What the Church of England has done today in refusing women’s participation in the episcopate is, to put it mildly, disgraceful. It reinforces the idea that, as an institution, this once great expression of the Body of Christ, our ‘mother church’ as the Anglican Church of Canada is simply sinking into social and spiritual irrelevancy.
Why should anyone not associated directly with the Church of England pay attention to an expression of Christianity that has simply lost touch? There certainly isn’t any moral authority left. Moral authority and bold Gospel witness have been sacrificed to base institutional politics. That in itself is disgusting. Make no mistake. This unfortunate synod decision has nothing to do with “Biblical authority” or theological necessity.
The bright spot is that the initiative to move forward with equality in the episcopate passed in the houses of bishops and clergy. What is wrong with the laity? They are clearly doing their best to fulfill the worst stereotypes about what the Church and Christianity in general are all about.
Good for Christina Rees, a synod member and former chair of Women and the Church. She affirms the central Christian hope for human justice which is to be our centre as servants of Jesus Christ in her statement that “Women bishops will come, but this is an unnecessary and an unholy delay”. Unholy indeed.
With women serving as bishops in other major provinces of the Anglican Communion, the ‘mother church’ has been left in the dust and can no longer be considered a leader of the Communion it originated.
“How much energy do we want to spend on this in the next decade?…” remarked Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams. The fact is a lot of energy will be spent needlessly because of this arcane decision; energy that could be used to further the ministry and mission of the church. The C of E will be further torn apart and spiral downwards, sinking in its own ineffectiveness. But at least, Williams expresses hope.
The reality that conservative evangelicals and Anglo-Catholics – streams of Anglicanism that have contributed so much to the richness of the Anglican Christian expression – could contribute to this unfortunate situation is sad indeed. To argue that a “male only clergy” is “God’s will” is to belittle both God and the entire will of God for humanity. It’s incomprehensible and cannot be defended.
Good for Canterbury designate Bishop Justin Welby, even though his warnings were not heeded widely enough. He urged the gathered synod to compromise and vote for the measure, reminding delegates that the horrible conflicts in the Middle East and Africa are examples of what intractable differences can lead to. “We Christians are those who carry peace and grace as a treasure for the world. We must be those who live a better way, who carry that treasure visibly and distribute it lavishly”. Apparently not so for some members of the Church of England. Welby’s declaration makes Jane Patterson’s plea not to “bow to cultural pressure” totally irrelevant and inconsequential. The rights of women to be bishops in the Church of God is not some kind of weak bowing the knee to Baal. Patterson talked about being “serious about sharing the Gospel with the nation”, but in terms of her argument, her stated intent is ironic, almost to the point of black humour. There will be no “sharing of the Gospel” when people perceive the intended vehicle of that sharing irrelevant and archaic, bound by its own institutional absurdities.
One major hope remains. Priest and religion commentator Peter Ould remarked of the future Archbishop of Canterbury, “This is a guy who’s gone off to Nigeria where he was nearly kidnapped and killed trying to bring conflicting parties together – I think he can handle the Church of England”. Let’s hope Welby’s leadership under the guidance of the Holy Spirit can restore some sense, credibility and relevance to the Church of England. There is certainly a significant number of women religious leaders on the world stage; the Church of England needs to contribute in all the ways it can.
Rev. Steve Bailey is a deacon at St. Laurence, Coquitlam, and a blog master at New Westminster Anglican Blog. Your comments and contributions are always welcome.