We need have no reservations about having a woman bishop in our church. The gifts and skills of leadership are given by God without gender discrimination. Esther, Huldah, Deborah, Priscilla, Phoebe, Junia, Euodia and Syntyche are a distinguished but not exhaustive list of female leaders (can you find them in the Bible?). Its been my personal experience and privilege to serve with and under some remarkable women. Whatever else their ministry has signified, it has determined that women are not intrinsically prone to lead the church astray when they preach and have authority over men as per one interpretation of 1 Timothy 2:12-15 which lies at the foundation of many Scriptural arguments against women as church leaders. The implications of this passage when deemed to apply universally, through all generations, are incredible: namely that women, without exception, are liable to be gullible and deceiving. Thus it is reasonable to conclude that the application of 1 Timothy 2:12, ‘I do not permit a woman to teach or have authority over men,’ is not universal but of a limited kind. It may apply, for example, to situations marked by excessive and manipulative domination of men by women.
Another line of argument proposed is one which accepts women taking up leadership roles in the church providing they do not take up the role of ‘head’ of the church. Thus, on this line of argument, a woman might be an assistant priest but not the vicar, or might be a deacon but not a priest, or might be a vicar but not a bishop. Some women live with such distinctions; others feel demeaned by them. I think it fair to ask what difference the gender of the preacher makes to the content of a sermon or whether an objection on the grounds of biology constitutes sufficient reason to prevent a qualified, capable and called woman becoming a ‘head’ leader of a church. To those who say ‘no, its really an objection on the grounds of theology and not biology’ I simply ask, ‘what theology?’ For, if it is a theology of ‘headship’ as taught in the New Testament, then is not this teaching directed to married couples rather than local or regional churches?
We can acknowledge that on balance and over the long term most leaders will likely be men (Britain’s only had one woman Prime Minister, the States is yet to have a woman President, etc) so there is no need to worry about women ‘taking over’ (and so what if they did – are we men so great at running the show? On my last checking, Stalin, Hitler, Pol Pot, Genghis Khan, and Nero were all men!) If a faithful, gifted, tried and true woman is available for leadership in the church, it is in keeping with the teaching of the whole of the New Testament to appoint rather than to prohibit her.
[Also published in the Witness, the Diocese of Nelson magazine, April 2008]