The 300 page report Women Bishops in the Church of England? spends far too long in skirting around peripheral issues, and in failing to address the central point.
If we start with scripture, it must be with Paul — ‘There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.’ The Church made excuses for not eradicating slavery for centuries, and has made similar excuses for not recognizing the equality of women with men. Certainly there is a complementarity, and the other scripture texts point to that. Men and women are very different. But, for the Church of God to be whole, just as in a human family, the roles of both mother and father need to be present. The Church has too long presented itself as a single parent family in which men ruled, and the women were grudgingly accepted as housekeepers.
It is very evident that clergy chapters throughout England, which were once boys’ clubs, have been enormously transformed by the presence of women as equal partners in ministry, and indeed, as leaders of the group in the role of rural dean. A great deal of the posturing about different styles of churchmanship has been tempered, and there has been a more gracious acceptance of those who are different, yet labouring in the same field.
Yet this has been achieved at a very high price in England; allowing a polarization about the ordination of women that has enabled those opposed to become caricatures of their churchmanship in the cosy clubs of traditional Catholics and Evangelicals. These boys’ clubs have become entrenched in their views, and have moved further out of touch with the mood of the nation as a whole. They define themselves by their opposition to women priests and bishops, and undermine their notable work in former times at home and abroad, working in slum parishes here, and ending slavery around the world.
The presence of large numbers of women in public life is slowly having a civilizing influence. Public policy and the conduct of parliament is being transformed. And in many parishes the presence of women priests has brought enormous change and new ways of working. The Church of England’s report needed to look carefully at the way in which the presence of women in public life has made a difference today. Ignoring this is a major omission, and a refusal to see the benefits of making the change. It looks as though the Church doesn’t even yet believe in women having the vote.
We know the arguments about the priest or bishop being an ikon of Christ. We need to see women in that role precisely because we need to show both men and women that the Church believes we are all one in Christ, and that it is humanity, not just men, who are made in the image of God.