On women bishops

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I hesitate to write this, and I told myself that I would not step into this debate on this particular platform. I know that I am at risk of alienating dear friends as I write this, and that the stakes are high on both sides. I would very, very much appreciate it if you would extend grace to me, and be gentle with me in comments.

 

I went on my Twitter feed this morning, and within five minutes I was so sickened by the nature of the tweets on women bishops that I had to tear myself away.

 

I am an egalitarian because when I look at the varied and complex passages on women in ministry in the Bible, I am persuaded that the Bible says that it is good for women to teach the Bible and lead churches. But the particular passages are confusing and seemingly contradictory – sometimes women are involved in leadership (for example Priscilla, Junia, Euodia and Syntiche, Phoebe), and sometimes they are told not to teach (in 2 Timothy). It is the job of the Bible student to work out which is the rule, and which is the exception. Though I disagree with those who are complementarian, I can see why they reached their position and I respect them for their desire to be submissive to God’s word.

 

I ache for the women who have been sidelined for so long, who have been treated as inferior, who have felt like they have had to fight for their place and been excluded and treated with a lack of respect. I know this deeply and personally, and in my ministry there are many times when I felt the crushing wounds from people who said that I was sinful for wanting to teach the Bible. I am glad to be part of the Church of England where women are able to serve alongside men, and I think that it is a good thing that there will be women bishops.

 

But I do not wish to demonise those who, in good conscience, have looked at the same complex Bible passages as me and come to a different conclusion. It is simply not true to say that complementarian is the same as misogynist. Most complementarians do not view women as inferior, whatever the letter in today’s Independent may claim.

 

You can feel sexism, you can smell it as soon as it occurs, and it is not necessarily anything to do with theology (although that can come into play). It is the dismissive looking past you, the patronising smile, the thinly disguised surprise that you are here at all, shocked at your audacity to play with the Big Boys. It is horrible, and I have encountered it from both egalitarians and complementarians. Equally, I have had people on both sides of the debate who have affirmed me and my ministry and leadership, and I feel a special gratitude to those who have done so even while disagreeing with me theologically.

 

I would like there to be women bishops. But as it stands, this measure would effectively force out those who cannot accept it for themselves. (I know that those on the pro-side would say there are more than enough concessions, but the fact remains that the conservative evangelicals and Anglo-Catholics are genuinely unsure of whether they have a place in the church, and they feel that they are being forced out.) I was really hoping that there might have been a solution that could provide adequate provision for my Anglo-Catholic and Conservative Evangelical brothers. I want women bishops, but not in this way, a way that pushes out and excludes, and sidelines. I know how that feels, how it has felt.

 

I know that there are those who are crying out for justice. I know that sexism in the Church of England and other churches is rife, and needs to be dealt with and ended, that it can feel all too often like a Big Boys club, and that this is so important for women in ministry to feel validated, honoured, valued as equals. I know that the establishment of women bishops will not end sexism in the Church of England, but that it will go some way to healing the hurts, and would be an important symbolic step.

 

But to take this step in a way that pushes out conservative evangelical and Anglo-catholic brothers? I do not want that.

 

I have no conclusions, no answers or strategies. I do not know which way the vote will go, and I anticipate heartache for the Church whatever the outcome. I am praying, and I hope for an outcome that brings God glory and helps his kingdom. I am praying for God’s word to be upheld and honoured, and not dismissed as peripheral. I am praying for peace, somehow.

 

This feels intensely personal to me. I have a dear, dear friend who is helping to lead the campaign for women bishops, and another dear, dear friend who is leading the campaign against. I feel the pain and hurt on both sides.

 

I feel like a child whose parents are divorcing, and all I can do is weep.

 
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84 Responses to On women bishops

  1. Fiona 20th November, 2012 at 6:53 pm #

    Thank you, Tanya, for expressing so eloquently what I feel as an ordained woman in the CofE, who is in favour of women bishops (if they are appropriately gifted, godly and called to that office by God) but who is also in favour of a safeguarded and honoured position within the CofE for my brothers and sisters who in all conscience are not…

    • Tim Carlisle 20th November, 2012 at 11:22 pm #

      Encouraged by people such as this.

  2. Christopher Brough 20th November, 2012 at 1:03 pm #

    Hi Tanya, found this wonderful blogpost by way of broken cameras. I think your last line sums it up perfectly. This doesn’t feel or look like a debate within a loving family but a divorce. Someone will gain the lions share of the alimony but I think whoever wins will have a fragmented, angry, hurting church to minister within. I pray that God will be with both the winners and losers come this evening.

    • Tanya 20th November, 2012 at 1:59 pm #

      Thanks so much for venturing over here.
      It’s just really sad, isn’t it?
      Praying with you that God will work, somehow to bind and heal.

  3. Nick 20th November, 2012 at 2:48 am #

    Hi Tanya,
    I remember a bunch of DICCU people discussing women priests over drinks and cake at Vennels. Needless to say, both sides of the debate were presented, with varying degrees of force and grace (though nobody was actually mean, from what I remember!). Part way through the discussion, someone piped up, “Nick, isn’t your Mum a priest?”. It was interesting then to watch those ‘against’ women in ministry hastily rerunning their arguments mentally in the light of this information to see if I was likely to have been offended by what they said. I think that serves as a useful reminder that these discussions do indeed involve people, not just concepts. We all need to bear this in mind in our discussions with others. You’ve done this with both clarity and grace, thank you.
    I wonder if it’s the concepts that divide the church, or the people. (Don’t worry, I recognise that’s a bit simplistic, but the fact is, relationships tend to be strained more by our actions than by our beliefs (another simplistic statement, perhaps!)).

