“If all ordained ministry inevitably has this flavour of authority and discipline about it, then indeed I think we would have to conclude that it is for men only. But if (as I believe) the essence of pastoral care is love, and its style is humility, then no biblical principle is infringed if women are welcomed to share in it.”
The writer continues: “I still do not think it biblically appropriate for a woman to become a rector/vicar or a bishop. The fact that, as I write, there are now female bishops in the Anglican communion (in the United States and New Zealand) has not led me to change my mind.”
This is John Stott – who died last year – writing in 1990, in his seminal “Issues facing Christians today” (page 280).
I’m not saying that his teaching is a knock-down argument for opposing women as bishops – although there are not a few Christians who would instinctively follow his lead. But it is an argument for humility.
‘Welcome with open arms fellow believers who don’t see things the way you do. And don’t jump all over them every time they do or say something you don’t agree with” writes Paul to Romans (14:1 in the Message translation).
Loyal Anglicans, like John Stott, belong – even if they cannot accept changes which most church members see as essential.
Myself I voted in the Diocesan Synod for welcoming women into the episcopate but I did so on the assumption that we could trust the leaders of the Church of England to make provision for those members who for legimitate reasons disagreed with the majority.
It would simply be unacceptable to force through legislation which would have the effect of pushing such loyal members out. Compromise is often messy but an essential part of the Anglican character.
However, what went wrong was that many such members felt that that they could not trust the institution.. The damage was done when the General Synod initially received the motion, I think about two/three years ago, and voted for no provision for those who disagreed. It was those who could not accept women as bishops who wept.
The challenge now is who leads the Church of England? We may be an Episcopal Church and the overwhelming majority of bishops voted for the measure. But it is ironic that as women are being considered for the episcopate (another word for bishops), the authority of bishops is steadily being weakened. Gone are the days when a bishop could move his man into a parish as vicar. Nowadays lay people (i.e. most of you) have your say and often they say no.
The problem is (and this is the case for all democracies) those who stand for lay positions in the Church of England, above all the General Synod, are a small and self-selecting segment.
As the editorial in this morning’s Church Times point out the women-bishops legislation fell in October 2010 when in the election for General Synod lobbying groups managed to get 77 of their members in place in the house of laity, securing 35.46 of the vote. That was enough to wreck the legislation.
So where do we go from here?
At one level is for church members to get involved in the machinations of running the Church of England and not leave it to the keenies. So earlier this month I successfully stood for the Bishop’s Council and the vacancy-in-see committee.
The biggest ever crisis for the Church of England was on 14 June 1928, described by the bishops of the time as an emergency. This was when the House of Commons rejected the Prayer Book approved by the Church Assembly (the forerunner of the General Synod). It was the state telling the church how to pray.
However, looking back some 80 years it was the House of Commons who got it right, although it didn’t seem so at the time for most church members. But there lies another story.
Strangely, even as we lurch from crisis to crisis, the Lord of the Church looks after his church, sometimes in ways we cannot always understand.
So once again the prayer of the late David Watson: “Lord, bless this mess.”