What does the decision on women bishops mean?

As you will be well aware, General Synod this week voted not to approve the measure to allow women to be ordained bishops. Was this the most important thing that happened in the news? No. Does it spell the end of the Church of England? No. Is it a reason to leave the Church? No. Does it fatally compromise the Church’s life and ministry in this country? Contrary to some reports, I believe not. I do not think that having women bishops is of the esse of the Church. (I don’t think having any kind of bishops is, but that is another story.)

But we do need to reflect on what has happened here.

A proposal which has the overwhelming support of bishops, other clergy, and laity in the church, which has received strong support in 42 of the 44 dioceses, which has been discussed actively since the 1970s (when it was agreed that there was no theological objection to women’s ordination), which has been on the agenda since women were ordained presbyter in 1994, which seems to the general public to be little more than common sense—this proposal was rejected by Synod by the narrowest of margins. This is not about a Church which (as some have suggested) is careful and appropriately cautious in making decisions. This is a Church at a standstill because one set of wheels (mostly out in parishes) is turning one way, and another set of wheels (in Synod) is turning the other.

How can this be? The voting figures tell a story.

The House of Bishops voted 44 to 3 with 2 abstentions, which is 90% in favour.

The House of Clergy voted 148 to 45, which is 77% in favour.

The House of Laity voted 132 to 74, which is 64% in favour.

How might we explain this progressively increasing opposition moving from bishops to clergy to laity—which is a common feature of Synod voting? Here are six possibly explanations.

  1. The laity on Synod are more theologically conservative than clergy, who in turn are more theologically conservative than bishops. This is a commonplace in the Church of England; evangelicals have long complained that they are under-represented in the ‘hierarchy’, and by and large evangelical churches have higher numbers attending, which means that more ‘conservative’ views gain differing degrees of representation at these three different levels.
  2. The laity on Synod are more socially and culturally conservative than clergy and bishops. It is hard to remain unaware of social change if you are engaged in ordained parochial ministry (or any other kind for that matter), but it is possible for congregations to become bastions of social stability, islands of calm in a turbulent social sea. I remember being almost assaulted by a lay person at a Deanery Synod where this was being discussed and I was speaking: ‘You are taking away my church! You are taking away my church!’ This kind of visceral fear of change is present, and perhaps not sufficiently acknowledged—but much more so amongst laity than clergy, in my experience.
  3. The laity on Synod are less willing to think radically about change for the sake of mission. I sometime worry that ordinands training here at St John’s will get tired of us saying that the future of the church depends on entrepreneurial missional leadership (even though that contrasts with first experiences upon ordination) and no clergy can avoid the constant discussion about Fresh Expressions and all that jazz. But these things are not the bread and butter of most PCC meetings in local churches.
  4. The laity on Synod are in general less social media savvy than their clergy counterparts. Bishops blog, and some time ago clergy communication went electronic, but the Synod laity (especially older ones) do not have the same pressure to get wired. It was said that social media could swing the vote; if so, it would have affected clergy much more than laity.
  5. The laity at Synod are less theologically engaged in the arguments. Now, I am aware that I am on dangerous ground here, but it has been remarkable to hear the number of times in recent weeks people reciting that women are forbidden from exercising authority (1 Tim 2.12 does not say that), or that a man is the ruler of the household (that comes from Aristotle’s Politics, not the New Testament), or that headship is about authority (which in 1 Cor 11 it is not), or that there is gender hierarchy in Genesis 2 (there is none). Clergy sometimes mention these things, but by and large they know better, since the vast weight of scholarship and study refutes each of these ideas. More often they are found on the lips of Synod laity, despite some valiant attempts to make the background information more widely available.
  6. The laity at Synod are less representative of the wider Church than the other Houses. All the diocesan bishops are in Synod, so there is no question there. Clergy are used to attending tedious Anglican meetings, so don’t have to make such a leap to engage in Synod. But the laity? I think it is fair to say that, overall, Synod laity are not your typical cross-section of Church membership. For one thing, you have to have time (and money?) on your hands to make the commitment to the (unpaid) attendance at meetings. For another, you have to feel at home with the idea of procedural motions. And this vote is further, strong evidence that Synod laity are not speaking representatively for the views of laity more widely.

I have carefully said that these are possible explanations, and you might or might not agree that they are true. I certainly know plenty of missional, creative, risk-taking, theologically engaged lay men and women in Synod. But if at least some of these are not true, how do you explain the voting?

