Friday, January 02, 2009

Same "Stuff", Different Year

It may be a New Year but in the Church of England it's starting off with an Old Fight over ... (wait for it ...) WOMEN BISHOPS!

(Yes, Virginia, it IS two-thousand-and-nine ... go figure!) Here's an overview
from Judith Maltby in the Guardian:


Women bishops by Judith Maltby
What makes women bishops so difficult for the Church of England is not theology. It's that they're women

When I was ordained a deacon in 1992, a few months before the historic vote on women priests, I was like most people shortly to be ordained: overly anxious and overly serious. Added to that I had recently finished my doctorate on an aspect of the English Reformation. This meant, unlike most Anglican ordinands, I had actually read the 39 Articles to which one must assent before being ordained in the Church of England. I had scruples. I told my diocesan bishop that although most of the thirty-nine were fine, one or two were a real problem.

Article 37 for example, endorses capital punishment, a position I find incompatible with the Christian gospel – a fact that seems to have been overlooked (or has it?) by those who wish to impose the Articles as a touchstone of orthodoxy and morality on the whole of the Anglican Communion. I received from my bishop just the right response for the occasion: he told me that by 'assent', I was saying 'Yes bishop, those are the 39 Articles'. His pastoral, intelligent and humane response to my somewhat precious scrupling carried me through the day.

The draft legislation to consecrate women as bishops published on Mondayand the supporting documentation makes a great deal of Anglicanism's gift for holding together diverse, at times, contradictory points of conviction in a wider context of pastoral common sense. Often derided by others for this as the fudge producers extraordinaire of Christianity, we Anglicans tend to make a virtue of it and if it makes us less prone to witch-hunts and the gleeful doctrinal purges of the purity police, I'm all for it. Human beings, let alone God, are rather complicated.

Anglicans disagree about more things than I could live long enough to enumerate: how is Christ present in the Eucharist, if at all; does Baptism make people regenerate or does it anticipate later conversion; what does it actually mean to say that the Bible is the Word of God; is the death of Jesus redemptive because he took punishment which should have been ours or through his death, God shows the profundity of the divine identification and commitment to the human race; is ordination ontological or merely the authorizing an individual to perform a set of ecclesiastical functions ndash; oh and can women, as well as men, be priests and bishops? Yes we disagree about that too as well as not agreeing just what a priest or bishop actually is in the first place. I haven't even begun to scratch the surface of the things over which Anglicans differ.

In the midst of all this merry muddle, what we have never done as a church until the Act of Synod in 1993, is to deal with differing convictions by setting up a class of bishop to give pastoral care to one group based solely on their views on one issue. The draft legislation carries on this idea with its proposal of 'complementary' bishops to serve the minority in the church unhappy about women bishops. Not only would these bishops be men, they would have to be men untainted by sacramental association with women clergy – please understand: just being a bloke isn't good enough, the bloke must be pure. I get angry emails from time to time for describing this as a theology of taint, but I honestly can't think of a more candid description for this position.

The point is this: I have a very 'high' view of the Eucharist – if my bishop does not share this view, by the reasoning that gives us complementary bishops, I should be entitled to a bishop who agrees with me for surely Eucharistic theology is as important as disputes over ordination. But no. From disagreements over the Eucharist, the Bible, even the theological meaning of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, we Anglicans feel no need to haul in a complementary bishop.

Why is that? One is left with the sad conclusion that the draft legislation and its code of practice isn't really trying to deal with genuine theological difference – the Church of England has that in abundance – it is trying to deal with women. I don't blame the hard working members of the drafting group for this – this reflects state of the Church of England. Women are the problem, not a gift, which needs a solution.

The Oxford English Dictionary defines 'complementary' as 'completing and perfecting'. What, I wonder, could possibly be 'incomplete' about a woman in episcopal orders (answers on a post card, please)? Maude Royden, the first Anglican woman to preach in the Church of England in 1919, sparking enormous controversy at the time (as it still would in Sydney), once remarked ironically 'I was born a woman and I can't get over it'. The Church of England, it would appear, bereft of any irony, cannot get over it either.


ROBERTA said...

Thank you Susan for all of your posts over the last year - this one has given me some understanding on this "complementary" bishop issue.

I hope to visit All Saints next time I return to "P-Dub" - I attended high school very close to your parish (St. Andrew's - class of 71).

Again thank you for all the work you put into educating the saints through your blog -

Peter Carey said...

I've always found it to be so strange that England (of all places) can't seem to move on this question ( of women bishops ). I mean, the "head" of their church is a woman (the Queen), and they've had a female Prime Minister - Margaret Thatcher (going on 30 years ago, I think!), here, we were psyched to have Ferraro and Palin (well, kinda psyched) on the ticket for V.P., and there they are with female monarchs and a female P.M.....and then they're still stuck with all-male bishops...

So strange,

Thanks for all your good work!

Peter M. Carey+

David said...

'What makes women bishops so difficult for the Church of England?'

to the freedom of one blessed by God to be born gay, it would seem one word about covers it all 'mysogeny'.

what for me is particularly telling is the fact that gender once again superceeds any accomidation of theological differences.

only calling it as i see it- but once again the stink of mysogeny brings shame on our beloved Church.


RonF said...

I received from my bishop just the right response for the occasion: he told me that by 'assent', I was saying 'Yes bishop, those are the 39 Articles'. His pastoral, intelligent and humane response to my somewhat precious scrupling carried me through the day.

Come now. Are you all actually pretending that this Bishop's response was at all honest? That he's actually upholding the teachings of the Church of England by doing that?

The precious scrupling here was not on the part of the ordinand, but on the part of the Bishop. He simply flat out lied to this woman. I was not aware that lying was how we serve God.

PseudoPiskie said...

Watch the first episode of The Vicar of Dibley. Lots of familiar characters. Just a different level of clergy involved. Some things are very hard to change - like prejudice and control issues.

uffda51 said...

Drat those rules violations. I'm sure that all of the women priests in the AC will resign tomorrow, now that this "fudge" has been pointed out. Never mind that the "teachings " of the C of E were created and enforced by and for men.

Cany said...

Yet another example of how religion outlives itself... the article that Susan points to on the death penalty.

I read the Thirty Nine Articles not long ago myself as GAFCON et. al. established FOCA which reiterates them.

Believe me, there were several that I couldn't possibly accept.

DavidJustinLynch said...

I have read, researched and analyzed the Thirty Nine Articles and disagree with many of them. They are simply a Historical Document. As each day passes, they move farther into the past. If women can practice law (like my law partner) or sell Yellow Pages ads (like my wife) or celebrate Mass (like Mother Susan)they can surely become bishops (like ++ Katharine, my heroine)

Brian R said...

I disagree with my bishop on nearly everything (His name is Jensen, need I say more) I wish I could obtain alternative oversight.

it's margaret said...

This was a good conversation starter in my home, Susan. Thank you.

Linked to you one this one.

Many blessings.

Jim said...

Why does anyone think that the church should be the place their idiot prejudices and insecurities must be upheld? Is that actually the example they think they see in Jesus' ministry? His preaching against the exclusionary temple of His day, Paul's and later Peter's reaching out to the non-Jewish?

I am back to the first ethical law: never underestimate human stupidity.


Caminante said...

This morning a woman (clearly of British descent given her strong accent) said to me in all honesty: I am a traditionalist and not really in favor of women priests but you're doing a great job... to which I replied: It's the incarnation -- when you get past the idea of something and see it actually embodied, you may change your mind... but how many years have women been ordained??? And how many times have priests who are women received like comments? Too, too many.