So the Church of England have rejected women as bishops within their communion. Across the UK this has been met by derision and scorn from both within and also outside of the actual church itself. As a I reflect on it myself I think it is important to approach this from two totally different standpoints. One a theological point and secondly one about the role of women as leaders in society.
As a former theologian student it was always clear the bible is actually quite explicit about women’s leadership. From the Fall in the Garden of Eden, to the Levitical priesthood to the Apostles it is male driven. Women are subordinate, not necessarily in a step over way but in a way that makes it clear that spiritual power and leadership is patriarchal. Yes there are exceptions which raise their head such as Debra, a judge in ancient Israel. Sarah, Miriam, Noahadia, Hannah, Esther and Anna as well as Philip’s daughters are mentioned as prophets. Even with these givens as members of the spiritual community these ladies were not granted with the same spiritual leadership attributes of the priesthood. Indeed my own upbringing was part of a community whose founder was considered a female prophet, but as we speak the notion of a woman being a a presbyter is still a point of contention. Here’s why.
The New Testament, the guidebook for modern church governance, clearly states that a bishop, a term interchangeably defined as elder, overseer and pastor by some, should be a man of one wife, sober, have believing children and not a drunkard. This is reiterated to the Pauline letters to Timothy and Titus and is ensconced with a guide that it’s a man’s role to rule not just the church but his house too. Rounded out with the missive that women should not gossip, talk maliciously and that they were not allowed to exercise authority over men. Other books reiterate the whole men rule thing from Genesis to Corinthians It’s there in black and white and so the only counter argument for this is cultural relevance. Tough call but if you are a believer of the book, just like gay marriage and other contentious issues affecting modern Christianity it’s there. Take it or leave it.
For those who wish to quote “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus,” that one was about salvation and nothing to do with leadership or being a bishop.
Cultural Relevance and Equality
It breaks my heart to see people who are so passionate about their faith have decisions like the Synod dash their hopes. When as a society we seem to be making so many leaps and bounds to recognizing that a woman can offer the same leadership as a man. From the female leaders in business, society, education and in politics it would seem that religion is the only institution left for such a change. The reality though is that the largest world religions are a law unto themselves.
The Abrahamic religions of Islam, Judaism and Christianity are in many ways are exempt from many laws pertaining to sexual equality. Whilst we talk about the whole issue as to why bishops are automatically allowed to go into the house of lords while preventing women to be bishops we also have to remember that laws are there which allow them to use the ecclesiastical card to support their position on inequality. But there is hope. If we are honest all three of those religions by measure of their holy books all condone slavery. As much as it grates people the moral code as set in the ten commandments even supports slavery. Sits uncomfortable but it’s there. I guess one realises that things like the abolition, gay marriages and priests have all been implemented because of a change in the cultural landscape.
So the argument is never going to really be a theological one. Whilst other Christians and non believers would like to think that the CofE is irrelevant, they need to remember at its head sits the monarch, they are influential in the house of Lords and that affects legislation. They have an investment portfolio of some 8bn and property, thats influence.
It probably will come to that day when the vote does swing in favour of women bishops and then I suppose the gaze will then turn to Jews and Muslims. Probably not as influential in legislature so as not quite the same.
Our hope is that we realise something a bit deeper. Patriarchy is evident in our society. It’s perpetuated through commerce, media and in culture as a whole. The Prime Minister goaded the C of E but has he really taken a look at this inner circle and the women in his Cabinet? Many of the daily tabloids lamented the vote yet continued to blast their sidebars of shame where they constantly dissect, analyse and humiliate women. So not that it’s an excuse, but the CofE if we are really honest are only a reflection of how institutions see women as a whole. Good to look at, nice to let a few in now and then but not fit to lead. And that my friends is the gospel truth. A truth as a society we need to change.