This weekend the Church of England House of Bishops approved legislation to appoint women bishops. This is fairly devastating for two groups in the C of E: the conservative evangelicals and the Anglo Catholics. One group believes that women should not lead; the other that they cannot. Both have previously benefited from a soon-to-be-defunct system that allowed them to have alternative leaders within the same Anglican Communion. Many, both inside and outside of the church, strongly object to these groups and there have been some cruel accusations of misogyny thrown around; but there is also a fair amount of misunderstanding, especially for those outside of the immediate sphere of interest. This is my attempt to explain why I am, as yet, unable to accept the ministry of women at the altar. I don’t seek to convince anybody to change their mind, but just to clarify that those of us who are opposed to women priests and bishops are not acting out of blind prejudice or any sense that women are not good enough.
At the risk of scaring away my newly acquired science readers (all 5 of them…) I wanted to write a quick something about the changes in the Church of England this week. For anyone who missed it, the House of Bishops has approved legislation to appoint women bishops, albeit with some caveats. (This doesn’t actually mean for certain that the legislation will pass: it still has to go through the laity first, but this is a fairly major step). Many of my friends are not-religious, and almost none of them are conservative evangelicals or Anglo Catholics, so I’ve been asked a few times why this is a big deal? There has also been a lot of general ‘triumph for feminism’ and ‘equal rights for women’ statements flying around, and I think it’s really sad that there’s been less of an academic debate on this.
I grew up in a church where women were ordained in the first wave, and always felt a little uneasy about it. As I got older and started to explore the subject I encountered academic arguments and theological concerns from the opponents of women bishops; and foot-stomping and it’s not fair! from those in favour of women’s ordination. Even before I was well-read enough to understand the arguments in depth, that really pushed me into the opponent camp. I like debates. I like facts. I like reasoned arguments. I hate over-emotional guilt-tripping.
In Summer 2010, when General Synod had an important vote on the issue, I wrote a lot of letters to some pretty important people in the church, on both sides. I asked opponents whether this meant schism and I genuinely asked whether the ‘other side’ could explain to me their reasoning. I believe that we are supposed to be one church, and anything we can do to avoid that is A Good Thing. I had some really lovely responses from the Archbishop of Canterbury, and the former and current bishops of Ebbsfleet. And I had some pretty condescending and dismissive stuff back from some of the most prominent women in the church. It didn’t do a great deal to change my mind.
Time and again, WATCH (the main group arguing not just that we should have women bishops, but that we shouldn’t allow any provision for those who feel theologically unable to accept them not to have them) have implied that the only people who are unable to accept women bishops are misogynistic crusty old men who can’t move with the times. I’m fairly sure that they realise this isn’t actually true and that there are many young (and female!) people in the Anglo Catholic church who feel strongly about this issue, but I suppose it’s easier to just forget about them.
I’m in the process of writing a longer post where I try to explain some of the reasons that I, and other members of the Anglo Catholic church, are unable to accept the ministry of female ordinands, but for now I just wanted to register my sadness that we’ve come so far so fast; and my hope that some proper provision will be made for traditionalists and evangelicals alike.