It might be possible to see a number of these things as positive virtues, but there are some which clearly are not. There are already calls for a review of how Synod works, and in particular how the laity are elected and represented. Having spent five years as a member of Synod from 2000 to 2005, I have to say that its workings are very far from perfect.

What is fairly certain is that, unless something creative is done in the near future, the elections for the Synod of 2015 to 2020 will be fought almost exclusively on this issue, and many of the current, more conservative members will lose their places without a doubt.

Why is such change inevitable? Let’s consider the impact of this vote.

Firstly, this has been massively discouraging for a very large section of the leadership of the Church: women clergy. Opponents of the measure argued that their view was being marginalised. But attacks on your views, however strongly held, are not attacks on you. Women clergy I know have felt this to be a deeply personal issue, as it puts a question mark against the vocation for which they have often made considerable sacrifice. To leave the Church on a matter of conscious is one thing; to be told that your ministry has no theological validity is quite another.

Secondly, this has seriously undermined the credibility of the Church, as a moment’s glance at any of the press will tell you. It seems to me somewhat ironic that evangelicals who are concerned with mission have been instrumental in doing such damage. To claim that this is not about credibility, but about ‘doing things God’s way’ is delusional. Some people need to get out more!

Thirdly, it could be that it is this issue, and not same-sex marriage, which starts opening the cracks in the dam of establishment. Whatever the merits or demerits of each of the many (and complex) aspects of establishment, a move towards disestablishment would signal a decisive step away from this country’s roots in Christian faith. This doesn’t look like a good idea to me.

Fourthly, this vote will make it hard for the Church to speak with any authority on the question of same-sex unions, as Giles Fraser notes (with pleasure—he calls this a ‘silver lining’ in what is otherwise ‘suicidal stupidity’). Again, it is the achievement of evangelicals who tie these two issues (women’s ministry, and same sex unions) together which make it harder to address the second, since so many people see affirmation of women’s ministry as self-evident in a way they still do not see affirmation of same-sex unions.

Fifthly, postponing a decision will not help unity one jot. The requirement from opponents is, in effect, to have a hermetically sealed episcopacy of their own, free from the taint of women. That is something the Church will never agree to, as has been made clear in all the discussions.

Sixthly, if this vote is defended as an expression of biblical values, then most people will decide that they would rather do without such a Bible. Defence of a ‘biblical’ position requires that there is a credible apologetic, and for those outside the Church this position has none. Saying that ‘Voting no was a vote for equality in the church‘ will not cut it (as comments on this article show).

Perhaps this will be the most lasting, damaging legacy of all.

[In case you are wondering about the picture, it is of a town in Corfu called Episkepsi. Being on the top of a hill, it offers a wonderful view over the lie of the land, hence its name. You can see a long way from here. And you will see from the rainbow that there is still hope in Episkepsi.]

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56 thoughts on “What does the decision on women bishops mean?”

  1. I agree that a large part of the problem is that the House of Laity is unrepresentative. And to me a major reason for that is that these General Synod members are elected only by Deanery Synod members. Now being on the Deanery Synod is regarded, at least in the church where I am a member, as about the most boring job there is. Only older people of a certain type are prepared to volunteer to sit through regular long and tedious Deanery Synod meetings, which seem to have little connection with life in a local church. And these are the people who elect our lay General Synod members.

    So my suggestion would be to have the General Synod House of Laity elected directly by ordinary church members, i.e. anyone on an electoral roll – and perhaps who has been on it for a certain time, to make it less easy for pressure groups to sway the vote. This would also force candidates to state their positions more clearly and publicly, which would have some disadvantages but also some great advantages for openness and accountability. It also might make the job seem more interesting for relatively young church members. Hopefully that would lead to a far more representative General Synod.

    • But the challenge here is about representation. Representative of what? If you are in a church with sharply defined membership, like a Baptist church, it is much easier. But even being on the electoral roll does not guarantee representativeness. And in any case, the way Synod is arranged and works rules out many, so a key problem is getting people to stand.

  2. Thanks for this Ian, an excellent concise explanation. I have been asked many times by people within and outside the C of E what exactly happened and why, and this helps. I knew following you on Facebook was good for something.

  3. This is interesting, and of course the whole debate is something of a minefield! I have a couple of questions though:

    1 There are a few passages which, in plain English, on a superficial non-scholar level reading, seem to very strongly support the conservative position. When I open my NIV, 1 Tim2 unavoidably says ‘I do not permit a woman to teach or to assume authority over a man’. Is it not therefore surprising that this view is quite common? I know the argument about cultural context etc but as I say, surely your average person on the street is regularly going to draw a very direct conclusion from this? Is this a scandal of translation? (I’m guessing the conservative scholars would have some strong reasons to say no).