    • Tanya 20th November, 2012 at 1:57 pm #

      I love this story. ‘these discussions involve people, not just concepts’ – yes – and thank you for illustrating that so well. Wise words, Nick, as ever. Many thanks.

  4. Chris old field 20th November, 2012 at 12:49 am #

    Totally agree. well put.
    I’m reminded of some words from my pastor on passages that are hard – some scratch their heads & say we’ll never know. Others say it’s obvious & are ready to shoot others down if they dissent. If the gospel means anything, then let’s put down our guns and app scratching our heads. If I have not love, I am nothing, and I gain nothing.
    Chris

    • Tanya 20th November, 2012 at 1:55 pm #

      If I have not love, I am nothing – Amen, amen. Thank you for this.

  5. Youthpasta 19th November, 2012 at 10:39 pm #

    An excellent post on the matter and one that I wholeheartedly agree with.
    This is what I wrote on the matter a while back:
    http://youthpastablog.wordpress.com/2012/07/07/women-in-church-leadership/

    • Tanya 19th November, 2012 at 11:07 pm #

      Thank you – am heading over to yours now to check it out!

  6. James Oakley 19th November, 2012 at 10:11 pm #

    Tanya
    Thank you for your thoughtfulness and your charity, and your willingness to step back from your own pain and your own wishes – to try and see the issue from the perspective of the whole church. I sensed this was hard for you to write, but I’m grateful that you did.

    • Tanya 19th November, 2012 at 10:58 pm #

      Thank you so much. It was indeed hard to write (and scary to press ‘publish’) – thank you for seeing that. I really appreciate your affirmation of that. Thank you.

  7. Alastair 19th November, 2012 at 8:28 pm #

    Thanks for writing this, Tanya.

    I am saddened by the seeming inability of the church to have a serious, charitable, yet challenging conversation on these issues. Sometimes it appears as though we can only have competing monologues, playing off one set of Bible verses against another (or sometimes just unbiblical accusations and name-calling).

    I find myself unable to support the ordination of women to the episcopate. My reasons for holding this position arise from my convictions that it is ruled out by the biblical teaching that has bearing upon the subjects of ordination and the office of the bishop and concerning the differentiated vocations of men and women in the Church. I do not believe that my reasons for holding this position are attributable to misogyny. However, as I am convinced that it is not appropriate just to brush off such a serious charge without extensive investigation, I have examined myself and my motives on this front carefully and prayerfully, and in dialogue with others, especially with women and with people who disagree with me.

    I do not believe that we have the liberty to pick and choose when it comes to Scripture. This is a conviction that has challenging consequences for my own life, consequences which I accept: this isn’t about imposing difficult standards upon others but being unwilling to submit to difficult standards myself.

    One of the things that this means is that I have to do serious business with the favoured texts of people who disagree with me. I can’t just treat them as exceptions to be put to one side. All of the biblical references to prophetic or leading women such as Deborah, Huldah, Junia, etc. are inspired and must also be received as the authoritative word of God to his Church, as must texts such as Galatians 3:28. Explaining these away weakly isn’t enough either: I have to engage with them closely and in depth and give them their full weight. These texts must also be squared with the no less widespread biblical teaching about the differentiation of male and female roles, from the start of Genesis onwards. I believe that the answer will be found by digging deeper into Scripture, rather than by jettisoning one part of the biblical witness that doesn’t quite fit into our models.

    I do not believe that the place of women in the Church has been adequately recognized and believe that radical change is needed on this front. I also believe that misogyny is a big issue in the Church (and, frankly, I don’t think that misogyny in the Church maps tidily onto pro-women bishops/anti-women bishops or egalitarian/complementarian divides: it is often absent where we presume its presence and present where we presume its absence).

    Sometimes I wonder whether one of the chief problems I have with the women bishops approach is not that it is too radical, but that it is not radical enough. It takes the whole modern framing of the issues under discussion largely for granted. It takes largely for granted a particular understanding of ordination, of the relationship between the clergy and the laity, and of the place and nature of ordained ministry more generally in the Church. It takes largely for granted a particular understanding of the role of the bishop. It takes largely for granted a modern anthropology and the theories of equality as removal of differentiation that tend to be bound up with that. It takes largely for granted certain modern theories of gender. Framed in terms of these assumptions, the conclusions that are reached don’t surprise me, nor is it surprising that those who oppose are often automatically labelled as misogynists. However, the right answers to the wrong questions are not a real answer at all.

    Those who oppose women bishops tend to have their own set of assumptions that are never really questioned. The problem is that neither party seems to be able to establish the emotional distance necessary with the issues in order to be able to step back from the presumed framings and deep ideological trenches and rethink the issues biblically, imaginatively, and with the patience, humility, and charity to be able to listen to those who disagree. Are we asking the right questions? Are we building our cases upon reliable assumptions? I don’t believe that we are. Is it possible that there is a completely different way of approaching these issues, which serves to champion the necessity of the prominent ministry of women in the Church, without devaluing it relative to the ministry of men, and without taking the route of undifferentiation of ministries? I think that there is, but I doubt that we have the patience or emotional distance necessary to discover and unpack it.

