Anglican bishops resign over ordination of women

// 8 November 2010

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bishop chess pieceFive male Anglican bishops have resigned from the Church of England and will join the Catholic church in protest at the prospect of women becoming bishops, which should happen in around five years’ time. This follows the Bishop of Lewes’ statement last week in which he claimed that those opposed to the changes felt like they were “in January of 1939”. Yes, women becoming bishops really is as frightening as the Third Reich.

Those against female clergy were previously able to avoid having anything to do with them by seeking religious guidance from “flying bishops” who were themselves male and had not endangered their souls by ordaining women. However, this arrangement will come to an end when women gain the right to become bishops.

Speaking on Channel 4 News earlier, one of the defectors said he supported the social ideology of inclusiveness (his lawyer and doctor are both women, fancy that!), but that this was about spreading the word of god and apparently Christian doctrine and tradition only allows men to do so. As a non-religious feminist I’m sceptical about the existence of god and the value of basing present day decisions on ancient texts and stories full stop, but that’s no basis for an appropriate contextual argument against this assertion. So I’d love to hear what Christian feminists have to say on the subject – please share your thoughts in comments!

I will not be publishing any comments that do not fit this remit.

Image by Adrian Midgley, shared under a Creative Commons Licence.

Comments From You

Schnee // Posted 8 November 2010 at 11:39 pm

Frankly, as a practising Anglican, I’m fed up with this softly-softly approach to gender equality in the church. Good riddance to those five men. In five years’ time, their shoes can be filled by good, Christian women.

We struggle with the portrayal of God as male, which is an inconsistent image of God, that Being who possesses all perfections, corporeal substance not being a perfection.

When you change God language to being gender neutral, you start to think about the nature of God and get away from the portrayal of God as ‘an old white man in the sky with a beard’.

The usual argument given for women not being priests and by extension bishops, is that Jesus only had men as his Apostles.

Where to begin?

Well, let’s begin when the ‘Jesus Movement’ started to be hijacked by the patriarchy and set up in its own image to reinforce its power.

The Rabbi, Jesus, Yeshua, was a man whose teaching was about inclusion. He loved his own Jewish faith so much that he wanted it to be available to all, rich, poor, educated, uneducated, sinner, saint, woman, man, adult, child, Jew, Gentile, and by extension, any race or sexuality.

Sharing of the faith was not through priesthood, it was through communion and just that…sharing.

There is strong evidence to suppose that Mary Magdalene was his most important supporter and that she wrote a Gospel.

The Apostles, even as depicted in the Gospels that were subsequently chosen to form part of the ‘New Testament’ were not the only people who spread the teachings of Jesus of Nazareth.

If we do stick to just those few men, then why chose the fact that they were men? Why not have that priests have to be Jewish, bearded, circumcised?

For pity’s sake. It absolutely appals me that our self-appointed moral compass is allowed to continue to be misogynistic and homophobic.

There was so much good in the teachings of Jesus, why are we mired in the backwards thinking of a handful of men and the women who have been brought up to think of themselves as less than men?

Lizzy // Posted 9 November 2010 at 1:29 am

My belief in Jesus is one of the reasons I am so passionate about feminism – I believe Jesus was/is about total equality and progress for women, and His example inspires me. For example, He took time to talk explicitly to ordinary women in a time when women were considered less important than men, and treated women who had worked in prostitution with just as much respect as any other person.

“…Christian doctrine and tradition only allows men to do so”

This comment by one of the male bishops is, in my opinion, *entirely wrong*. I hate that people are preaching ignorance and prejudice in the name of someone whose key message was to love others equally. From reading about Jesus’ life in the Bible it’s clear that He particularly cares about people who are looked down on by society – although things are a lot better for women now than they were when the Bible was written (at least in the UK), I think that principle in itself has some application to modern day patriarchy.

Over the last few years I have come to realise that there is often a chasm between what I believe to be Christianity (the Bible, Jesus and God), and the preaching of people such as these bishops. I believe that Christianity and God are loving and fair, but that sometimes those who profess to be Christians are not. Many people have taken misogynist traditions and decided that they are Christianity. In doing so I think they undermine the key principles of the God they claim to follow (e.g. “love others as you love yourself”).

