Seventeen years on, the General Synod has taken the inevitable vote in favour of consecrating women bishops, yet the revision committee is in breach of the trust of the synod and the wider church by backtracking.
The church is institutionally sexist, of that there is no argument. It places a higher value on men and reserves all the roles that count for anything on men. Yes, Jesus’ twelve apostles were all men, but that’s missing the major role played by women in the gospels, who are often more receptive and prominent and mission than the twelve. The Acts of the Apostles and Paul’s letters also give us a glimpse of women in church leadership roles in the first century.
Church misogynists love to point out that a woman cannot be a priest because a priest must represent Jesus, who is a man. There are very, very strong theological arguments that we should be emphasizing Jesus’ total humanity rather than his maleness, as doing the latter would also suggest that women have no part in Jesus’ salvation: “that which he did not assume, he did not heal”. Yet, as well as moving towards misogynist heresy, there is also the problem that the church reflects a sexism not present in Jesus’ teaching and ministry. In the end, the greater distortion is brought by those who find the ordination of women repugnant.
The Church of England has had ‘synodical government’ for a few decades now. It is a kind of democracy. Of course, it’s not a very good democracy, partly because it’s bolted onto the Russian-doll structure of our territorial fiefdoms, ruled by monarch, bishop and parish priest. I’m sure we could invent better ways of doing democracy in the church, but we’re always hampered by the extremes of evangelical theocracy and Anglo-Catholic episcopal discipline. And to cast our nascent attempts at democracy as mob-rule or majoritarian are grossly unfair. Thoughtfulness and prayerfulness have been the norm, minorities have been given voice and room to live and thrive.
In fact, the so-called ‘traditionalists’ can only exist as they are because of the Church of England’s breadth. It is surprising to hear them say how cruelly they have been treated by the Church of England, when we’ve created enough ecclesiastical space for them never to have to see a woman in a collar, it’s just never enough. Their glee at the Pope’s offer of safe haven for them seems likely to be short lived once they study the small print: clergy submit to (re-)ordination, complete obedience to Rome, all liturgical novelties need prior approval (see clayboy’s article on this for the details). If there be a surge of exodus, which I doubt, I’m sure no one will comment much on the steady trickle back to the freedoms of Anglicanism.
Yet, we are still beholden to shipjumpers, unable to enact our own prayed, reasoned, argued and approved ecclesiology, but hemmed into some gerrymandered future with a hierarchy of flying bishops and women made even more second-class disciples in the Body of Christ.
We have lost our ability to be prophetic. Pope Benedict cannot do prophetic, unlike his predecessor. Archbishop Rowan’s talent for the prophetic is sorely diminished. For to be prophetic, one need not only to hold onto the eternal truths of the faith, but to engage fully with the human condition. A church that practises sexism, places itself beneath contempt in our society, and thus cannot to speak to this society of its ills with any authority.