Thursday, November 22, 2012

Bad arguments for women bishops

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!

17 comments:

Father Ron Smith said...

"Most glaringly of all, not a single resolution mentions the Anglican Covenant, which is the one element of present Communion life which might help heal our impaired fellowship."
- Peter Collier in 'Living Church -

Peter, do you not think that this is because even ACC now sees that the Covenant is a 'goner' - if only because the principal dissentients - from the GAFCON Churches - will not sign up to it? And as the Covenant does not find acceptance for many others in the Communion (for different reasons from those of gafcon), perhaps ACC sees no profit in flogging a dead horse.
_________________________________

"No one could possibly disagree with desiring to be a safe church (Resolution 15.09)" - P. Collier -

Except, perhaps for those Provinces in the Communion where simply being of an innately different sexual orientation may be fatal!
__________________________________

"In this unhappy scenario satisfied comments by ACC members at the conclusion of the event amount to little more than a de facto celebration of thin communion holding us together"

'Thin' Communion might just be better than 'thick' with mistrust and fear of implementation of issues of human rights and justice!

We have ONE unifying tie as members of the Anglican Communion of Churches - and that is the Christ of the Gospel. There is nothing and no-one more binding than being part of the Body of Christ in the world for which he died. Not even the papacy can offer a better focus.

Those Anglican Churches that are seeking to implement the teaching of Our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, with Love, Mercy and Compassion, are already One in Christ. No-one can take that away from us. We don't need a Covenant other that that of our common Baptism into, and participation in, the Christ offered at the Eucharist

Father Ron Smith said...

Bravo, Peter, for your challenging of Tim Stanley's R.C. conservative arguments in this thread. I agree with asking the question:

"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?"

-If only from the fact that Jesus' treatment of women generally was criticised by the 'church elders' of his day. This amounted to a reversal of their status in the context of Jewish paternalism. But this did not prevent Jesus from quietly going about this epic change of emphasis on traditional attitudes.

The main opposition to Jesus was because of his 'turning the world up-side-down with his liberality towards the oppressed, lowly, and the marginalised. (Mother Mary's Magnificat was just the beginning.)

There is, even today, a need for such a revolution in the Church and to this end, the Holy Spirit is still alive and active! Sometimes the Church is slow to understand, and even slower to obey.

God is still 'working God's purpose out' - if only we will allow Him to through us in the Church.

hogsters said...

Re Peter: "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)."

Yes, and one might argue the church trying to fit in becomes something like a death rattle.


Re Ron from comments above: The main opposition to Jesus was because of his 'turning the world up-side-down with his liberality towards the oppressed, lowly, and the marginalised. (Mother Mary's Magnificat was just the beginning.)

Not completely accurate I think. the main opposition to Jesus was because he threatened the religious authorities, make claims of deity and of course was big on dealing with the problem of human sin, rich or poor.

Blessings

Anonymous said...

http://news.bbc.co.uk/democracylive/hi/house_of_commons/newsid_9771000/9771995.stm

for the emergency debate in the H of Commons following the failure of the legislation in General Synod
(about 35 mins)
Perry Butler. Canterbury UK

Shawn said...

Hi Peter.

Is the Roman doctrine of the development of doctrine right in the first place? Is not just playing into the hands of those seeking change based on ideologies other than Scripture?

Semper Reformanda, as the Reformers understood it, means that we must always go back to Scripture, and to Scripture alone, as the final authority in all matters of faith and morals.

I agree with the article in so far as it critiques the use of the language of "equality" and "relevance". One of the reasons the bill failed was because of this rhetoric. If instead the argument for women's ordination and leadership had been based on purely Biblical arguments, and it CAN be, then perhaps it would have had at least a better chance.

Andrew W said...

Worth noting that the church as a whole never supported supported the slave trade, even if the official declarations against it were more honoured in the breach than the observance (cf 1 Tim 6:10, Ex 21:16, Deut 24:7). Moreover, the consistent teaching of the Scriptures is that the master has responsibility towards his slaves (which in NT is frequently compared to God as our master).

Opposition to the slave trade wasn't the church discovering or manifesting some new teaching, but rather waking up and deciding that it was time that "Christian" nations should take the consistent, historical teaching of Scripture and Church on this topic seriously.

Zane Elliott said...

Ron,
If I am unable to participate in receiving the Eucharist, due to matter of conscience, with those who advocate for a Christ who is contrary to the Christ revealed in Scripture (think self named progressive christians who deny a bodily resurrection, or the reality of judgement and hell and sinfulness of humanity) then surely we need a covenant that makes it clear what is and what isn't acceptable belief to bring to the Lord's Table - don't we?

Also, you've confused your evangelicals again, Peter Carrell is not moonlighting as Peter Collier or vice versa (so far as I know).

Andrew W said...

"perhaps for those Provinces in the Communion where simply being of an innately different sexual orientation may be fatal"

Let's not forget that Scripture condemns adultery as worthy of death. It's interesting to reflect on an age where acting against the fabric of society, not to mention personal despite of another's social contract, was dealt with harshly. I'm not asking you to agree with such a view, but can you at least sympathise with where they are coming from?

Or has the age of adultery so inoculated us that we cannot see what we are doing to ourselves?

And what's with the focus on "orientation"? I'm "oriented" towards laziness, selfishness, self-aggrandizement, and lust. Because of such things the wrath of God is coming. My obligation is not to my orientations or desires (see Rom 8, Gal 5:13, Eph 2:3, 2 Pet 2:18), but to God who bought me out of darkness and into light, and to his holiness.