In summary (!), from what the Bible says about Jesus as a person I think He’s entirely in favour of female bishops, and I’d say that these male defectors are so fond of power and tradition that they have deluded themselves as to the basis of the religion they claim to follow.

Laura thank you very much for specifically inviting responses from Christian feminists – there are a few of us around!

Valerie // Posted 9 November 2010 at 3:13 am

This reminds me of ‘white flight’.

Hannah // Posted 9 November 2010 at 7:16 am

“The Rabbi, Jesus, Yeshua, was a man whose teaching was about inclusion. He loved his own Jewish faith so much that he wanted it to be available to all, rich, poor, educated, uneducated, sinner, saint, woman, man, adult, child, Jew, Gentile, and by extension, any race or sexuality.

Sharing of the faith was not through priesthood, it was through communion and just that…sharing.”

I definitely agree with this, from Schnee’s comment above. I’m currently doing a theology course dealing with gender issues in the Bible and this week we’ve been looking at Paul’s teachings regarding women and speaking in church, having authority etc. The issue is a really tricky one and there seems to be so many contradictions in what Paul was saying across his letters – some of his opinions obviously relate to cultural problems and issues relating to a particular church, but some are more open to interpretation.

I wonder why, that if women were not meant to hold leadership positions or teach men, why many women are gifted in this way. I have had some really powerful teaching from women as part of a MIXED audience and believe that all should be able to hold senior positions in the church.

elizabeth rimmer // Posted 9 November 2010 at 8:14 am

Believe me, as a Catholic, these men are the last people I want to see join the Church. There is too much harking back to an authoritarian magical-elitist attitude as it is. Sometimes people like this deceive themselves that they don’t despise women because they have a quasi-mystical reverence for fertility, but frankly, we ain’t fooled. My only consolation is that they obviously think they are joining the Church as portrayed in Brideshead Revisited, and they are in for a serious wake-up call when they find out what we’re really like.

Andie // Posted 9 November 2010 at 10:14 am

And they wonder why people have left/are leaving their church in droves!

It’s 2010. Women are the other half of the human race. They have just as much right to become priests and practice their chosen religion on equal terms with the men.

If you can’t get over it, get stuffed!

Tony Yarusso // Posted 9 November 2010 at 10:42 am

No need to specify “Christian feminists” – how about just what Christians have to say. As one, and a male one at that, this is idiotic, but ultimately okay, since obviously those five are unfit to be leaders of the church anyway. Jesus used women to spread his message and his disciples did likewise after his death, and any exclusion of them is fabricated nonsense by some old guys trying to bolster their power rather than proclaim the Gospel.

(Meanwhile, my church’s monthly magazine has celebrating an anniversary of ordaining women again as its cover story.)

Zita // Posted 9 November 2010 at 12:23 pm

Not that there’s any likelihood of female priests in the Catholic Church anytime soon, as a Catholic I feel disappointed by the Pope’s decision to make this offer so publicly as it’s kind of putting a seal on the fact that he doesn’t plan to move on the issue. Out of those I know many Catholics would be happy to see that happen. I completely agree with Schnee so I won’t repeat what she says. It also puts a big wedge between the two churches which isn’t great. This is the official line of the church though, so his offer doesn’t actually surprise me.

I suppose the bishops are entitled to their opinions though and they’re entitled to practice in an organisation that (officially) agrees with them so it’s better for them to leave. It just means Catholicism gets topped up with more conservative people who are against female priests which pushes the issue back for us.

Anyway, I don’t think the Catholic Church is going to change their ideas soon but I personally believe that it will inevitably allow female ordination in the future. Not that I’m trying to make excuses but changing this stance would take such a long time considering the variety of cultures etc belonging to the Catholic church. If there are problems with Anglicans accepting the idea here in our fairly liberal and enlightened country, its reception in nations where women are less equal or which are more “traditional” will be many times worse, from men and women alike, and the consensus isn’t going to be easily reached. So I won’t hold my breath.