    I think that there is much to be gained from charitable and attentive discourse here. Charitable, tractable yet uncompromising, people on the other side of such cases are often the best people to interact with, in a sort of conversation that leads, not only to mutual understanding, but a fuller and less one-sided appropriation of the truth. They don’t let us get away with dodging key issues and force us to hone our positions, but are willing to listen to our cases. Unfortunately, the zero sum game of competing monologues isn’t prepared to admit the challenge of a different perspective and will seek to drive the other party off or out, rather than seeking for a way to arrive at a biblical reconciliation of concerns.

    The treatment of the women bishops issue has forced me to think seriously about what future if any I have in a church where a significant number seem to be concerned to freeze out one side of such conversations, presuming bad motives on their part, without closely engaging with many of the biblical concerns that they are bringing forward. Given the way that this particular issue has developed over the last few decades and the way that those opposing women bishops have been treated, I see less and less justification to rely upon the charity, goodwill, and the assurances of those who disagree with me in this area. Is it really sensible to commit myself to a context where others will constantly be trying to elbow my position out of the conversation, refusing to listen to my case, believing me to be driven by evil and malicious motives, or seemingly breaking assurances that they once gave? Although I am not at that point yet, I can quite understand why many people are leaving: sensing the poisonous nature of the atmosphere and how difficult it can be to maintain a positive conservative Christian witness in such a context, sometimes one wonders whether the kingdom would be better served if you just went elsewhere. It is fairly clear that views such as mine aren’t really very welcome in the Church of England at the moment.

    Sorry for such a long and rambling comment.

    • Tanya 19th November, 2012 at 10:53 pm #

      Thanks so much for this comment – I always appreciate your analysis.
      I can understand your fears (and hurt?) at the nature of the discourse. It is always frustrating to feel that you are not ‘understood’ and heard in this way, and the genuine concern about whether you will have a place in the Church of England is one that is echoed by many others. It is hard to know a good way forward…
      Thanks for stopping by, and for your grace in understanding, though you have a different position on this issue. It is much appreciated.

      • Alastair 20th November, 2012 at 1:50 am #

        Thank you, Tanya. Fortunately, I don’t feel at all hurt personally by the current discourse. I think that tempers are raised on all sides and that people are saying things and holding harsh positions that perhaps they wouldn’t at calmer moments. I know well-meaning and good people on both sides, who are both speaking out of their own profound hurt and unwittingly hurting others as a result. I don’t want to take it personally, as I don’t think that, deep down, people bear me ill-will.

        My primary response to the current discourse is disappointment and sadness at the loss of a challenging opportunity for the sort of genuine and illuminating discourse that could surprise and change both sides with a true reconciliation of concerns beyond the barricades, through deeper and more rigorous wrestling with the Scriptures on this subject. I am also saddened to see the fraying of relationships and love that this has been causing. I am frustrated by the failure of communication in this debate and our apparent inability to frame everything in terms of a love for and faith in each other that would yield the patience and grace to listen to each other and take concerns on board.

        I am also very concerned about what this means for the future of the Church of England and my place within it. I am concerned about whether a church that steadily squeezes out a position that has been the historic teaching and more or less universal practice of the Church for most of its history, followed by most of our great heroes from Church history, and still maintained as the teaching of most of the Church worldwide, is in danger of becoming a sect, rather than an expression of the one catholic Church, especially when it accuses this position of misogyny and other sins. I am concerned about the other developments that this might pave the way for within the Church of England. I am concerned about what conservative evangelicals will lose if they cut themselves off from the Church of England and what the Church of England could lose with them too. I am concerned about what this all suggests about the state of contemporary theological and ecclesiastical discourse and the weak state of our love for each other. I am concerned by how we all so easily prioritize getting our way over keeping the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.

    • Ambling Saint 23rd November, 2012 at 8:25 pm #

      Alastair
      I think your comments are very wise. I don’t have any answers and in fact I’m not sure I’m even asking the questions under discussion, but I think that you are right that the questions arise out of a modern and particular framework for discussions and I like the idea that the answer is not radical enough.
      I would hate for you Alistair to feel squeezed out of the C of E, because I’m definitely sure you are in the body of Christ, from the spirit behind your words. I don’t think that you can actually leave that!
      I’m considering ordination, primarily because I heard God say to me last Eastertime ‘be ordained’, whether that was in itself an instruction or a proclamation I am yet to determine and I don’t know how this will play put in my life as yet, being female I am profoundly glad that the church of my childhood now welcomes female priests, and I am exploring this vocationally at the moment. However I would like to add that I think that in brokenness and loss there is special blessing, so that the gospel comes with special power and grace to slaves, the poor, the downtrodden. It is blessed NOT to demand one’s so-called ‘rights’ but to deliberately and painfully embrace the lowest place of service to all. This has cut across my life sometimes through being a woman, as it perhaps has this time for those seeking women bishops. I have found that on the other side of pain there is always glory, God be praised.

      • Tanya 27th November, 2012 at 10:35 am #

        Wise and humble thoughts – thanks, ambling saint.

  8. Patrick 19th November, 2012 at 7:23 pm #

    I wish the debated passages were discussed more in this article. Base on the picture I see of the female role in the Bible, I see woman having a place of honor even if they are not granted a leadership role. I would never say that any passage permits sex discrimination because that would be unloving. I do wish that there was peace on this issue, and I don’t think allowing woman to be pastors or bishops will end the conflict if anything it will just be the first battle in the war for Bible interpretation next will come the definition of marriage and then even something as ridiculous as christian universalism.