    2 For all the other arguments, is the credibility one really so strong? What has saddened me is to hear very little debate about the Bible and lots about ‘relevance’ and ‘credibility’. It seems to me that if an issue has a perceived Biblical basis then that surely overrides perceived cultural relevance. (Obviously the culture changes constantly – what if in 100 years our culture saw men as greatly superior to women? It would be wrong, but would the church flex for credibility to support this? It shouldn’t!) If we wanted to be relevant and have a credible apologetic as far as society is concerned, wouldnt we need to change on all sorts of things? Again, is the first question to wrestle with not always whether it’s Biblical or not? Followed only then by the question of dealing with said issue in the contemporary world?

    • Matt, on you first point, yes indeed. But the reason why this discussion needs theological engagement is that the NIV you are reading is actually the product of the conservative view, but it is treated as data to defend the conservative view. The word in the text does not mean ‘exercise authority’ in a neutral sense; if you check your AV you will see the difference.

      On your second, I agree that Scripture needs to reform or be counter-cultural from Christians’ point of view. But if those we are talking to simply see the Bible as implausible, then that is a real problem. And in this case I think they do.

  4. Hi, this is great, thank you.

    I’ve heard this argument. What would you say to this? I don’t know enough about the specifics of the measure.

    ‘Actually whatever side you are on it did not make sense to pass the measure as it was unstable in its wording and therefore would have lead to many legal battle in court over words that do not have a strong definition in the English language. The church neither has time nor money to be fighting in court.’

  5. Thanks Ian. Can anyone point me to a decent (shortish) discussion about the verese from 1 Timothy 2 and also how the idea of headship and complementarianism (right word?) has developed?

  6. Hi Ian, thank you for a clear and concise evaluation. many questions in ones heart and mind but is Synodical governance a scriptural model and even if it is are there not better models within scripture?

    • Paul, that is a big question, to which the short answer might be like Churchill’s: it is the worse system, apart from all the other ones that have been tried. In fact I suspect that the model of Synodical government is based on things like the Council in Acts 15. But the real problem in our current set up is that clergy seats are hotly contested, whereas lay ones are not. Clergy who attend are paid for doing so (it is counted as part of their jobs) whereas laity have to take time out from their jobs and/or lose pay. There is also an anomaly in relation to retirement.

  7. So five bishops didn’t agree with the measure (3 against, 2 cowards) and 45 clergy were against it, but everything is blamed on conservative lay people who don’t tweat and haven’t read your Grove booklet. Hmm. I’m just wondering if there could be more to this issue.

    • Pete I think you need to spell out what the ‘more’ is. Note that I have put no 1 that laity are more conservative, and I think that this could be seen a. as a virtue and b. as a saving grace. It certainly was in 1927 with the rejection of the proposed Prayer Book in Parliament. So that is an open question.

      However, I think it is true that the laity are less theologically engaged, and are less aware of the arguments, but it is not limited to them. Have you seen Angus McLeay’s closing speech text? He rehearses all the arguments saying that we need to take 1 tim 2 as simply saying women cannot exercise authority, and that ‘head’ means ‘to have authority over.’ I don’t think these positions stand up to scrutiny—and from the procedural perspective he should not have been permitted this. The debate on theology happened and was settled; this vote was supposed to be about the measure.

  8. Thanks Ian. Helpful. Of your six possible explanations, #6 is core in my view (and on which we will all hear a lot more in the coming weeks – this story hasn’t begun to get played out yet)and #5 is huge. Where were the speeches over the years from the Thiseltons and others on this? The ConEvos have been allowed to hang on this without challenge, such that the last speech of the debate (prior to +Manchester summing up) was more on headship from Angus McLeay!!

  9. Thanks for writing this Ian. I have spent all morning talking to people in our church who are mystified by this decision and just kept asking me “how did we let this happen”. Your article will go someway in helping me explain. This is the first “Big” issue i have had to comment on in my church, I have been absolutely taken-a-back by the outpouring of grief from some members of my congregation. Thank you

  10. Thanks for your helpful article, Ian.

    Just one point to add. As John Sentamu reminded people the CofE has agreed to women Bishops in principle a while ago. It is the specific legislation that has been rejected, not women Bishops per se. Sadly this has been achieved by a combination of people who thought it did not go far enough and those who thought it went too far (which is why the version suggested earlier this year was dropped).