Incidentally I saw the interview and I don’t remember him saying only men can spread the word of God per se, or did he? If he did then that’s a bit crazy. Even as it stands the role of a priest is only one role in the church which involves spreading God’s word, there are plenty of others which women do perform very well and which are also very important imo.

It’s odd though isn’t it? Surely of all the jobs there are, being a priest could be seen as one of the most nurturing and normally the patriarchy loooves for us to do those jobs!

SnowdropExplodes // Posted 9 November 2010 at 2:12 pm

The basis for the tradition is, at least in part, based on the Pastoral Letters attributed to St Paul. I say “attributed” because it seems that their attributions are among the more dubious of the epistles. In them, Paul supposedly says that “it is not fitting that a woman should teach a man”.

This goes against the evidence of several other letters attributed to Paul, in which prominent women are recognised as having a steering role within the early churches, and against the evidence of the Gospels, in which Jesus himself accepts teaching from women at times.

As Schnee has observed, Mary Magdalene is a good example. Even within the canonical Gospels (i.e. leaving aside the question of whether Mary wrote a Gospel herself), she is shown as someone who (at least when Jesus stays in her home) has the right to be on an equal footing with the other (male) disciples, instead of doing housework.

Even if Paul’s injunction is taken as being written by Paul and not some later editor, that is no reason why we should accept his prejudices in the modern Church. The early churches were very young communities and needed to turn to an authority figure to help them make sense of a lot of very new ideas to them, and for whatever reason Paul (so Christians believe) was the man God chose for that role. But now the Church should be more mature than that and should be able to find its own way without clinging blindly to the Law of former times (a message that Paul’s letters repeat over and over, in fact).

So, honestly, good riddance to these five bigots. My only regret is that they actually have somewhere to go with their prejudice, instead of having to go it alone and see how out of touch they truly are.

Julian // Posted 10 November 2010 at 10:05 am

The obsession with Paul’s strictures against women in the church is not one that the medieval church would have recognised. Women, although not allowed to be priests, were able to be anchorites, nuns and so on – and those positions were not just pretty, they involved hard work and commitment, and were recognised as having some authority.

My name is after Julian of Norwich, a medieval mystic who posited that God was a woman and Creation was motherhood. Can you imagine the reactions that would get nowadays?

BruceChris // Posted 10 November 2010 at 9:03 pm

As someone who is a Christian, a feminist, and a male, I have this comment.

It is clear to me, that some people do not really believe that women are created, without reservation, in the image of the Almighty.

Cycleboy // Posted 11 November 2010 at 2:42 pm

In his book, “Desperately Seeking Paradise: Journeys of a Sceptical Muslim” Ziauddin Sardar relates a discussion he had with a young Pakistani graduate of one of the less enlightened Madrassas. Frustrated at Sadar’s questions and responses, the young man made – what he obviously believed to be – a killer comment “What do you know. You’re not even a proper Muslim, because you’ve not got a beard.”

To my mind, the claim by certain members of the church that women can’t become priests/bishops because Jesus only chose men, falls into the same false logic of this Muslim graduate.

Charlotte // Posted 12 November 2010 at 12:32 am

I’m part of the congregation at an Anglo-Catholic church that is looked after by the Bishop of Ebbsfleat (one of the guys who resigned and is now packing his bags for Rome). I know that it is baffling to many people inside and outside the Church of England that women priests and bishops should be such a big issue, how could anyone possibly object? But some people do object, very strongly. In my church we have those who have spent years campaigning for women priests & bishops, we also have those who can not accept these changes and are considering leaving the C of E, and of course we have a great number of people who fall between the two.

In my less charitable moments I find it very easy to label these men and women as misogynists who use tradition as an argument against equality. This is unfair and in most cases just isn’t true. Their concerns are complex and involve the desire to move towards a single, united, catholic/universal church (accepting women into the priesthood moves us further away from the Roman Catholic church and therefore further from this goal). It’s a noble aim but, for me, the price is just too high. Accepting women as bishops is long overdue and I will celebrate the day when it finally comes. However, I will miss those who decide to leave.

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