"...The Church is a very odd institution. Judged by purely worldly standards, it is absurd and pointless, and its rules and concerns necessarily barmy. But it shouldn’t be judged by those standards, or subjected to worldly rules. You might as well try to introduce equality and diversity into the editing of the Oxford Book of English Verse (what have I said?), or issue decrees on where bluebells and forget-me-nots should grow.
The Sermon on the Mount is a pretty unfashionable doctrine, important because those who try to abide by it think (to the horror and scorn of materialists) it came from the mouth of God himself, and many similar Christian beliefs, from the Virgin Birth upwards, are derided or greeted with sighs and groans by the majority of fashionable society. I would argue that unless people were prepared to believe these odd things, there’d be no Church and much good would be left undone, which is currently being done.
But for many loyal sons and daughters of the Church these beliefs come in inconvenient, but internally logical packages. And among them are the passionately convinced opponents of women bishops, both Catholics and Bible Protestants. Note that these people no longer seek to prevent female ordination or women bishops. They simply ask for an accommodation, so that believers in absolute Biblical authority, and believers in apostolic tradition, can be given a small space in which to stay in the Church of their birth, baptism, upbringing, the church where they were married and expect to be buried.
But rather than approve that accommodation, the other side irritably deride their scheme as ‘discrimination’ against ‘equality’, which is near enough to a thought crime.
So instead of getting women bishops through compromise, the militants deliberately postponed the vote in July, and agreed instead to spend £210,000 of scarce church money on holding a special meeting in November – at which they expected to win.
And then they lost, narrowly, but they lost - because their opponents have picked up a trick or two about organisation and rule books.
They lost entirely according to rules they would have accepted, had they won. The radicals would have been quite happy if their proposal had triumphed under the same constitution with the same narrow majority. Those who complain about rules that they would willingly have benefited from, when others benefit from them instead, are surely inviting suspicion about their respect for the rule of law.
The original vote to allow women to be ordained was won by quite a narrow margin, and the Synod system is designed to protect minorities from majority tyranny.
What’s more, Parliament, 40 long years ago, gave up interfering in Church government. Parliament used to have the right to vote on measures put forward by the Synod’s forerunner, the Church assembly. But this led to a great crisis in 1928, when the Commons refused to approve a new Prayer Book. It was the memory of this crisis, among other things, which led to the creation of a more independent Synod. As one of the participants in ‘The Big Questions’ said, it’s all a bit like Devolution. Once you hand over such powers, you cannot complain when they are used.
In any case, I look forward to Parliament legislating for total non-discrimination between men and women in the appointment of religious leaders. The Roman Catholic Church in England might be resistant, and the spectacle of the British state insisting on the appointment of female Imams , and female Rabbis in Orthodox Jewish congregations, fills me with a strange satirical delight.Read it all [here]
But that’s only a small part of the point I seek to make. There have long been branches of the Christian church which accepted female leadership. If this is a matter of overwhelming importance to you, might you not consider changing churches? If not, then what should you do? Well, you might seek to persuade your own church to change its mind.
But a church is not just a club or society , or a political party, where you can thump and shout your way to success by winning votes, briefing the media and forming factions to drive your opponents out. If you deliberately (or also in my view unintentionally) hurt people by winning, you have broken the fundamental rules of the whole institution.
For the Church is a mighty force for good, consisting of people who believe (or say they believe) above all things In unselfishness, forbearance, forgiveness and kindness. I might add that it is a place in which the last shall be first and the first shall be last, where high office is deep service (the word ‘minister’ means ‘servant’). ‘Who sweeps a room as for thy laws, makes that and the action fine’, as one of the greatest of all Anglicans, George Herbert, wrote.
The pursuit of high position for its own sake is axiomatically disallowed. Any victory must be mitigated by magnanimity , generosity and consideration. Those who become Bishops should really be those who least wish to become bishops, and when they do attain the mitre, they should be the servants, not the overlords, of those in their flock. Likewise, the winning faction in a struggle for change must show great consideration to the defeated.
Those who set out to change the church were surely the ones who needed to show such consideration to the other members of that church,. But when you watch the radicals, in the debate on ‘The Big Questions’, do you see any sign of magnanimity, generosity or consideration? Or do you see dogmatic campaigners seeking the unconditional surrender of their cornered and outnumbered opponents? I know what I see, a contest between the ancient dogmas of unworldly Christianity, and the modern dogma of worldly power. And while I still couldn’t care less what sex the bishop is, and I am not *for* the opponents of women bishops, I am certainly *against* their militant supporters. They remind me of some other people I don’t like, I can’t just now remember who..."