Reflections on Women Bishops and the “No” Vote

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)

9 thoughts on “Reflections on Women Bishops and the “No” Vote

  1. Hi, as an atheist can I say I was pretty appalled by the result.

    You say that the church can’t be culturally relevant. Well this is where I think you are so wrong, and where Christians around the world are wrong. I think this is one of the reasons you are loosing church followers by the droves.

    In the past the church didn’t need to be culturally relevant because it held so much power that people had to go to church pray etc, because of fear, lack of knowledge etc. It was the culture, it determined the culture. (Controversial – but Islam today)

    Well now things are different, it does not determine the culture and it does not have any real power any more, not over peoples minds as it once did.

    This means that if you want to survive as a church you need to adapt. There is more than 1 way to cook a chicken, and I would use that term to describe the bibles teachings.

    The bible has always been interpreted in different ways.

    If you want to survive, like everything in this world you must adapt, evolve, (there’s another issue all together) and change with the times. The church has changed many times (Henry the 8th as just 1 example) and to survive it needs to be culturally relevant.

    Don’t you agree?


    1. If you were right I would expect the churches which are growing to be the ones which are the most ‘culturally relevant’. This is not the case. Most of the growth is happening in those churches which aren’t “culturally relevant” – at least, not culturally relevant in the sense of believing in women bishops.

      Maybe it’s because they preach a gospel which is relevant to all people at all times and in all places, regardless of women bishops or not.

      Most of the churches which are trying to be ‘culturally relevant’ in the way you define it are dying.

  2. Ok well lets take atheism as an choice of belief – well that’s growing fast and that is what I would deem culturally relevant.

    I suppose you need to define what is culturally relevant. If you take the UK as being the point of reference when it comes to culture then I’d say your right, the religions that are not culturally relevant are growing.

    However take the Muslim brotherhood, that has a lot of political power in the middle east. That is directly culturally relevant to people living in the middle east, as Islam still has power. That means that Islam then grows as a direct result of their church having power. And due to the large number of Muslim immigrants in the UK that power filters through making a (in this country) culturally irrelevant religion relevant.

    Here in the UK the government is not Christian, not really. If we were then no gay partnerships, for example. We live with a multicultural government and that means that our church is not culturally relevant.

    If the church had the government like the Muslim brotherhood is run by its church for example. It would be dictating the culture. As it is our church doesn’t and so they don’t.

    The woman bishops not being chosen is sad, and to me reflects a church that is not culturally relevant and that is still hanging on to the past. I also think that the problem runs deeper and actually this is just one of the issues facing the church today.

    In my opinion if it doesn’t evolve it will eventually die.

    P.S. Great post by the way

    1. “Ok well lets take atheism as an choice of belief – well that’s growing fast and that is what I would deem culturally relevant.”

      I don’t think you can compare Christianity with atheism in that respect. I meant, the Christian churches which are most ‘culturally relevant’ in some respects are dying out.

      Comparing growth rates of Christianity and atheism is like comparing apples and oranges – cultural relevance isn’t the only variable factor, so I’d say it was a pointless comparison.

      Interesting that you mention Islam. Islam and culture are very much entwined. You can’t separate one from the other – not in Islamic countries, anyway. Christianity is nothing to do with culture. You can be a Christian in any country in any part of the world and it can be ‘culturally relevant’.

      I think you’re making too much of a thing of cultural relevance anyway. The church has survived 2,000 years – and the world has changed along with it. In many ways the church has led the way with its treatment of women – Jesus was radically counter-cultural (in a good way) when it came to how he treated women.

      The church isn’t ready to die just yet. The Church of England may die, but the global church won’t.

      At the end of the day, people are Christian because they believe Jesus Christ is alive today and they can be in a relationship with the God of the whole Universe. That’s the most relevant fact that ever was and ever will be, whatever culture may tell us about relevance.

    2. You both have to take into account British involvement in African, Middle Eastern, South Asian and Far East Asian countries and the shaping of their present day culture and political situation. Pre-Islamic Arabia treated women like commodities with no rights and baby girls were frequently buried alive and slavery was rampant. That was the “culture” at that time influenced by corruption. Muhammad through Islam like Jesus through Christianity came to reform society and re-establish a moral framework that had been abandoned in favour of corruption.

