Now 24 hours has passed since the synod vote yesterday, and some of the dust is starting to settle, I thought it might be time to wade into the murky waters with my take on the whole matter. I’m honestly hoping not to upset anyone, although given how high the feelings seem to have run that may not be possible – so my apologies in advance!
Let’s be honest: the vote yesterday was a no-win situation. For the ‘traditionalists’, i.e. those who do not want to see women bishops, the measure was insufficient: the protection built into the measure was not sufficient – it paved the way for problems in the future. I’m not a legal expert, but this is what the ‘no’ voters were saying. For those pro-women bishops, the measure was a last-ditch attempt to try and include traditionalists. Anything other than a ‘yes’ vote would be unnecessarily stalling the process for another few years – and in the process, making the Church of England looking like a misogynist, sexist and out-of-touch organisation. Female rights would be trampled on once again, and the church could never recover. In fact, I saw a few tweets on Twitter yesterday and today which were basically saying “The Church of England is finished”.
There are a few things about all this that make me uncomfortable.
Firstly, I’d like to say a hearty “amen” to Tanya Marlow’s blog post a few days ago about this: “I feel like a child whose parents are divorcing, and all I can do is weep.” – there have been no winners. We all have to live with the fallout, and that isn’t going to be good whichever way you look at it.
Secondly, it’s been concerning to me how little people seem to be mentioning God’s will in all of this. I mean, if we believe that God is sovereign … surely God was in the “no” vote yesterday, in the same way that he would have been in a “yes” vote? I’m wondering whether this is an opportunity for us all as a church to sit back and consolidate. How can we move forward now? This is an opportunity for discussion and reconciliation, humility and grace. Let’s embrace it.
Women bishops will come – but let’s move forward together.
Thirdly, many people have been attacking the vote as sexist and misogynist: it’s just another example of sexism within the church. I honestly don’t think this is the case. Partly this is because those I know who voted against the measure did so because they believed the provision was insufficient for those who could not accept women bishops in good conscience. Some people who were pro- women bishops voted against the measure. It’s simply not the case that the “no” vote means that the church is inherently sexist. Also, I think it’s a bit offensive to say that a church which takes a Biblical ‘complementarian’ position (note: I am NOT implying that other positions are not Biblical!) is sexist. I was a member of such a church for many years, and believe me: women’s ministry is valued, in the right context.
Fourthly, many people have bewailed what the church now looks like in the eyes of the world: it is, as the Yes 2 Women Bishops campaign put it, ‘missional suicide’. I can’t see this argument. We mustn’t forget we have a gospel which is offensive: Jesus said people will hate us. The apostle Paul said the message of the cross is ‘foolishness‘. In other words, the Christian message is one that is, in the eyes of the world, a bit crazy anyway. People aren’t drawn to the church because it looks contemporary. They’re drawn to the church because the Holy Spirit draws them to Jesus. As someone pointed out before the vote – those ‘complementarian’ churches mentioned above tend to be doing well. Why is that? We’ve had women priests since 1994, and as far as I know church numbers have continued to decline – same as they did before. Will allowing women bishops bring an influx of people into the church?
Having a church which is culturally relevant is going to be impossible, pretty much by definition. I think any attempts to bring the church into line with the world are doomed to fail. Arguing for women bishops on those grounds is like arguing we should abolish the cross because our culture finds it distasteful (an argument which some have made in all seriousness).
What I think the church needs to rally round right now is its core reason for existing: bringing the euangelion, the good news of Jesus Christ, to a world which is desperately in need of him. This is the radical, counter-cultural message which the church has been proclaiming for 2,000 years and which I hope the church will continue to proclaim until Christ’s return.
So… where does all this leave us? Not in a good place, clearly. There’s a lot of work to be done and, I hope, productive discussion to be had. I honestly can’t say I’m happy with the result, neither can anyone else, but we have to work together. The mark of a Christian church is how we handle disagreements. Let’s handle this one in a way which puts the world to shame.
It’s a tough one, but as Jesus said: “With God, all things are possible.”
I would pray, along with the apostle Paul:
Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen. (Eph 3:20-21)