    • Tanya 19th November, 2012 at 8:45 pm #

      Thanks very much for stopping by and sharing your view. I didn’t want to go into the various passages here – that would have made for an extremely long blog post! On this, I really like The Gender Agenda, which has a dialogue between two women with opposing views on the various relevant passages, and has a good discussion on these things.

  9. Ben Trovato 19th November, 2012 at 7:15 pm #

    As a traditionally-minded Roman Catholic, I read this with great interest.

    First I would like to applaud your balanced and compassionate approach – and also the risk you took in writing this.

    Second, I am genuinely curious. I can understand the position against women priests – indeed it is one I hold myself (though it is nothing to do with not wishing women to preach the Gospel or have positions of leadership – we rejoice in having women Doctors of the Church, for example – nor in considering women inferior, my wife instructs me to say…).

    But as I say I am curious: once one has accepted the principle of women priests, why is it women bishops that are the sticking point? I know there are arguments about authority, but surely a woman priest is invested with authority.

    I don’t mean this to be a ‘snippy’ question: as I say I am genuinely curious. It seems an odd place to draw the line, to me.

    • Tanya 19th November, 2012 at 8:41 pm #

      Thanks so much for stopping by and offering your perspective. Am I right in thinking that for Roman Catholics, the issue of women priests is that the call of a priest is to represent Christ, and that as Christ was male and single, the priests should be too? I am not sure if I got that right….

      For conservative evangelicals, as I understand it, the issue is one of ‘headship’. They believe that the injunction in 2 Tim 2 for a woman not to speak or have authority over a man is because (in 1 Cor and elsewhere) men are to be the ‘head’ over women. They believe this to be a important command to reflect the relationship of Christ and the church (Ephesians 5 etc). I am expressing this rather poorly, so perhaps someone else could clarify things.

      I know less about why it’s a problem for the Anglo-Catholics – I believe it to be the issue of communion not being celebrated properly if it is not someone representative of Christ (ie male) – though again, I might have things slightly askew, and need to be corrected.

      At the moment, a church PCC can opt not to have a woman priest if their conscience would not allow it. Conservative and Anglo-Catholic clergy are concerned that they would have a woman in authority over them if they were to have a female bishop as their bishop, so they want alternative oversight.

      Hope this answers your question! I am aware that I am answering for a position that I do not hold, so I may be misrepresenting – do correct me if there are A-Cs/Cons Evos who want to express it better.

      • Ben Trovato 19th November, 2012 at 10:22 pm #

        Thanks for your answer: I think I am beginning to understand the issues within the CofE more clearly.

        I don’t think you have got it quite right about the Roman Catholic understanding. Male is seen as essential, but celibacy (single) is a matter of Church discipline and does not apply (for example) in the Orthodox Churches whose sacramental ministry we recognise; moreover, pastoral exceptions have been made in the Roman Church for Anglicans converting. So the two issues do not go together int that way.

        The issue of the priest representing Christ is part of a theological attempt to understand the male-only priesthood, rather than the reason for the male-only priesthood.

        As I understand it, the basis of the Roman Catholic understanding is this:

        A As Christians we are bound to follow Christ: he ordained only men
        B As Christians, we believe Christ to be God Incarnate, and therefore to have known what He was doing and to have done wisely and justly
        C The likelihood of Christ being constrained by the customs of his time is less than the likelihood of our being misled by the sensibilities of our time
        D Further to #C, the customs of his time were no accident, but the result of the formation of the Jewish People over the whole period of the Old Testament
        E The Church is led by the Holy Spirit, and is (to say the least) unlikely to have been guilty of so grave an error for 20 centuries
        F The witness of Christendom endures: the vast majority of Christendom (Roman Catholic and Orthodox) still adhere to the tradition received from the Apostles
        G There are strong arguments from authority (both the teaching magisterium of the Church, for those who believe in that and the teaching authority of Scripture (which I would hope we all believe in)) in favour of the traditional understanding
        H The job of theology is to seek ever-greater understanding: it is secondary, not primary

        I would also add that in practice, the decision to ordain women has clearly further fragmented Christian denominations and rendered final reconciliation far harder to envisage.

        Finally, for me it comes down to a matter of trust and obedience: in whom am I to place my trust, to whom do I owe obedience? The example of Our Lord, the Apostles, the Fathers of the Church, the centuries of tradition (including many notable female saints who never claimed a vocation to the priesthood), on the one hand? Or a fairly small band of people who, genuinely inspired by a zeal for justice, live in a small window of time that happens to coincide with my own life?

        Naturally, I do not expect you to agree with me here; I have stated my views in this way for the sake of clarity: I hope it doesn’t come across as strident!…

        • Tanya 19th November, 2012 at 10:57 pm #

          Thanks so much for explaining more fully what you believe as a Roman Catholic. (I particularly never understood why married Anglo-Catholic priests were accepted into the fold – that has clarified things for me! Don’t Roman Catholic priests feel a bit peeved on account of this?)
          Thank you for setting out such a thorough response – I appreciate it.

          • Ben Trovato 19th November, 2012 at 11:09 pm #

            The short answer is yes: some Roman Catholic Priests do feel a bit peeved; but others are gracious in recognising the significant sacrifices people have made.