    The media has not really picked up on this. I hope we can get this message out more widely. Like many I am saddened by the effect this will have on those who might otherwise have been more open to God and the ministry and mission of the Church (which might go well beyond the CofE) .

    From a Biblical perspective we need to remember Jesus and Paul’s words about those who put stumbling blocks in the way of those seeking God.

  11. Re: Point 5. You are willing to say that Scripture clearly says something, and clearly doesn’t say other things. Do you think there could be a time in the CofE where that kind of humble and solid reading of scripture champions all decision making?

    You imply that a thorough exegesis actually does reveal some ecclesiological pointers. What prevents the CofE from coming to agreement on what has been concluded from academic research into the Scriptures?

    • Good question Ian. Here’s my answer:
      1. Vested interests.
      2. The weight of traditions from all sides which lock us into positions and prevent open engagement.
      3. Deep suspicion of one another.

  12. Thank you for this thoughtful piece, Ian, that discusses many of the significant factors, and acknowledges the pain many people are feeling.

    In addition, though, surely there’s been a major failure of leadership. Yes the bishops nearly all voted ‘yes’, but I think there’s more to leadership than that. Just translating this to a parish setting, many PCC’s have a few ‘crusty colonels’ (male and female!) who sometimes need managing/persuading/ assuaging/outwitting. If a tricky proposal fails it can’t simply be blamed on the colonels – leadership skills are vital to build consensus and move things forward.

    Also, I’m not sure you’ve addressed the issue of those who support women bishops but felt that the proposals did not give enough protection to those didn’t – they’re surely a significant number. To put it baldly, if I were them I’d be thinking ‘yes I agree with women bishops myself, and I don’t want another rundown of those first-order arguments. What I do want is a (biblical) justification for leaving to the wolves those who disagree with me, or at least comfort that the clause on the table is a decent protection for them’. I didn’t hear anyone address those issues satisfactorily.

    Maybe we need to think more deeply (and biblically) about handling difference. And if we can get our church’s best minds thinking this through more it will help those of us in the parishes as we deal with our crusty colonels.

    • Thanks Peter. What is interesting about the ‘support but don’t there is enough provision’ camp is that I am not sure it was as much of a factor as expected. A prominent person I know who said this in deanery debate did in the end vote with the measure, which surprised me.

      The difficulty with episcopal leadership is that some clergy and not a few laity are deeply suspicious of it, and I suspect that the support of both incoming and outgoing ABCs in fact turned some laity votes against.

  13. I hope you’ll be able to help with something. I was for a while convinced of the conservative position; then convinced of the Fee/Wright position (principally the issue over “authentein”). But then I looked at Grudem. The fact that he has a prior conservative position can’t in itself rule out his testimony – his work on authentein suggests that it simply doesn’t carry the “usurping” sense until a long time after the Biblical usage. And so, since it is for me an issue of what the Bible says at this point(every other argument in favour of consecration and even lots of other biblical evidence being clearly in favour), I switched again. The last days have seen the Fee/Wright argument (which is also yours) achieve new currency and become “embedded” now. Some of us are out of our depth and have to depend upon what better scholars than ourselves are saying, so how do you respond to Grudem’s concerns about the “authentein” issue? (Conservatives are also nervous, of course, of any contextual argument [e.g. the situation in Ephesus], but I’m sure we all do it all the time anyway, so I can’t see that as holding any water.)

    • Alan, Fee and Wright’s arguments are more about reading contextually. Whilst I think that is important, I think there is a more significant argument to be had about vocabulary. Having looked at Grudem and others, I believe that they are factually in error–or rather fit the data to suit their position. The verb itself occurs almost nowhere at this time, but the cognate noun is quite widespread, and Linda Belleville cites all instances to demonstrate that it has a universally negative connotation until the Father adapted its use–on the basis of their reading of 1 Tim 2! I cite this in my earlier blog entries, and you can find an account of this discussion in Philip Payne–who was also conservative on this issue prior to exploring it in detail.

      But there are a couple of wider questions too. Within 1 Tim 2 the teaching to men and women is fairly symmetrical, and you need to note that the word translated ‘silence’ does not mean ‘without speaking’ but ‘without quarrelling’. But the big challenge is to make sense of this as a general prohibition when Paul clearly was happy with women teaching (see Priscilla teaching Apollos in Acts 18), carrying and communicating his most important letter (Phoebe in Romans), being an apostle (Junia, also in Romans 16) and so on.