      To say Isalm and culture are entiwined and you can’t seperate them is a harsh statement because culture has not only been changed in Muslim countries over the centuries by foreign intervention and despotic rule of angry pagan tribes. But also the culture varies from country to country for e.g. culture in Saudi Arabi is different to the culture in Iran and the way they practice Islam and have established their laws is very different.

      Culture and religion are very different. Forced pre-arranged marriages in South Asia are not Islamic, they go against Islam but are practiced not only by Muslims in South Asia but also by Christians, Hindus and Sikhs because of a problematic cultural development.

      Re: the example about Muslim immigrants, many immigrants from those countries came decades ago, fought for Britain in WW2 as stated in the BBC documentary Muslim Tommies, came with other immigrants such as African and Afro-Carribeans because of skills shortages post World War 2 and thus setteled here. Upon settling here they established their religious centres and cultural centres which have been around since the 1940s. This and Britain’s involvement in Muslim countries to get rich and powerful from their resources is why a culturally irrelevant religion is relevant. Britain is multi-cultural now and has been for decades from the 1940s so Islam is culturally relevant to Britain, you might not like it but your only moral solution is to invent a time machine and prevent the British government from interfering with other countries centuries ago and recruiting labour in the 1940s. An immoral solution would be genocide like what the Serbs did to Bosnian, Kosovan and Albanian Muslims.

      Centuries ago the British and French goverments were shaping the aforementioned continents to build their economy and military and at the expense of the native people the ramafications of which we see today. The Muslim Brotherhood has only been around for the past few years in prominence in Egypt after the ousting of Egypt’s former tyrant. The extremist ideologies that will undoubtedly influence the Muslim Brotherhood and which influenced Saddaam, the Taliban and Al-Qeada are the Wahabis. They were given power and prominence when the British ousted the Ottomans and helped in establishing the tyrannical Al-Saus regime in present day Saudi Arabi which has it’s connection with Bahrain’s tyrannical Al-Khalifa regime. Their etremism is politcally motivated not religiously motivated. Because they are not practicing Isalm and rather satisfying their own agnedas which go against Isalm. The US funded and trained the Taliban and Al-Qeada and Saddaams regime to fight the Soviet Union who bordered rich resource countries like Afghanistan. The US acted like a catalyst in their extremism stating the Soviet Union are evil because they are atheist communist. When the Soviet troops were defeated the US patted themselves on the back and left the Taliban, Saddaam and Al-Qeada scum to run riot evem further in the Middle East. Innocent civilians in the US and Britain suffered as as result when the terrorist attacks occurred.

      You said “(Controversial – but Islam today)”. Why is it controversial to say that? Have Muslims rioted on the streets of Britain because of films and cartoons? Nope. In countries where their lives are God awful some did. I don’t get this imposing of Political Correctness on minorities when PC was a hap-hazard “solution” by MPs to a really horrible problem in British culture many years ago. Political Correctness came about because of the free for all racism such as Black Bashing and P*k* Bashing. There are episodes of early “Only Fools And Horses” where Del Boy refers to the corner shop as the “P*k* Shop and then you had the canned laughter. PC might not be very good but if people weren’t violent, abusive and racist to begin with it wouldn’t have come about.

      The British government are not helping matters by allowing their allies ideology of Wahhabism and Salafism to run riot in UK universities and Tower Hamlets, but you need to look into the fact they are political groups hiding behind religion and that they cause more problems to Muslims than non-Muslims such as the genocide of Shias and Sunnis and Kurds in Iraq by Saddaam.

      You said “In my opinion if it doesn’t evolve it will eventually die.” Bit of a generalisation there. We have yet to see Judaism, Christianity or Islam or even older religions like Hinduism or Sikhism die and they have their religious figures and prinicpals intact despite the political corruption trying to distort their messages over the Milleniums.

      1. Kamal, I’m curious as to how you found this post. Were you looking for something on women bishops, or do you have some kind of Google Alert set up in case anyone happens to mention “Muslim” and “culture” in the same comment?

        You just seem to have jumped in and written an essay in response to a point I wasn’t trying to make.

        Anyway I don’t really want to debate this. I’m sorry if I over-generalised in what I was saying about Islam and culture, but this is a post about Christianity and not about Islam. I don’t want it to get side-tracked.

    3. Is atheism really growing fast?

      The British humanist association has 28000 members, roughly equal to the union of Catholic mothers whilst the national secular society has 5000 about the same as the British sausage appreciation society.

      Could it be the atheism is just getting louder because all the atheists have columns in the guardian?

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