Women bishops – it is about religion, stupid

Does anybody else feel uneasy that the case for women bishops is championed by commentators with a wholly secular agenda and that an essential element of the argument has been deliberately left out? Too hard for our little heads to take in or too silly for words, being about religion? Nothing wrong with the secularists’ case of course. Only there’s no reason why their voices should prevail, as distinct from the great majority of church members in favour of women bishops who should of course have won. How much better to win an argument – any argument – on its own terms. The media are partly to blame of course for  representing the arguments  so much in secular terms.  So it was refreshing just for change to make the case for women bishops eventually quite differently.

If ever you wanted to read a break-out form the simplistic distinctions of Catholic v Protestant that prevail in our land, read this account in Cranmer the blog on religion that would give Jonathan Swift a run for his money –  or his Woods’ halfpence.

Anglicans are not freelance, theological pundits, but a valid part of the One Catholic and Apostolic Church….

The Church of England was never designed to be Protestant, though it has elements of that movement within it. And it was certainly not Roman Catholic, though it drew on the strengths of that denomination to manifest the Church in a visible society. Its struggle has ever been how to permit freedom of the Spirit within ancient structures: how to put new wine into old wineskins.

This is why the Archbishop of York is right when he says there will be women bishops, because Anglicanism is a communion, and in that koinonia is toleration of mutual exclusives. At the core of Anglican identity is the belief that there is more than one church that is catholic; that there are non-Roman churches that are catholic; and that the Church of England is an expression of unity, catholicity and apostolicity….
Catholicity is an aspiration, and women bishops are simply a continuation of the reformist movement which began in the 16th century. The Church of England departed not from the catholic Church, but from the errors of Rome. It was Whitgift who observed that the Church of England was ‘reformed’ not ‘transformed’ because ‘we retain whatsoever we find to be good, refuse or reform that which is evil’. Over succeeding centuries, Anglicanism has offered catholicism without Roman centralisation and authoritarianism. It has been, in England, the Catholic Church in this land, set free from subjection to the foreign King of Rome.

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  • claudius

    I don’t believe in or follow god but if you do, then is the result of this vote not gods will?

  • So God does play dice? Or, at least, is fond of mathematical fractions like 2/3.

  • “Anglicanism has offered catholicism without Roman centralisation and authoritarianism.”

    Perhaps just a switch to centralisation and authoritarianism from Catherbury eg Archbishop Laud:

    On 26 February 1641, articles of impeachment were brought up by Sir Henry Vane. Laud was accused of assuming tyrannical powers in church and state, of subverting the true religion with popish superstition and of causing the recent disastrous wars against the Scots

  • Roy Walsh

    Surely Brian this is a matter of liberals being unable to accept democracy, even where it is a weighted one.

  • UserAinm

    Is there a part of the bible that led the laity to vote against women bishops specifically? Or is it more a vote in opposition to female clergy?

  • claudius

    Its an ecumenical matter

  • UserAinm

    Very good Donal

  • Ní Dhuibhir

    Stop giving them seats in the House of Lords and we can all stop giving the tiniest secular shit.

  • South Belfast Hack

    One of the things that has most frustrated me about the whole thing has been the lack of bible based theological arguments, it has all been about how wider society will perceive the church and about how important it is not to be seen as irrelevant by society.

    Anyone who joined the church expecting to always be accepted and welcomed by wider society should have read the terms and conditions a bit more closely.

    “I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves. Be on your guard; you will be handed over to the local councils and be flogged in the synagogues. On my account you will be brought before governors and kings as witnesses to them and to the Gentiles.” Matthew 10:16-18

    “Remember the word that I said to you, ‘A slave is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you;” John 15: 20

    “Lucy Winkett, who would have been in line to become a woman bishop, said the synod was “detonating its credibility with contemporary Britain”.”

    If the strongest argument that the yes campaign could make was being “credible” with a secular society then I would have voted no. By Lucy Winkett’s logic should the church now also support abortion???

  • South Belfast Hack

    @UserAinm there are Biblical arguments on both sides. I have a women minister and broadly support women’s ministry, but I didn’t always because I used to think the Bible didn’t support it.

    There are really two separate arguments. 1. Should women preach (the Church of England mostly thinks yes.) and 2. should women have theological “headship” over men.

    2 is a slightly different question to 1 so it is possible for someone to support 1 and not 2.

    I appreciate this is a technical debate that seems a million miles away from 21st century views, but this is a theological debate and it ought to have been conducted on a theological basis. The argument isn’t one of equality, all are equal:

    “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” Galations 3: 28

    The question is whether God has different roles for men and women.

    The main argument against women ministers is 1 Timothy 2: 11-12
    “A woman[a] should learn in quietness and full submission. I do not permit a woman to teach or to assume authority over a man;[b] she must be quiet.”

    [a]1 Timothy 2:11 Or wife; also in verse 12
    [b]1 Timothy 2:12 Or over her husband

    Against this the pro-women bishops lobby ought to have argued Judges Chapter 4 & 5. At that time Israel was a theocracy with no clear king, but theological leaders who judged Israel, the main ‘Judge’ in Israel at the time was a female prophet called Deborah.