      • Alastair 20th November, 2012 at 1:26 am #

        Tanya,
        As I understand it (I would approach the subject somewhat differently, so the following should not be taken as my own position on the subject, although I share many of the concerns, if not all of the chosen solutions to them), conservative evangelical positions work as follows. If anyone who identifies fully with the conservative evangelical position thinks that I am caricaturing or misrepresenting them here, or leaving something important out, please set me straight:

        1. The Scriptures are our only final authority in faith and practice. Evangelicals may recognize the authority of the Church’s tradition in this area, but this authority is always subordinate to that of the Scriptures.

        2. Within the Scriptures we find teachings that seem clearly to exclude women from positions of pastoral authority over men in such places as 1 Timothy 2 and 1 Corinthians 14. This is not necessarily seen to exclude women from positions of authority in general (there are many differences in how widely the teaching is seen to apply), even within the Church, just from pastoral authority over men. Nor is it necessarily seen to rule out women instructing men in spiritual, theological, or moral matters, just from exercising the authoritative teaching offices of the Church.

        3. The consistent pattern of the Scriptures is seen to differentiate the vocations of men and women, especially within the Church. Even in his cultural context, for instance, in Paul’s direct teaching on these matters, for instance, he seems to push in the direction of the clearer differentiation of men and women in worship and Church polity, rather than in the direction of treating gender as more indifferent in that realm. We see this differentiation in the more normative teaching of Scripture (such as the Pauline passages already mentioned and places such as Ephesians 5), in the divinely established institutions of Scripture (an all male priesthood in the OT, the Church founded on the leadership of twelve male apostles, etc.), in the archetypal passages on male and female (Genesis 1-3 in particular), and in the context of biblical symbolism (Christ and Church as husband and bride, the consistent use of male pronouns in reference to God, themes of sonship and fatherhood, etc.). For this reason, the true value of men and women is believed to be found in the flourishing of each sex’s distinct character in mutually serving asymmetrical vocations.

        The above is the primary basis for the case. Supporting arguments seek to articulate the rationale for such a teaching. These supporting arguments tend to rely heavily on the broader reasoning of the passages from Paul that can be found within the basis of the case:

        1. Headship. Paul teaches that the man is the head of the woman (1 Corinthians 11:3ff). This headship tends to be understood chiefly in terms of representation and responsibility. Male headship means that men represent the foundational order of such institutions as the Church and the family to God. If these orders fail, it is primarily the men who will be answerable. For instance, humankind falls in Adam, not primarily in Adam and Eve (although Eve’s sin leads to women suffering in childbirth, Adam’s sin leads to the curse and Death). Male leadership in Church (and family) is seen to be about men stepping up to take their God-appointed responsibility to establish and guard the fundamental order of that realm. This leadership is supposed to be a loving form of servant leadership, which empowers and protects others, putting their needs and desires above one’s own, rather than one of domination over and suppression of the weak. In turn, women are called to submit to and honour this servant leadership.

        2. The order of creation. Adam was created first and given a vocation: Eve was created as the helper for Adam in his vocation (although the vocation/blessing of Genesis 1 is given to men and women together). This order, appealed to by Paul in 1 Corinthians 11 and 1 Timothy 2, is seen to support male responsibility for leadership

        3. The order of the Trinity. This is a controversial one among conservative evangelicals: not all agree with this argument. 1 Corinthians 11 relates the headship of the man to the headship of the Father over Christ. The ‘eternal subordination of the Son’ (a teaching that many of us find deeply problematic) is used to support the notion of equality in value or being, but difference in roles.

        4. The order of the Gospel. The male-female relationship is used on numerous occasions in Scripture as a symbol of the relationship between God and his people or Christ and the Church (e.g. in the prophets, traditional readings of the Song of Songs, or Ephesians 5). This order is one that begins with the male acting towards or on behalf of the female, leads to the female’s own free answer and response, and culminates with the marital union. The leadership and temporal priority of the male’s role derives in part from the pattern of Christ’s relationship to his Church in the gospel in such passages as Ephesians 5.

        5. Our picture of God (this may take a little longer to flesh out, but it is an important one). The leadership of the Church serves to maintain God’s rule within the Church. The form of leadership that we adopt has an important impact upon our conception of the way that God and his rule relates to us. Men and women are not symbolically neutral. A mother is not just a parent who happens to be female, nor a father a parent who happens to be male. The form of bond between a mother and her child differs from that between a father and his child and the actions of mothering and fathering will also differ as a result.

        As Church leadership is supposed to maintain the form of God’s rule, a movement towards women in pastoral leadership, given that men and women are not symbolically neutral or interchangeable (does it make no difference whether we speak of God as bride and Church as husband or vice versa?), may have dangerous knock on effects in our conception of and relationship to God. In particular, the movement towards women in pastoral leadership often seems to have gone hand in hand with a shifting conception of images of God and Church leadership. The husband, the father, the master, the warrior, the lord, the sovereign, the king, the judge, the biblical fighting shepherd, the watchman, the law-giver, are all images of God and his rule that many churches are downplaying in their forms of leadership.

        It does not seem to be accidental that the increasingly therapeutic image of an intimate and non-judgmental God and the steady displacing or muting of these primary and masculine-weighted biblical metaphors should be accompanied by a movement towards a preference for non-confrontational males and women for pastoral ministry. While nurturing ministries should be expressed within the Church as expressions of other dimensions of God’s relationship with his people, and the pastor should also be able gently to nurture the flock in certain ways, the crucial task of the pastor as a sort of holy warrior, guardian, and representative of God’s sovereign rule in the Church is easily lost sight of, with troubling and potentially idolatrous consequences for our view of God. The issue here is not that the pastoral ministry expresses the only way that God relates to his people, but that it is the office that is supposed to represent God’s authority in the Church, and when we downplay the biblical images of God’s authority in order to have an egalitarian and inclusive pastoral ministry we risk producing a Church that is no longer clearly under or relating to that authority. By such confusions we also risk compromising the particular ways in which the ministries of women within the Church represent other dimensions of God’s relationship to and work amongst his people.