      Opponents to this say: ‘Paul did not allow women to teach in 1 Tim 2. Therefore these other texts cannot mean what they appear to mean.’ This is an entirely circular argument which makes the NT say what we want it to say.

  14. Thanks for your reply, Ian. I’m afraid that it somewhat confirms my feeling about a failure of leadership- after all, as the adage goes, if people aren’t following you, you aren’t leading. Of course there’s no doubt an institutionalised dimension to that, beyond the personal qualities of the folks currently in purple.

    We’ll find out in due course about which folk voted against, but surely there’s nowhere near 36% of the laity in synod who are opposed on principle to women bishops?

  15. Not a single word of this would have been written if the Measure had passed in the House of Laity. Sometimes people who lose a vote spend time discussing constitutional and representaional issues instead of addressing the issue which will enable the Measure to go through. (e.g. the Labour Party after 1979). I suggest that the defeat of the Measure, NOT the defeat of the principle of women in the episcopate, was solely due to the perception by lay members that the Measure, as presented, really represented a hope that the minority would clear off or die in a corner, that their concerns were not valued. Most of these people have moved from outright opposition to acceptance of the fact that we will have women bishops. But the Measure demanded that they effectively retire to an ecclesiastical corner to die off slowly, that they were no longer welcome in their church. So the defeat was, in my view, a failure of leadership by the proponents of the Measure, rejecting as they did the proffered solutions from the Archbishops last year. Had they ccpted that proposal, the outcome would have been different. Finally, beware of trivialising or patronising the House of Laity- even the perception of this will not be helpful to reaching a solution

  16. Andrew, thanks for contributing, but I am not sure the facts bear out your position here. For one thing, it is clear that elections to the House of Laity in 2010 were shaped by the fact that this measure was coming up, and this was explicit in campaigning. For another, it is not the case the the proponents had not listened. Do read Elaine Storkey’s address to Synod on the Fulcrum website as a demonstration of that. For a third, most of my observations about the shape of the House of Laity arose from my experience on Synod myself from 2000 to 2005, and not from this particular vote. For a fourth, the proffered solutions all argued for a separate, continuing episcopate, and this was rejected primarily on ecclesiastical grounds, as we do not want to create parallel provinces with parallel jurisdictions. So it is not the case that a reasonable alternative was on the table and rejected out of a sense of superiority or pique.

    Although I agree with you that there was a failure of leadership, the main one I think was in the chairing of the debate (from what I can see at a distance). Opponents are citing Angus MacLeay’s speech as the one that made the difference, and it includes the most uninformed summary of the traditional objections from a naive surface reading of the biblical texts that pays no attention to widespread agreement on the key facts.

  17. Here’s some interesting statistics:

    Percentage of parishes passing Resolution B (ie no woman incumbent): 7.4%

    Percentages voting in the dioceses in support of the legislation: Bishops 84%, Clergy 76%, Laity 77%

    Percentages voting in Synod in support of the legislation: Bishops 90%, Clergy 77%, Laity 64%.

    There is one out of the three significantly out of line. Can you spot it?

  18. Thank you for this comprehensive analysis!
    Would any of it change if the final voting figures showed that those voting against the Measure came predominantly from the Anglo-Catholic section?

    It seems to me that the Evangelical view that women “should not” be priests and bishops is ultimately much easier to engage with with good theology than the Anglo-Catholic one that they “cannot” be priests and bishops or that only the Universal Church has the authority to come to this discernment.

  19. Erika, I think your observation is correct. Having said that, one group of evangelical opponents I engaged with switched to the ‘weight of tradition’ argument when we ran out of steam on the debate about Scriptural texts. Although I dislike his style, I do have some sympathy with Giles Fraser when he says that negotiation is impossible. I think it is difficult, but still believe in it, and I continuing in engagement with opponents online.

  20. The missional consequences are many – I am a governor of two schools, one a non-church secondary academy: now what is my credibility there? I used to be a member of the local equalities forum in my last post too.

  21. All my life, I have observed that the laity of the usual parish church is poorly educated in theology, the Bible, and the skills needed to study the subjects of religion or philosophy. Unlike in the world of education, in which I served as a teacher of Religious Education among other things, the cultural pressures for any clergy person is to PROVIDE ANSWERS. How can a 15 minute slot at a weekly Family Eucharist provide education in the necessary skills and knlowledge? It can’t. This is the sum total of many a lay person’s religious education. They lack confidence and are frightened of ‘dissension’. My observation is that this has worsened between my parents’ generation and mine, and my children have switched off altogether. Hence the way lies open, as in advertising, for those with a clear message, clear answers, and dogmatic certainty, to step forward for synodical service.

