Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Blurring the issues

According to reports the Diocese of Christchurch has chosen a woman as its nominee for its next bishop. (Only after confirmation by our bishops and our General Synod is the nominee deemed to be elected). Some in the Diocese are known to disagree with the notion that woman can be head of a local church so inevitably there must be some profound meditation and reflection going on. One associated issue when this kind of issue arises in conservative evangelical circles goes like this, 'If we allow that the Bible permits women in leadership of the church, then we will feel pressure to allow active homosexuals in leadership because we will have admitted that the Bible is unclear on one issue and thus be liable to pressure by those who think the Bible is unclear on the other issue.' Thus does some opposition to women in leadership seem to be driven by unintended consequences for other issues.

But this bears a little bit of probing. First, the Bible can be clear on an issue and unclear on another. Responses to alcohol consumption across all churches suggests that Christians are not universally agreed on whether the Bible encourages or discourages alcohol consumption. By contrast all Christians agree that the Bible prohibits stealing. Secondly, if the Bible is mostly agreed to be unclear on one issue and much less agreed to be unclear on another issue, then that is the way it is. Its a matter of both grace and a broad mind to recognise that (say) my clarity about each issue is simply not shared by the majority. My challenge is to persuade people that the situation is otherwise, but if I cannot, I need to take stock of my options. One of those options is to be patient and live with the situation. Out of that patience I may yet see my own mind or other minds change!

But, thirdly, it seems odd to have a reserved attitude to women in leadership because of concerns about the behaviour of men!

For the record let me state that I understand the Bible to indicate an equality of women and men in Christ which presumes no ultimate and universal barrier to equality of possibility of participation in leadership; such participation exemplified by Priscilla, Phoebe, Euodia, Syntyche, Junia and others. Against this theological supposition, statements in the New Testament, most notably 1 Timothy 2:12, which prohibit women in leadership can and should be read as limited to special circumstances in the life of the church. By contrast the Bible does not indicate in any way shape or form the equality of same sex partnerships with marriage, repeatedly prohibits the possibility that same sex sexual relationships can be understood to be approved by God, and generally upholds through story and statement that sexual intercourse is intended by God, from creation, to take place within marriage between a man and a woman.

These days I do not think an Anglican can end his profession of clarity there! I acknowledge that Anglicans - to the left and the right of me!! - do not share the clarity with which I have just written. With that observation comes the challenge of living with difference.

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