Another Adventure in Anglicanism — Women Bishops and the CoE

So yesterday the motion to allow female bishops in the Church of England failed. Reading through my twitter feed in the hours after you would think the world was coming to an end. I get that it was an emotional vote. But declarations that the CoE is irrelevant, out of touch with culture, or worse, misogynistic were not helpful, nor does it reflect the reality of life in the Anglican church.

There were calls to have the vote overturned.

There were American low-church (even some no-church) evangelicals declaring that Anglicans don’t need no stinkin’ synods to tell them how to run their church.

And there was the media declaring that the CoE had voted strongly against women bishops.

There were people pushing the political agenda, over-emphasizing that women’s ordination is about “justice and equality” but forgetting that churches don’t (or at least shouldn’t) ordain a person simply because of politics of gender, but because of sacrifice, service and spiritual giftings.

The only level-headed reflection to the vote that I’ve seen so far has come from Michael Bird:

If I can try offer some words of exhortation to the haughty, the hurting (and perhaps the hysterical), let me say this:

1. Due process is due process. The debate has been had, the arguments put forward, voices were heard, and the votes counted. Many are disappointed as their hopes have been dashed. But the processes are there to make sure that all representatives in the COE get a fair say and no one gets to decide what that “says” is. This is an issue that needed a mandate and consensus. And it came up short.
2. If women bishops are put forward in the name of a diverse, inclusive, and broad church, you have to remember that diversity and breadth cuts both ways, it means including and empowering people to the left and to the right of you.
3. Women bishops are inevitable, clearly the majority wants it, but the timing will depend on constructively engaging and assuaging both the anglo-catholic and conservative evangelical wings of the church rather antagonizing them or demonizing them.
4. This is not the last word. Discussion and debate will go on. Time for a cup of tea, an iced-vovo, and then some further conversations about mission and the episcopacy.

I’m all for women bishops, that’s no secret. But I am appalled by the reactions of other supporters who failed to guard their tongues, who failed to speak charitably about their brothers and sisters in Christ who voted against the motion, and who failed to demonstrate the love and patience that Christians are called to demonstrate.

Was the result disappointing? Yes.

But at the same time, it also was a blessing: the majority voted for women bishops, it was just that it failed to get a super-majority. There is hope in that. This is good news. It could have been much worse. It could have failed to receive even a majority, it could have been resoundingly defeated, but it wasn’t.

And dismissing the “no” vote because their representatives are old, grey-haired and out of touch with the times is not helpful. We need to listen to the older generation and to those with whom we disagree. We need to heed their wisdom. How we treat the older generation of Christians and how we treat those who disagree with is how we will one day be treated. As I’ve written before: “Are you listening just as equally to the stories of your elders and of those who disagree with you? Are you willing to do your part in reconciliation or are you expecting the older generation to unilaterally cave to your way of thinking? What happens in 50 years, when the new younger generation of [Christians] become disenfranchised and alienated from your ideas, experiences and politics?”

  • Susan B.

    Amen my friend.

  • Dustin

    Well said, Amanda. Your words are an expression, I think, of an “ecclesial charity” that lies at the heart of Anglican spirituality, but that we so often let slip away…

  • Ron Harris

    I am not a member of the Church of England although I have benefited greatly from their writers and their understanding of liturgy and especially the BCP. However, I think a very important point is being missed even though I agree with all of what you have so helpfully said. If a local parish was allowed some autonomy to accept or not accept a female bishop and had the alternative to come under someone else who was a male bishop, wouldn’t the problem be at least workable if not resolved? Ron Harris

  • Kristen B

    From a historical perspective, I can understand how discrimination in the church became a socially accepted thing. I don’t, however, understand how this is still an issue that we face.

    Jesus didn’t discriminate, and the purpose of Christianity is to live in His image. He loved all as equals. It’s so confusing how men have warped the word of God to fit in their own ideals.

    It reminds me of this video I
    recently came across– it’s a cute little song about how Jesus and his followers
    actually Occupy Jerusalem.

    Anyways, here it is: http://youtu.be/a6akkb_afqs

    Which, it has a point.

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