    • Rosina, this is a very interesting observation, and is in marked contrast to my experience in visiting churches in North America, where ‘adult Sunday school’ is frequently part of the culture of local churches. If we could see a change here, the pain will not have been in vain.

  22. To take the statistics a bit further, the Church Times on Friday had the following:-
    Of all parishes
    Resolution A – 6% (no woman to preside at Holy Communion)
    Resolution B – 7%(no woman incumbent)
    Resoltion C (flying bishops) 3%

    Many/most parishes have more than one of these resolutions in place. The attempts by George Pitcher and others to represent the opposition to women priests/bishops as being in the area of 25 – 33% of laity is a gross exageration.

  23. Thank your for a fascinating blog and for your often illuminating engagement with those who post in the Comments section.

    I want to pick up on observations that have been made about the nature of the debate and vote and the chairing. As I understand it, the principle that women can be bishops has already been affirmed, and was not in discussion. However, from the (admittedly very limited) footage that I saw, a number of those arguing against the measure seemed to be contesting the principle: should this have been allowed at all?

  24. David, thank you for your kind comments. Appreciated.

    I don’t think these comments should have been allowed, and it also puts the lie to the idea that opponents see this as a secondary, rather than primary, issue, or that they have accepted in principle that women bishops will happen.

  25. Thanks for this helpful analysis, which does seem right to me. I am a GS member (clergy; voted in favour).

    In the post-debate analysis at Synod I heard a lot of the following:
    1. We proponents need to engage the theological arguments – and especially to rebutt the notion of the etenal subordination of the Son to the Father which Angus Mcleay used. Elaine Storkey asked where the solid Biblical exposition from our side had been.(Though as you say, the opponents’ use of the Bible is dodgy).

    2. The opponents include some who will vote against any measure as they think women in leadership is unbiblical – no concessions will win their vote. Yes, we did decide the ‘in principle’ issue a couple of years ago, but some people won’t let it go.

    3. So it is highly unlikely that this measure will return with more concessions – no return to the July text. And ConEvos will be ousted at the next election.

    Hard to see how the bishops will rescue this next July though!

  26. Charles (and Ian), what is the protocol for GS debates? Would it have been possible for the Chair to intervene in speeches and point out that they were not on topic? Or is that not acceptable?
    I can understand Elaine Storkey but I don’t think this was time for biblical exposition at all, it should have been a discussion about the provisions only, not about the principle of women as priests and bishops.

  27. Erika I haven’t been on Synod for a while, and so I am out of touch. But I think anyone could raise a point of order along these lines. The difficulty with this debate is that it sounds as though it was so charged, no-one thought about it.

    Certainly those in favour were not ready to challenge what was happening. Although Elaine weighed in, Synod really misses having Tom Wright, Anthony Thiselton and Christina Baxter in this kind of situation.

  28. None of these points adresses the reason for not ordaining women to the Christian priesthood: there is no mandate for it. Christ didn’t appoint women apostles; the apostles and their co-workers didn’t either. There is no positive reason for it, quite separately from any theoretical questions of inventing Christianity for onesself.

    The choice is thus very simple: it is between

    a) abandonning any pretence to be following Apostolic Tradition, and going full steam behind the Protestant approach of inventing Christianity on the basis of our assumed superior intelligent (and taste) or

    b) keeping up that pretence while simultaneously benefitting from the Protestant option where required.

    It’s understandable one would wish to delay such an unpleasant choice.

    • Michael, thank you for contributing your views, which are welcome. But I think they do offer a considerable insight into the problem we have got into.

      Jesus did indeed appoint only male apostles—yet he took a counter-cultural and radically inclusive view of women by including them as disciples, eg in Matt 12 and Luke 10, as Kenneth Bailey and others have pointed out. God in his wisdom allowed women to be the first witnesses to the resurrection, where such a witness was the foundation of the Apostolic Tradition you guard jealously, and in a culture where women’s witness had no legal status. Junia was indeed an apostle, and Paul appears to have been content to support the teaching and church planting ministry of women like Priscilla, and entrust his most important letter to a woman Phoebe.