        While the conservative evangelical position is frequently dismissed as merely misogynist, I think that there is more than enough theological and biblical substance of argumentation in it to merit charitable, receptive, and thoughtful engagement.

        • Tanya 20th November, 2012 at 2:12 pm #

          Thank you so much for this thorough outline. Thanks too, for pointing out that the order of the Trinity is a controversial one amongst cons Evos – this argument has been used a lot in the run-up to women bishops debate,nwhich surprised me.

          I agree with your last paragraph, that serious students of the Bible need to engage seriously with this perspective, particularly as it has been held for a good deal of the church’s existence. Thanks for taking the time to outline this.

    • Alastair 19th November, 2012 at 9:07 pm #

      I suspect that there are various reasons for the line being drawn at this point. Most importantly, the women priests but not bishops position doesn’t seem to be a consistent form of any of the parties’ concerns. It is a compromise position, allowing opposing positions on this issue to co-exist to some degree. In particular, it ensures that, a) no conservative evangelical or Anglo-Catholic church opposed to the ordination of women to the office of priest or bishop has to come under the leadership of someone they do not believe to be validly ordained, contrary to their conscience; b) some form of valid apostolic succession is maintained for the Anglo-Catholics (and perhaps also for the purposes of ecumenical relations).

      The problem is that support for women bishops has gained more traction within the Church of England and the current compromise situation seems to give far too much weight to a weakening constituency of conservative Anglo-Catholics and conservative evangelicals in determining the more general church polity. In such a situation, it is understandable that a new settlement should be sought and perhaps not surprising, given the ascendency of the pro-women bishop camp in the church, that a compromise settlement would no longer be considered acceptable, as earlier pragmatic accommodation to the limitations of political possibility gives way to a more ideological refusal to give ground on such an issue of principle.

      In some ways, for conservatives the choice is the unappealing one between being driven back into a sort of weakened reservation or losing any right to a polity that provides room for their principles.

  10. Mark Allman 19th November, 2012 at 7:15 pm #

    Tanya,
    I am sure God is disappointed over the things we fight over. It is like we are fighting over who can do stuff for God. We treat ourselves as the enemy while the real enemy wins by letting us fight among ourselves. I remember Paul commenting on people who preached Christ from wrong motives; was his response to prohibit this. No; he said as long as Christ was being preached he was fine with it. I do not claim to understand all of the Bible and do not feel I ever will. I can see how people fall on both sides of this issue but the bigger issue for me is this: Am I serving God how I should and are the things we are doing as a church reaching the lost. Certainly making this issue so important is not doing either. I do know we should “Above all love each other deeply for love covers over a multitude of sins”. We are not going to get it all right no matter who we are and no matter how sure we are that we will. We are arrogant if we think so. I read this statement on a ladies blog recently that I think we should all consider: “I sit in the quiet with my God and I don’t concern myself with right and wrong in others, only in me, to be sure that I’m loving as radically as He does.” (http://extraordinary-ordinary.net/2012/11/09/an-open-letter/) We need to be doing this and not fighting over who is right or wrong. And we should not be deciding who can do what for God. Let him handle that.

    • Tanya 19th November, 2012 at 8:31 pm #

      Thanks Mark – it’s good to have a perspective from the other side of the pond!

  11. Rob B 19th November, 2012 at 6:10 pm #

    Thanks for this Tanya – really good to hear, not least because you remind us that there are real people in this debate, not just positions of argument. I guess I’m a complementarian (after much prayer and study) but also a husband to an extraordinarily gifted wife, and father to three girls. It does sometimes cut to the quick if people see my view as chauvinist, not least because I’m then often riddled with doubt about whether that makes me a poor father and husband, although there’s plenty of room for improvement there in any case. It’s clear that much unnecessary personal angst has been felt by those in favour of women bishops as well.

    • Tanya 19th November, 2012 at 6:24 pm #

      “there are real people in this debate” – yes, exactly. Thanks so much for this.

  12. Janice 19th November, 2012 at 5:59 pm #

    A beautiful post, Tanya. If only all of Christendom would approach these issues with as much grace and love as your post. Especially when you are someone who has been involved, even painfully involved, in the issue. It is so refreshing to hear such a gentle explanation of your point of view.

    I’m undecided about the whole issue, but I can clearly see why each side feels the way they do. Personally I’m grateful for the blog you write and am glad you do.

    I just can’t help thinking what a beautiful thing the Church across the world would be if we could just bring this tone to all of our in-house discussions. If we could start at the fruit of the spirit and work from there. But it is a hard thing.

    Beautifully written.

    • Tanya 19th November, 2012 at 6:23 pm #

      thank you so much, as ever, for hearing my heart on this – I REALLY appreciate it.

  13. Gillan @ God and Politics in the UK 19th November, 2012 at 5:58 pm #

    It’s good to read a balanced piece on the women bishops issue from someone who is willing to consider both sides of the argument. This should be happening more!

