Yes, I am entering the discussion on women bishops, and I bet this will be far from the first blog you will read about it but I hope that you get something new out of it.
For a long time I haven’t been all that interested in the way the Church of England governs and works. Back home, my father is a Catholic and I went with my mother to a Baptist church so I guess I thought it didn’t affect me. I heard the Archbishop of Canterbury get quoted every so often and understood there was a certain importance the C of E had in this country as the national church. But I guess I thought that essentially they were a more liberal and slightly more in touch version of the Catholic church (except they didn’t believe in transubstantiation). I do want to point out this is mainly because of my lack of interest in finding anything out, rather than that being the image all C of E churches give.
This started to change when I went to my college Christian Union friend’s baptism at her (C of E) church and realised that it was a lot more engaging and relaxed in structure than I expected. I also found out that that church did a “café church” service about once a month and went along and really enjoyed it. The perception was broken. I also understood that Holy Trinity Brompton (the birthplace of the Alpha Course and various other initiatives) was an Anglican church and was really on the edge of engaging with people and making the gospel relevant to them. I began realising that quite a few churches that I’d heard of as being centres of Christian youth and sometimes famously charismatic churches were in fact Anglican. When I was at New Wine this year I discovered that was a C of E movement and that Soul Survivor was born out of that. I think that was when my perceptions were completely smashed. Well, almost. The image I had of the Anglican church does exist, it’s just on the other end of the spectrum from churches like HTB and actually I was happy to know that i wasn’t completely wrong. You see, I think the Church of England’s best unique aspect is that it ranges from traditional and conservative to modern, liberal and charismatic. If you are at church to meet with God and you engage with Him through it, the style really doesn’t matter so I appreciate this variety and love it. Since coming to university I have started attending a New Wine Anglican church because it was where it felt God was leading me and because it felt like the congregation was all there to meet with Him. That’s a church I want to be at.
Anyway the point I’m getting at that’s relevant is that a church with so much variety, and yet a rigid top-down leadership system, has a huge problem when it wants to agree on changing something. This is different from, for example, the Baptist church (at least how it is in the UK) where each church pretty much governs itself while being associated with the Baptist Union and its doctrine. So when you have to decide whether to allow women bishops I can see where the difficulty is in getting everyone united.
Although I feel it should have no bearing on the issue (having been at a C of E church for less than two months) I will explain my position. I believe that women should be allowed to preach in church and serve in leadership. I believe that is the correct interpretation of what is in the Bible (or rather I agree with much cleverer and wiser people who hold to that interpretation). I also believe that although there can only be one true interpretation there is more than one valid one that could be true. Let me be clear, this can’t be anything that you can twist scripture into, but I won’t arrogantly say that the interpretation that I believe fits best with what I know about God and the Bible is definitely true. Other well-reasoned arguments from scripture could also be correct. I think that this is one of the matters that this issue applies to.
I am passionate about Christian unity. I don’t mean belief in the exact same details of doctrine or a single church. I mean different Christians working together to spread the good news of Jesus Christ and showing His love to as many people as possible. Each of these groups may have different valid views on various issues and many parts of doctrine but are united in their love for Jesus. This is why one of the Church of England’s greatest strengths (a single church with great variety) becomes a weakness. Because of their wide spectrum, views will differ and changing the “official” goalposts can alienate some groups; both ways. Clearly a larger group wanted this change to go through and the fact that it failed by only 6 votes in the House of Laity (unordained members of the church) highlights this.
I’ll be honest, I was hoping it was going to be a yes. Part of this is that after allowing women priests quite a while ago, it makes very little sense not to allow women bishops; it’s inconsistent. If you believe women cannot preach or hold positions of leadership in church then either can certainly not be allowed. Meanwhile if you believe that they can it doesn’t make sense to only allow one level of leadership to women. I don’t see an interpretation that can allow this “in between” position. I also think that the C of E needs to continue to show it is moving with the times – not copying the world view, but re-examining issues without older cultural ideas clouding judgement as they may have done in the past.
But the overriding message I have heard from the traditional camp that support the no verdict is not “we’re right and you’re wrong and we don’t want it to change”, rather that they weren’t happy with the form the measure was in because they didn’t want to alienate part of the church. They were (and still are) looking to come to a compromise where women bishops will be allowed, but those churchgoers with whom this didn’t fit with their biblically-based ideas, would have provision. It sounds complicated but they are looking to hold the fantastic unity of the church together, not damage it or the image of the church to the outside world. I realise this isn’t the view of everyone on this side of the fence but it is certainly what has actually been coming through. I think this motivation is most certainly noble and think that those who were looking for a yes may not fully understand this. Despite this I do share in their disappointment when the vote was so close.
For a simpler outlook I would point you to fellow student Joel’s blog who has emphasised the need for not squabbling over each other’s doctrine, especially when those not part of the C of E have been expressing their opinions on the matter and getting into arguments, a sentiment I second very strongly!
I feel like I should come to a conclusion at this point but I honestly haven’t personally come to one so I will just say that I hope I’ve raised some different ideas in your mind over this issue, please post your comments about it below!
EDIT: Check out Krish Kandiah’s blog for explanation of the different beliefs on women in leadership and how we can respect those with views different from our own.