      This raises two key questions. Firstly, why is it that opponents of women’s leadership seem to be so immune to taking this kind of well-established data from the New Testament seriously in informing their views—especially if they are interested in protecting the Apostolic tradition of which this is a part?

      And why do the points you have mentioned continue to have a place in the debate, when they have long been discredited, at times even amongst those opponents?

  29. What do you make of today’s letter to The Times, in which eight members of the House of Laity who voted against the measure explain their reasons and make a proposal for going forward?

    If I understand their proposal, they want a new measure which includes an emended version of the Act of 1993. The novelty seems to be that they envisage a parish in favour of women’s ministry being able to request alternative oversight if their diocesan bishop is opposed.

    On the one hand, this removes the objection of Tony Baldry, who indicated that Parliament would not approve any measure which made women “second class” bishops. On the other hand, it represents a worrying extension of the fissure in the territorial concept of the diocese. That was already present in the 1993 Act and given that conservative evangelicals have been making noises about needed oversight from a bishop who shares their theological convictions, suggests a real danger of the one Church of England splitting along theological lines into several de facto churches.

  30. Not sure it does Pete. I think this is a small group; most of the other ‘nays’ were voting on principle of opposition to women bishops. Perhaps it is worth my clarifying that I do not believe that having women bishops is the esse of the Church, nor even perhaps the most important issue confronting it at the present time…just that, the vote having come up, voting against it has been fairly disastrous at lots of levels.

  31. Ian,

    Thanks for not deleting my comments! 😉

    “Jesus did indeed appoint only male apostles—yet he took a counter-cultural and radically inclusive view of women by including them as disciples”… hence proving that, if He had wanted women to be Apostles with a capital A, He could have provided for them.

    “Firstly, why is it that opponents of women’s leadership seem to be so immune to taking this kind of well-established data from the New Testament seriously in informing their views…?”

    A simple answer is that

    a) Christian Churches who don’t ordain women don’t actually oppose women’s leadership; never have done. As I mentioned off-hand to an old friend on FB the other day (Lord have mercy; self-quotation?!):

    >>> I never really saw a “glass ceiling” for women in the Church. A woman became the Mother of God… Saint Catherine of Siena famously told the Pope what to do and ended a schism… quite a few of the Doctors of the Church (most important Christian guides and teachers) are women… ever heard of Mother Teresa…? <<<

    b) It may "seem" that way, but it isn't; let's use that "opponents of women’s leadership" euphemism for the sake of argument.

    The "opponents of women’s leadership" tend to encourage actual women's leadership. C.f. naming yet another influential women as a Doctor of the Church. They just don't suggest we go against (or rather, outside) Tradition and ordain them as successors of the Apostles.

  32. “And why do the points you have mentioned continue to have a place in the debate, when they have long been discredited, at times even amongst those opponents?”

    I’m not totally sure what this means – if it means “amongst those opponents” in the CofE, then it’s because of b) (original post). Keeping the options open.

    Outside the CofE, there has never been an issue with this. Catholic and Orthodox have always had major roles for women, and no particular sense that ordaining them to sacramentally represent Christ, a man, held any attraction, theologically, politically or otherwise…

  33. …and thanks to you for continuing to engage!

    On your first point, I don’t think it does prove that. Both Jesus and the early leaders of the Jesus movement *both* were to some extent constrained by their culture *and* were ready to question that culture. We see this most notably in the differences in Luke and Acts; in Luke women are prominent, and yet in Acts there is little explicit sign of women in leadership. Priscilla is notable by her rarity. Culture is neither to be trashed nor to be adhered to.

    On your second point, this is a really curious argument for evangelicals. Wasn’t the Reformation all about Tradition ‘sitting under’ and being revised by fresh understandings of Scripture? So how is it that evangelicals now want Scripture to be silenced by Tradition? For those who would not self-describe as evangelical, it is still the case that the C of E is a reformed Catholic church.

    And on that topic, there is no debate about women and Christian ‘priesthood.’ There are only two ‘priesthoods’ in the NT—that of Christ, and that of all the people of God. The debate here is about ‘presbyteral’ ministry; this is how the C of E understands ordination in its formularies, and not in terms of the ‘priest’ ‘sacramentally representing the man Christ’ [Theologically, Jesus was a human being, not a man…but that is another debate]. And of course it is a commonplace that in the NT presbyteral and episcopal ministries are pretty much interchangeable at the level of terminology.

  34. Full disclosure: I left the CofE [is this technically possible? how do you *know* if you’re in it or not?] in 2003 when I became a Catholic.

