Saturday, February 19, 2005

Making Women Bishops in the C of E – a good thing?

A discussion starter from Peter Toon

The General Synod of the Church of England meeting in London in February 2005 took the first steps to the making of it legal for women not only to be deacons and presbyters (priests) but also bishops. The process will take a few years but it seems that (unless there is a major change in mindset, or an act of divine providence stopping it) it is now merely a matter of time before the C of E joins other Anglican Churches in North America and New Zealand in having female bishops.

There is a minority opposing this development, though it is much smaller than that which opposed the ordination of women as presbyters, more than a decade ago. Many in this minority wish to see the C of E create a third province wherein there are no women clergy at all, and thus the C of E can continue as the National Church, containing within it, in a peaceful settlement, people of different persuasions, as we wait the Second Coming of the Lord to cleanse and perfect His Church.

Let us suppose (for the purpose of discussion here) that the reasons offered by opponents of women as bishops are cogent but yet answerable, and thus that there are no insuperable theological reasons for not ordaining & consecrating godly and learned women, when canon law is adjusted to allow it.

Here I want to introduce a “secular” line of thinking which, if valid and if taken seriously by the majority, would perhaps stop or slow down the move to make women bishops in the C of E.

In brief, here is this line of thinking.

Since World War II, the influence of the acceptance of “rights” (human & civil) and their associated pressure groups (e.g., feminism) upon culture, legislation by national governments, the regulations of government agencies, business practices and public buildings have been immense and continue to be so.

The Churches have also felt this influence and pressure and have changed not only doctrines but also their canon law and pastoral practices to adjust to them. One could supply many examples of these changes, both of major and minor importance.

The movement towards the ordination of women and its acceptance by synods of Churches is inconceivable without the background of the human rights and human dignity movements in the larger society. Within this context the Bible and sacred tradition have been read in a different way than they were a few decades before; and thus what had prohibited the ordination of women is now seen as not opposing it, even if not positively commending it.

Thus it can be safely claimed that without the “rights” movement and related social developments church leaders would still be reading the Bible and sacred tradition as stating both the full equality of women and men before God and in Christ, and that only men, a few men not all men, are called by Christ to be pastors of the flock of Christ.

To continue. Once the Churches had opened the door to the impact of the “rights” movement and changed doctrine and practice to accommodate to it in such a major areas as the sacred Ministry, then the Churches felt the pressure of other groups who believed that their time had come for full recognition. Not least amongst these is the LesbiGay movement, which, at least in North America, can show definite success in making headway within the Churches, and doing so, on the back, as it were, of the women’s movement.

What happens in the USA in terms of cultural and doctrine change, often occurs also in Great Britain a little later. This is so with women’s ordination for example.

I submit that the embracing of the last stage of the women’s movement in the C of E is a clear signal to the LesBiGay movement that its full time has arrived and, on the basis of rights and on the back of the women’s movement, the C of E will most probably be embracing much of the programme of the LesBiGay movement by 2010! "Rights" once adopted work in a variety of directions and not always predictable and often not controllable!

The Rev’d Dr Peter Toon February 19 2004

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