    Sometimes the Bible is really clear on some things and sometimes as you say Tanya it appears to contradict itself (although usually when you look it more carefully there’s a good explanation that shows that it actually isn’t). When things are vague often I see people reading into the texts what they want to believe rather than weighing up the arguments. Because this is not a simple black and white situation I suspect God doesn’t mind if we have women bishops, especially as the concept of bishop is not entirely biblical anyway.

    Whilst that is my view, I am somewhat tired of the endless debate that surrounds this. Some of it is sound and some of it brings in agendas that are theologically dubious and not particularly biblical. Often this is from the pro-lobby, which annoys me as it undermines their case.

    We went through this with women priests and we managed to get through it without the Church of England falling apart. I am sure it can happen again.

    This issue isn’t going to rip the church apart, but whichever way the vote goes the ‘winners’ should make a big effort to show a lot of grace to those who didn’t get their way. If we can’t demonstrate Christ’s love to each other through this process then we have a bigger problem than whether women should be allowed to become bishops or not.

    • Tanya 19th November, 2012 at 6:21 pm #

      Thanks so much for this comment – especially your last paragraph. You’re utterly right – it is the only way forward – this is most wise.

  14. Mark Meynell 19th November, 2012 at 4:11 pm #

    Thanks for writing this Tanya – you have made some vital points that need to be heard but i fear are being drowned out.

    • Tanya 19th November, 2012 at 5:19 pm #

      Thanks very much, Mark – that means a lot!

  15. AdrieneB 19th November, 2012 at 4:06 pm #

    Affirming women bishops doesn’t “force out” the conservatives any more than civil rights legislation forced whites out of the American South. They may be angry and leave, or they may stay and get used to it. Or stay and continue to resist.
    But conservatives arent being forced to do anything except to STOP enforcing restrictions on other people based on their gender.

    • Tanya 19th November, 2012 at 5:18 pm #

      I understand this viewpoint.
      I think the conservatives/anglo-Catholics would argue that they would be sinning against their conscience to have a woman in authority over them, because of those passages in scripture which prohibit a woman from teaching etc. That is why, when the legislation originally came in for women priests, there were assurances that no-one would be forced to have a woman leading them. Twenty years on, those assurances have been overturned.

      This is why I would prefer a situation where there could be women bishops as well as making statutory provision for those who would want alternative oversight. That’s just my preferred outcome, but it doesn’t look like that will happen!

      Thanks very much for sharing this, in any case – I think you speak for many others.

  16. Jo Larcombe 19th November, 2012 at 3:52 pm #

    Thanks Tanya

    I enjoyed your post!

    Looking forward to meeting you next Monday…

    Jo

    • Tanya 19th November, 2012 at 5:13 pm #

      Thanks! Me too!

  17. Chris Lord 19th November, 2012 at 2:49 pm #

    Thanks for expressing well your dilemma and pain. My only (brief) advice is to relax: God’s a lot bigger than the Church…

    • Tanya 19th November, 2012 at 5:12 pm #

      Thanks! This too is true…

  18. Jo Inglis (@Piano_Jo) 19th November, 2012 at 1:45 pm #

    In the words of Elliott & ET ‘ouch’

    • Jo Inglis (@Piano_Jo) 19th November, 2012 at 4:28 pm #

      In saying ouch earlier, I mean that I feel your pain through your beautiful words – sorry should have made that clearer originally.
      Jo x

      • Tanya 19th November, 2012 at 5:11 pm #

        Hey there – I thought that was what you meant, but it was good to have it clarified! Ouch indeed – that is it, exactly. Much appreciated xx

  19. Tim Carlisle 19th November, 2012 at 1:43 pm #

    I was scared to read this, I’ve read too many blogs, articles and so on telling me that my interpretation of the Bible is at best based on not having actually studied the Bible and at worst it makes a sexist woman hater who wants nothing more than to oppress women. I was worried that I’d find a rant against men, against conservative evangelicals and against me.
    I’m sorry I doubted you fairness, holiness and wisdom.

    No easy way forward, but far too many prominent people on both sides are doing themselves, the church and the Gospel dis-service in their words and actions.

    • Tanya 19th November, 2012 at 5:11 pm #

      Lovely Tim!
      Thanks for your honesty! I think this comment expresses the growing feeling amongst conservative evangelicals that they are no longer welcome to sit at the table and eat with other evangelicals – and this makes me very sad indeed.

  20. Charlie 19th November, 2012 at 1:16 pm #

    Thanks for this article, Tanya.
    You’re very real about the issue and have genuinely heard the concerns of those on both sides.
    My biggest concern is that the proposed measure will exclude so many passionate, gifted, faithful people from ministry in the future on the basis of their understanding of the Bible on a few difficult texts.

    • Tanya 19th November, 2012 at 5:09 pm #

      Thank you so much for echoing my concerns, and for taking the time to comment.

  21. Anita @ Dreaming Beneath the Spires 19th November, 2012 at 12:53 pm #

    A measured, wise post such as I’ve come to expect from you. Though I don’t agree.

    “Misogynist” might be a strong word, but I have no time for the male pride and insecurity which finds scriptural justification for forbidding women to teach, preach and lead. Patriarchy was definitely not God’s dream for the world, in Rachel Held Evans’ phrase.