We need to stop blessing evil, and start urging all Christians to "live holy and godly lives as (they) look forward to the day of God and speed its coming" (2 Pet 3:11-12).

Bryden Black said...

Yes Peter; the heat being generated at present seems to be out doing the light ... I too find certain forms of “support” (of either ‘camp’ for that matter) less than helpful!

I still recall as if it were yesterday a conversation in the mid 1980s with the local vicar of Kidlington just outside Oxford where we were living during which he said, “personally, all this just speaks to me of God’s patience with us”. This remark still counters all silly talk of “divine mistakes” and such!

In similar vein, Rowan Williams was wont to say how in his understanding God had through the Gospel planted “cultural time-bombs” in our midst. I like that notion - even if we still need to adjudicate the exact forms in which these “bombs” reveal/express themselves as they go off (often in slow motion). E.g. ‘feminism’ takes many forms, some more than palatable to Christians and others most certainly not, with all sorts in between. In other words, many a current assessment of what is seemingly going on buys far too readily into inadequate categories and criteria - “equality” being most certainly one of them! Oh how we need the rich subtleties of those Patristic giants of the 2nd - 5th Cs!

Father Ron Smith said...

"Semper Reformanda, as the Reformers understood it, means that we must always go back to Scripture, and to Scripture alone, as the final authority in all matters of faith and morals" - Commentator -

That doesn't sound like an even approximate translation of the Latin to me! It doesn't even mention the scroptures.

Anonymous said...

I have often wondered how many parishes have signed the resolutions ABC under the Act of Synod.From todays Church Times..I share with those down under:
"Out of 12,792C of E parishes,there remain,as of !st Jan 2012,765 parishes where Res A applies,944 where Res B applies and 371 where a petition for extended episcopal ministry applies.These represent respectively 6%,7%,and 3% of all parishes.The percentage change since 1999 is minus 8,minus4 and minus 25%.
PB Canterbury

Peter Carrell said...

Dear Ron,

For the last time I will post a moderated comment by you. In future, as stated a few moments ago, I will simply delete comments which make remarks about other commenters here. I am willing to moderate this comment because you made it before I made my "policy" statement above.

"Peter, Dear Peter (Carrell). Iv'e been and gorn and done it again! - confused you with that other member of the Latimer Fellowship, named Peter Collier. You are both Peter C., A Evangelicals but only one of you has the title Peter Carrell.

I'm sorry for that, Peter. But then, you already know I'm in my dotage, and am pretty harmless ....

Mea culpa! I shall try to behave. I owe that to your kind hospitality.
Semper Eadem, Semper Fidelis, and Semper Reformata! ... Agape. ...
"

Shawn said...

I did say Semper Reformander "as the Reformers understood it", the Reformers of course being Luther and Calvin. Along with the five Solas, Semper Reformanda is one of the basic tenets of the Protestant faith. The term was first used by the Nadere Reformatie, a reform movement in the Dutch Reformed Church during the seventeenth century, a movement that was very similar to the Puritan movement in England.

The idea was that the Church must always be reformed by continually testing all doctrine and practice against the witness of Scripture.

Janice said...

"Tradition!", if that's all it is, is not a good argument against women bishops (or in favour of fancy vestments and big, pointy, bishop hats, the clergy/laity distinction and much else besides). Jesus had a few words to say about traditions and how they can make the word of God of no effect. (Mk 7:13)

While I think the "Equality!" and "Relevance!" crowds are too influenced by secular politico/cultural considerations, so too is a big section of the "Tradition!" crowd. Instead of doing the historical work to examine the roots of their beloved traditions and the theological work to examine the soundness of their foundations in Scripture, many traditionalists seem to have taken fright at the excesses of radical feminists since the 1970s, assumed that anyone interested in the role of women in the church must be just such a scary, ratbag, radical feminist, and have dug in their heels, clinging to the idea that the 1950s, the days of the last gasps of Christendom, were some sort of golden age.

I have been reading on the history of ordination and, really, it sounds to me like any other institutional process in which some people seize power because they can and then, in concert with like-minded colleagues, they change rules to suit themselves. After a while everybody forgets that things were ever different.

Shawn said...

Here is a good article by theologian Michael Horton on the origin and meaning of Semper Reformanda.

He makes the point that the actual original phrase is "The Church is always being reformed by the Word of God", and notes that liberals rather conveniently tend to leave the last part out.

Well worth reading.

http://www.ligonier.org/learn/articles/semper-reformanda/

Shawn said...

"While I think the "Equality!" and "Relevance!" crowds are too influenced by secular politico/cultural considerations, so too is a big section of the "Tradition!" crowd."

I totally agree Janice.

Always, always, back to Scripture!

Anonymous said...

"I have been reading on the history of ordination and, really, it sounds to me like any other institutional process in which some people seize power because they can and then, in concert with like-minded colleagues, they change rules to suit themselves..."

A little bit of this hermeneutic of suspicion is in order. It is good to have rules to ensure that doctors, teachers, plumbers, engineers etc have professional knowledge and skills. But often they do act like medieval guilds, protecting their patch and income.

A more pressing question for me is: what is the purpose and point of bishops as a distinct hierarchical class within the church? Are they really needed? And if so, should they be permanent or have limited terms?

Gary