On Tuesday 21st, a vast majority of bishops, priests and laity voted to approve a draft measure that would see women bishops legislated for in the next few years. But it was not a two-thirds majority in the house of laity – it was scuppered by a margin of 6 votes-so it was not passed.
The last week has seen crisis meetings called by the bishops, many male priests verbally attacked and abused (regardless of their own personal stance) by men in and outside the church, faithful parishioners and clergy threatening to leave the church, AB resolution parishes and conservative evangelical clergy horrified at both the response of the public and the realisation of the sort of political hardline groups they find themselves aligned to; and even, very sadly, the sudden death by heart failure (heartbreak?) of a woman priest, Sandie Maude, who prayed throughout the vote and was devasted at the ‘No’ vote.
Though some people have said this, I do not feel that the Church of England looks either ridiculous OR irrelevant… (though I wonder if Synod as a governing organisation currently does). But I do think that suddenly one or two clusters of campaigners having played their hand, have revealed their true colours to a far wider audience than they had ever done before, and suddenly all the quiet faithful churchgoers who were never interested in the political, committee-bits of the church, and who know more about the Gospel than church legislation (thank God), are wondering who on earth has taken it upon themselves to shoot this down and why.
I am not going to go over all the theological, traditional, reasonable or scriptural arguments FOR women priests again here, mainly because those who voted ‘no’ have admitted to the bishops that they are not open to persuasion… either by theology, tradition, reason or scripture… they have made up their mind, case closed.
So I will say instead, that what is good about the shock ‘no’ vote, is that good people are finally up in arms, the people of the nation have spoken -it is their church and they are horrified.
Also, as I say, many people have been revealed in their true colours. Never a bad thing if you’re not afraid of the truth.
What’s more, the bishops have, I feel, by and large come up trumps so far -they are fired up and determined to fix this very earthly, very political mess, without recourse to the secular politics of Parliament -it might, I hope, be time to cleanse the church of a poisonous misogynistic strain of theology which has being growing since the 1980s… If one likens the theological and societal shift that is occuring to another close relative -one which also at times set the different and subordinate roles and values of certain people as a ‘God-given’ and justified them with passages from the Bible and cultural/ physical explanations, –then actually the Church of England’s response to the Christian discipleship and ministry of women is doing slightly better than the Abolition of Slavery… but only slightly.
The question is, for those women of older generations, who have grown up with the belief that they were supposed to be a step behind, a step down and keep quiet, subordinating their wills, their lives and their bodies to men simply because they were men, (whether or not they were even Christian…)For these lifelong martyrs who embraced their ‘vocation of suffering with Christ’ as one of suffering in silence and humiliation, and who now are faced with the painful possibility that they may have been suffering unnecessarily and that it may indeed be ‘For freedom that Christ has set us free’ … How are they to be helped through their anger and sorrow? an anger and sorrow that I am all too familiar with facing… Anger which I see in the face of elderly women who feel I am mistaken in my response to God’s call… How are we to heal the rift of confusion and longing when they see that their daughters and granddaughters are no longer as wayward as they bitterly thought, but are able to become Christian without becoming slaves, that they are able to serve Christ with all their heart and mind and strength -without serving men or first obtaining permission from a man.
And how are we men and women in the priesthood to be reconciled quickly in the body of Christ, when a small number with ‘speech as soft as butter but war in their hearts’, seek to drive us apart by seeking to deny the Spirit of Christ in half the world?