    Jimmy Carter puts it better than I could.
    “The truth is that male religious leaders have had — and still have — an option to interpret holy teachings either to exalt or subjugate women. They have, for their own selfish ends, overwhelmingly chosen the latter.”
    “It is simply self-defeating for any community to discriminate against half its population. We need to challenge these self-serving and out-dated attitudes and practices.
    This discrimination, unjustifiably attributed to a Higher Authority, has provided a reason or excuse for the deprivation of women’s equal rights across the world for centuries,” he said. “The male interpretations of religious texts and the way they interact with, and reinforce, traditional practices justify some of the most pervasive, persistent, flagrant and damaging examples of human rights abuses.”
    http://www.baptiststandard.com/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=9831&Itemid=53

    • Tanya 19th November, 2012 at 5:08 pm #

      Thanks for taking the time to comment – I appreciate it. I had a feeling we wouldn’t agree on this! I do think that misogynist is an unfair word still- there are Christians (male and female) who I know and love that approached the scriptures honestly and came to the conclusion that men need to take the lead in serving, both in marriage and the church. While I do not agree with their reading of those complex scriptures, I think it is unfair to presume that they are inflicting that reading out of a desire to subjugate women, nor that they had that conclusion already and sought to impose it on the Bible.

      I don’t know. I’d like to believe that there is enough room for a St Aldates, a St Andrew’s and a St Ebbes in the Church of England, wouldn’t you? :-)

      • Luke 21st November, 2012 at 10:35 pm #

        Yes I agree with your reticence to apply the term mysogynist to all complementarians. I personally would have thought that the Church would be the poorer for being without the leadership of some women I know; but theologically I do still worry that there are passages that seem to say absolutely that (and there are greater minds than mine who both agree and disagree). Would I be right to disobey what I interpret to be a Biblical injunction simply because such disobedience would seem to be more advantageous to the Church in my eyes? Would someone be right to call me misogynist if instead I held to my theological interpretation, even though I might do so against my own inclination? Are there not instances (and plenty of them) in the Bible where someone has taken steps that seemed to them counter-productive simply because they understood God to have told them to do so? I would hope Anita might believe me when I say neither male pride nor insecurity have led me there.

        • Tanya 22nd November, 2012 at 10:44 am #

          Thanks, Luke, for setting out a bit of your thought process; it’s really helpful.

  22. Joy 19th November, 2012 at 12:53 pm #

    A thoughtful post written with grace and compassion. It is a debate that appears to have no straightforward or ‘please everybody’ solution. Women are beloved of the Lord and have many wonderful gifts to bring to the body of Christ. How this is expressed and worked out in practise will probably always be contentious. Thank you, Tanya, for your honest confusion about who to support and how.You are far from alone in feeling stuck on this issue.:)

    • Tanya 19th November, 2012 at 5:03 pm #

      Thanks so much for letting me know I’m not the only one!

  23. Liz Eph 19th November, 2012 at 12:51 pm #

    I find it very moving to read this. Being housebound myself I see the world through what I read on the web and the thing that is making me miserable is the way that we as christians talk to each other. We are so patronising and pompous. We are downright rude. Yes there are some big issues but can’t we talk to each other, have open debate with respectful and loving attitudes to those who don’t think the same ? James says how can I say I love God but not love my brother ? Even sensible lovely christians lobbing attacks on each other cos of issues that may be big but are NOT key to the gospel. What would convince the world that we are truly Jesus disciples is if we could even discuss politely rather than shouting like the gutter press to each other. Thank you for putting it into words xx

    “But to take this step in a way that pushes out conservative evangelical and Anglo-catholic brothers? I do not want that.” Who is it that is using harsh talk and manipulative tactics ? I don’t want these people to be pushed out, but I don’t want to be part of giving in to bullying attitudes and sulking either. It’s all very well for so many women to be so gracious about it for so long, but these people don’t just do it to potential women bishops I’m afraid.

    • Tanya 19th November, 2012 at 5:02 pm #

      I wonder if sometimes we have a really skewed view of the world, having it mediated as we do through Twitter! I think there are nuances and understandings that come through talking and seeing people. That’s why it’s good, I guess, that the Church of England has these synods, however unwieldy they are. Thanks so much for stopping by and commenting – much appreciated.

  24. Mia 19th November, 2012 at 12:46 pm #

    Dear Tanya
    Yes, dear one, you are treading dangerous ground, but I am glad and I agree with you! The problem arises, as I see it, when we as mere humans decide for ourselves how our Pappa is going to express Himself in and through His spiritual body. Only God has that prerogative and if He decides to teach some truth through a woman, I don’t think we should withstand Him. The goal of all the expressions of any gift from our Pappa is only to bring all of His children to maturity in their faith. If we make a rule or law out of anything, we seperate ourselves from our Lord Jesus and then any teaching or leading, weather it be through a man or a woman, is only in the flesh and will have no spiritual life. I think we should read the Scripture with a lot of “zits im leben” , in other words, we should consider the culture and ways of the times in which it was written and, of course, with a lot of dependent prayer for revelation!
    Thanks, dear one, for your courage to tackle this subject. I admire you for your tenacity.
    Blessings and much love to you.
    Mia

    • Tanya 19th November, 2012 at 5:00 pm #

      Thanks so much for your affirmation, Mia – much appreciated!

  25. Cat 19th November, 2012 at 12:37 pm #

    Good post Tanya – this didnt feel like a rant at all, it felt like a plea for people to put down their swords and step back and take a breath. :)

    • Tanya 19th November, 2012 at 4:59 pm #

      Thanks, lady – it felt quite cathartic to write. Xx

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