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Stebbing, Great Dunmow, Essex, United Kingdom
The occasional blog of an Anglican priest in rural Essex

Wednesday, 16 July 2008

Women Bishops - bring it on!

I am in favour of women bishops; I am in favour of women priests and do not subscribe to Reform style "headship theology", (go here to read my take on all that) so it follows naturally that I support the consecration of women as bishops. Bishops are still priests (and deacons) - you do not surrender your letters of orders when you are consecrated (do you?)

I am not a liberal though. I have a high view of Scripture as the Word of God, don't have much time for a lot of of critical scholarship and function spiritually in a Charismatic Evangelical worldview. I'll happily admit to catholic tendencies, but not liberal, no siree!

I really hope that if nothing else, this summer's General Synod vote and Lambeth conference will be able to put to rest the idea that if you are in favour of women as priests and bishops you must also be in favour of the affirmation of homosexual physical relationships as biblically acceptable, and the ordination of active homosexuals.

There is a big difference. Being a woman is not a moral issue, but a matter of creation. No matter what you think about homosexuality, it is a question of morality - you either accept it as morally right or wrong. Someone's gender is not generally open to public discussion like that.

People who are more conservative than me and more liberal than me both say however that to support women's ordination will lead to a support for gay ordination (to be acceptable, instead of just done on the quiet.)


But I just don't think it follows. The conservatives will say, Oh well it's a slippery slope once you've let go of the authority of the Bible. I would say the liberals have let go of the authority of the Bible, even though you don't have to do that to arrive at a conclusion that women can be leaders.

The thing is, the person who invented the term "slippery slope" (Francis Schaeffer, for whom I otherwise have the greatest regard) lived up a mountain and saw things therefore from a mountain top perspective. I live in flat Essex, where things don't slip down, theologically or physically. That colours my approach, but what defines it is a marvellous book that was recommended by Bishop Graham Cray to the 2005 New Wine Leaders' Conference. It is Grove Booklet B16 "A Slippery Slope? the ordination of Women and Homosexual Practice - a case study in Biblical Interpretation" by RT France. Go here to order online.

The moment of it's recommendation sticks in my mind, as Charles Raven had just addressed the conference calling for support for Reform's campaigning against the church's (perceived) direction on these issues, treating them as a single matter. Bishop Graham stood up and said "it doesn't have to be like that". He also spoke favourably of Rowan Williams' orthodoxy. The conference were stunned, but in a good way.

I'll let you read the book (and check out Rosy Ashley's chapter in "the Call for Women Bishops") but basically the thing is that the interpretive processes that we use to come to a conclusion about women's ministry (and France leaves room for decisions either way on that) are not the same as those that are used in attempts to justify the inclusion of sexually active homosexuals in church leadership.

For me it is possible to conclude that women in leadership is a biblical thing; I can't say the same for homosexuals if they are in physical relationships, any more than I think it is alright for a straight priest to co-habit with a sexual partner if they are not married.

4 comments:

  1. I pray that you can show love to the homosexual people who want to live a life of faith and understand their place in God's creation. It is not as black and white as many Christians make out. It is complex and diverse just as any group in society. Scripture understanding from a western view is not completely giving us the full story. To get beyond and back to the hebrew of the the New Testament can often open our eyes to many teachings we hold as rock solid, but for me it is all about the person and how I can love them as the Messiah wants me to love them. Women Bishops and Homosexual clergy can enrich our communion and I welcome both. Blessings.

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  2. Steve,
    congratulations on being the first person to comment on anything I've posted.
    I imagine that you would be among those I have referred to as a liberal in this post. Please be assured that it is not my intention to be unloving to anyone - hence the name of this blog. I just wanted to unpick the perceived connections in some minds between women and gays in leadership.

    It seems to me that the Lambeth conference has indeed achieved that (by a miracle!)

    What do you think of the caricatures on pluralist's blog?

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  3. The caricatures are cool! Like the bold colours of some of them! I am based just outside of Basildon, so if we could ever meet up, I would love to buy you a pint and say 'Hi' in person! ..oH.. liberal.... well I don't put any label on myself except for contemplative and that is more Catholic, I am a mixed bag of doctrine after many years of experience within the Church and realising that the Church has more problems than the sinful world! I came to faith at Billy Graham 1989 at West Ham, a real black and white conversion, it was the church that tarnished my understandings. Your role is too help others be accepted into a group that can truely love as Christ loved and that is not easy, I do not envy your job! Blessings!

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  4. Billy did it for me in 89 too!

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