    I am, however, what you might call “evangelical Catholic” in that I know the Bible back to front and the reasons why I believe.

    “Both Jesus and the early leaders of the Jesus movement *both* were to some extent constrained by their culture *and* were ready to question that culture…”

    Jesus was clearly not at all “constrained” by Jewish (or Greco-Roman, the prevailing international) culture.

    How else is it possible to explain John 6? Here Christ broke the most terrible Jewish taboos, prohibitions based on Mosaic Law, no less. And in His claim [mostly implicit, but increasingly clear and concise as time went by] to identify Himself personally with the G-d of the Law, the most terrible crime against monotheism in general, He certainly showed no “cultural constraint”.

    “Culture is neither to be trashed nor to be adhered to.” True. But that is an abstract principle, whereas Christian revelation is a fact of history.

    “Wasn’t the Reformation all about Tradition ‘sitting under’ and being revised by fresh understandings of Scripture? So how is it that evangelicals now want Scripture to be silenced by Tradition?”

    For most Christians, in fact, even for Protestants who simply don’t acknowledge that this is the way they live in practice, rather than how they say they live, Tradition and Scripture have equal footing; they form 2 sides of the 1 deposit of faith.

    This is abundantly obvious to those of us who grew up outside the Church and entered as adults; Catholics and Protestants both use Catholic Tradition as equally authoritative with Scripture.

    “Theologically, Jesus was a human being, not a man…but that is another debate.”

    It is a debate with the New Testament then; Christ is not the “new humanity”, He’s the New Adam. The Church is His “Bride”, His “Body”, through the actual events of His life, death and resurrection, and the sacraments which make them truly present. Sacramentality is something inherent in the whole Christian revelation; it’s not added on as an extra.

    If one takes the abstraction to its logical conclusion, the ultimate result is to cancel the Incarnation. Our current post-Christian societies witness to this easily, there’s no need to argue when the facts speak for themselves.

  35. Michael, I left the RC to join the C of E, so it looks like we are waiving as we pass!

    You know if you are in the C of E if you are a. baptised b. on the electoral roll and c. regular in attendance.

    I think Jesus *did* show cultural constraint. In places like John 6 (assuming you think John is historically reliable, which I do), Jesus is offering a radical reinterpretation of his tradition, and in the ‘I am’s is positing for himself the place and role of Torah within Judaism. So this is very much located within his cultural context, even if radically subverting it. (There is the same dynamic, expressed in different terms, in Matthew’s account of Jesus’ teaching in the Sermon on the Mount.)

    In Anglican and other Protestant thinking, Scripture and Tradition most definitely do not have equal footing–which is what sets them apart from the Roman Catholic church.

    When you read Paul’s language about Jesus as the second Adam, it is very clear that Paul is not attaching maleness to this. Men and women equally are ‘in Christ’ and part of the new creation (2 Cor 5.17), and so all, men and women alike, experience the outpouring of the Spirit, are gifted by the Spirit and called to minister. For Paul, it is the resurrection, not incarnation, which appears to be the theological turning point.

  36. Hmmm. It’s so evidently confusion that it’s too much fun to

    “I think Jesus *did* show cultural constraint. In places like John 6 (assuming you think John is historically reliable, which I do), Jesus is offering a radical reinterpretation of his tradition, and in the ‘I am’s is positing for himself the place and role of Torah within Judaism.”

    OK – here you just changed the meaning of “constraint” from how it was used a couple of posts back.

    “In Anglican and other Protestant thinking, Scripture and Tradition most definitely do not have equal footing–which is what sets them apart from the Roman Catholic church.”

    …and here you breezed past the point I actually made – that of course Protestant *thinking* says that Scripture has primacy; but actual existential Protestantism witnesses that this is not the case.

    I use the term “says” deliberately – Protestant thinking evidently *thinks* using extra-Biblical Tradition as a foundation all the time.

    Again, it helps if you start from ground zero on these questions, but with some effort and probably an existential crisis or three one can become self-aware enough to recognise it even starting from a prejudiced position.

    “For Paul, it is the resurrection, not incarnation, which appears to be the theological turning point.”

    So… the Resurrection was not part of the Incarnation? Huh?!

  37. And this week the new legislation was described as a miracle, and those of us who voted no as national treasures because the legislation is so much better! God’s timing? Work of Holy Spirit? But at what a cost to those who voted no – vitriol from fellow Christians was not necessary! Repentance? Apology?


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