    “Now Deborah, a prophet, the wife of Lappidoth, was leading[a] Israel at that time.” Judges 4: 4

    [a] Judges 4:4 Traditionally judging

    Equally 1 Corinthians 11: 4-5 says
    “Every man who prays or prophesies with his head covered dishonours his head. But every woman who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonours her head—it is the same as having her head shaved. ”

    Setting aside the headcovering issue, which is a separate long debate. Verse 5 makes a requirement for how a woman ought to dress while she is prophesying, in like manner to how verse 4 makes a requirement for how men ought to dress while prophesying. The underlying assumption is that both men and women prophesy.

    (Disclaimer: The above is only a short introduction to the debate, I support my own woman minister and think she does a very good job, but I do not believe in forcing women ministers on congregations who don’t want them. The CoE vote was defeated largely because the “liberals” weren’t prepared to build in enough flexibility for those congregations who object.)

  • Newman

    Hats off to Brian for pointing out the missing aspect in the coverage. The issue is obviously a matter for the Anglicans but I do note that the tone of their debate was respectful at all times. It does seem to me that the critical question is whether the Church are recipients of something that has been revealed to the apostles and are passing on the torch to the next generation so to speak or whether this truth is relative and subject to the changing mores of modern society. How does doctrine develop ? Can I recommend a famous essay on the topic by the Blessed John Henry.

  • david thistle

    Makes me proud of the Kirk.
    No prelates.
    Women ministers.
    No hierarchy.

  • anne warren

    It’s not just about religion.
    It would be if the CoE were not the established church with bishops sitting in the House of Lords.

    The decision not to have women appointed bishops is a decision the church has taken.And which it is perfectly free to take on whatever theological grounds it cares to argue.

    Unfortunately it contradicts the law of the land which prohibits discrimination of grounds of sex, age etc.
    And the Head of the Church is a woman

    If the Church is dis-established, Her Majesty is no longer Head and the Bishops leave the House of Lords (as one poster suggested) there is no problem. The Cof E can freely do what it decides on a par with any other religion in the UK.

    If the Church is not dis-established there is a rather large problem.

    Appointing no new Bishops until the next round of voting in 2015 has been suggested. I think Mr Cameron would prefer not to leave the matter hanging – as no doubt would Her Majesty.

  • I’m not an Anglican nor even a believer but there is one thing that puzzles me about the debate over women Bishops.

    Just taking Brian’s point that it is not just purely a matter for secularists. I get that but I was under the impression that once they allowed women to become priests, the theological arguments had already been overcome. Putting it the other way around, is there a theological argument that tolerates women prients but does not tolerate women bishops?

    And if there is not one, then quite frankly, the Church is in a state of inconsistent limbo.

  • South Belfast Hack


    “There are really two separate arguments. 1. Should women preach (the Church of England mostly thinks yes.) and 2. should women have theological “headship” over men.

    2 is a slightly different question to 1 so it is possible for someone to support 1 and not 2.”

    It can be argued that debate 2 brings some extra bible passages into play that wouldn’t automatically be relevant to debate 1.

  • Ableton

    You ask whether anyone else is feeling uneasy? Well, a sizable and vocal minority has declared me to be a second class human. The Synod voting process has given credence to their view. The media has given the decision wide coverage. This all makes me feel pretty uneasy, perhaps you can imagine yourself in my skin?

    I think that the question that you are asking is a really important one. Should secular views be accounted for in Anglican decision making?

    My position is that they should, and here is how I support that view.

    We are talking about subjugation. We are talking about a declaration that relativist sexism is ok, that treating women as lesser beings is acceptable. As a non-christian woman these issues impact upon the environment that I live in. They impact upon the respect and opportunities that are accorded to my mother, my sisters, my daughters. The Church is not a bubble, and must be accountable for its influence within and outside itself.

    The mere debate is hurtful and offensive, yet I still support the freedom to debate. I am somewhat bemused, however, by the pandering, and the respect, and the compromises being given to sexism. Sexism is a dirty prejudice. It should not be isolated from the strong female role models most likely to cure it.

    There is some unhappiness that the Synod and parliamentary debates have not engaged with the technicalities of biblical evidence. I am afraid I am not going to engage them either. All I will say is that whatever the arguments are, “They are not enough”. To argue for oppression? To argue for subjugation? The evidence had better be ironclad, and it is not.
    A sentence attibuted to St Paul? Is that enough? No. It is too little. I have respect for St Paul’s writing, but the sentence from Timothy is incorrect. It is incorrect because it is incorrect, not because of Judges. This does not undermine the rest of St Paul’s ministry. He just had incorrect views about women.

    These thin reeds only stand up because they are rooted in the thick bog of tradition, exemplified by a Synod voting process which could hang on the status quo against 85% for change. It is time for a stiff wind.

    If the Synod cannot transform, Parliament must act upon this travesty. Thank you for posting the link Brian, I loved it. I loved seeing the broad consensus of MPs who want to take action, and have no truck with debating the status of women. There is no debate.