops

In the coming days, the General Synod of the Church of England is debating again the subject of female bishops. No one could ever accuse the established church of moving with undue haste although most agree that the debate has shifted from the "if" question of women bishops to the "how" question.

Anyone with some knowledge of Anglicanism might be forgiven for thinking that the answer to the "how" question of women bishops is quite simple. The first woman to be made a bishop in the Church of England will receive the laying on of hands from one of the archbishops and at least two other bishops at her consecration. The Archbishop of Canterbury or York will pray to God for her to receive the gift of the holy spirit for "the office and work of a bishop in your Church". It is a solemn, holy and profound moment. We Anglicans are fond of saying that the way of praying is the way of believing (lex orandi, lex credendi). So, by our own reasoning, the answer to the "how" question couldn't be more straightforward. We've done this thousands of times before; we have, one can say confidently, a certain competence.

But the actual "how" at the centre of the debate concerns the safeguards (a revealing choice of words) of the minority opposed for a variety of reasons to women serving as priests and bishops. These range from continued provision of bishops uncompromised by close association with women priests and bishops to the creation of entirely new separatist, non-geographical dioceses. The language is emotive and, at times, frankly manipulative, as is often the case when positions are strongly held.

What is striking, however, is the adoption of the language of "pain" by those opposed to an ordained ministry in which men and women may both serve. Striking because before the Church of England approved woman as priests in 1992, opponents constantly told supporters that the pain of women excluded from the priesthood must have nothing to do with our corporate decision making – that would be to give into mere feelings. The debate should be fought on theological grounds; pain is not an "argument". Read more
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