One of the odd things about supporting the church ordaining women as priests and bishops is that one has to put up with arguments in support of one's support that are not very good!
Tim Stanley, a sharp Telegraph commentator, offers his reflection here on the C of E decision to vote in favour of women bishops by a strong majority but not a sufficiently precise majority across three houses to actually change anything (H/T Taonga). For some this is a disaster of epic proportions. For me it is just Synod going about its business according to due process. (Earlier this year I moved the motion in favour of the Covenant in our Synod and it was lost narrowly. A disaster? No. Democracy? Yes!)
Anyway, to the point, Stanley recounts some of the arguments in favour of women bishops. Equality! Relevance!
Equality: "On the one hand, [the C of E] has become the Labour Party at prayer – fixated on equality. On the other, its obsession with showing respect to conservatives means that it cannot commit to its own egalitarian principles."
Relevance: "From the pro-women bishops side, the argument was often made that Christianity’s relevance lies in it reflecting the society around it (tell that to the Christians who were fed to the lions by pagans)."
I am surprised (but should not be) that the arguments in the Synod made so much of equality to the point of being the Labour Party at prayer. "Equality" as a "slogan" argument is open to the counter-argument from complementarians, "Equal but different." I suggest the more fruitful theological line to pursue is the oneness of our humanity and the oneness of our life in Christ. We dwell in Christ as one people and from that dwelling place, all in Christ are responsible for the mission of God on earth. From the beginning of the Christian era, women and men took responsibility for the apostolic mission. The point of Mary being an apostle to the apostles as witness to the resurrection is not to claim she was one of the Twelve (obviously she was not) but to cherish the vision for God's new evangelical society, that is, the kingdom of God in which all humanity is dignified with restoration, the new creation in which there is neither male nor female, slave nor free, Jew nor Greek. The easy mixing of gender and nationality in the list of leading figures in the Roman church in Romans 16 is the classic sign of this new evangelical society taking root in the capital itself of the old, corrupt, divided society.
As for relevance, Stanley's acerbic but apt thought is that, indeed, Christianity has often made the best case for itself by not being reflective of the society around it. The more subtle point to consider is that Christianity has always been at its best when it has been both incarnate (embedded in the society around it) and holy (different to society around it). A reason I support women being bishops is that our being embedded in society is crucial to being able to speak the language of that society with fluency. Without a moral reason for not having women bishops, our refusal to allow the participation of women in every aspect of church becomes a constraint on that fluency and thus an unnecessary barrier to speaking the gospel. When the Christians were fed to the lions Christianity did not die out because it was simultaneously speaking a message which society could receive as speech it understood.
There is one other matter on which I want to make comment, this time directly against Stanley's openly Roman perspective on the C of E's machinations:
"The Synod really was Anglicanism in the raw – and seen from the outside it is a very strange creature. As a Roman Catholic, I don't understand its "evolving" attitude towards scripture and tradition. God, I always thought, is not for turning. But the Anglicans not only allow for change (which surely concedes that God makes mistakes?), but it also seem to have decided that building a consensus that accommodates that change is a sound alternative to a consistent theology. “Whatever happens, no matter how far we depart from Scripture or tradition … we must all stand together!”"
God is not for turning (I agree) but that does not mean that God's truth cannot cope with change. In particular, change in society can be opportunity to probe carefully whether we understand God's truth or not, and whether a true understanding of God has been properly applied to life. We do not support slavery today because God has turned, or because God has made a mistake. We have probed the whole counsel of God's Word (taking too many centuries to do so) and found that the true meaning of being made in God's image, and Christ the image of God dying and rising to restore that image in each of us is dignity for all human beings, slavery of none. That God appears to have tolerated slavery through the centuries of ancient Israel and the New Testament era, or even today appears comfortable with some being poor and others being rich is testimony to the complexity and difficulty of life in which all are created equal as humans, but not all humans treat each other equally.
Is the church affirming women as bishops casting God as the maker of mistakes or re-finding the truth of the apostolic era when women and men together bore witness to the risen Lord? A consistent theology can be built through evolution of doctrinal understanding. Actually, I thought that was an intrinsic strength of the Roman methodology - something Stanley appears not to understand. As, indeed, he seems not to understand how many Roman Catholics long to see women ordained presbyters and bishops!