Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Will they wear trousers?

In my third year at university a group of us went to the SCM (Student Christian Movement / Slightly Christian Marxists) Annual Conference in Aberystwyth. I know I enjoyed it though I only remember the bad bits. I remember a programme item on 'Post-Christians', led by two young women who were the first and last self-described post-Christians I've met, and quite possibly the only two ever. Their intent was to take the morality of Jesus without all the embarrassing supernatural stuff and apply it in the modern, real world in which we live. No different from any other morally natured atheist, in short, and claiming it as an actual movement struck me then, and now, as a complete waste of time. Philip Pullman has summed it up so much better in his notion of the Republic of Heaven.

And then – oh dear, oh dear – and then there was the last plenary meeting. Plans were made for a final service to close off the proceedings. Some women raised an objection: would it be communion? And would the communion be given by a man? Because, at that stage of the church’s history, there was no way they were going to kneel before a man.


First of all, this was in the innocent days before T. Pratchett had invented Nanny Ogg and so her aphorism: " stand before your god, bow before your king, kneel before your husband" sadly wouldn't have occurred to anyone. A logical answer was that communion should also be administered by a woman. "But the Catholics can't take communion from a woman!" they cried. "Actually, we don't mind," said the Catholics. "Yes you do, stop rocking the boat," said those determined to make of it an issue. And so on. At one point a woman was in tears, declaring, "my partner and I are being forced out for the church and we're damned if we'll let it happen here too."

At one point someone was told, in short, to put a sock in it and stop upsetting people. His response were four words that should never, ever come out of the mouth of a follower of the Servant King: "no, why should I?"

In short it was a fairly typical SCM get-together, nice people determined to live nicely without any of that tedious Biblical guidance stuff, and I forget how it was resolved. If it ever was. I had never had a problem with the idea of ordaining women, ever; in fact it was already something that other Protestant denominations had been doing for years if not decades and longer. But that was the first time I realised how deep the feelings ran in the C of E. A mere seven years later (and nearly 2000 years later than it should have been) the Anglican church started ordaining women as priests and now – hallelujah! – they can become bishops too.

And there's the ones who don't like this and are threatening to leave the church ...

Previously my attitude to such has been "Goodbye, then!" But recently the Lord in his wisdom has drawn to my attention 1 Corinthians 10:23-33:

"Everything is permissible" – but not everything is beneficial. "Everything is permissible" – but not everything is constructive. Nobody should seek his own good, but the good of others. Eat anything sold in the meat market without raising questions of conscience, for, "The earth is the Lord's, and everything in it."

If some unbeliever invites you to a meal and you want to go, eat whatever is put before you without raising questions of conscience. But if anyone says to you, "This has been offered in sacrifice," then do not eat it, both for the sake of the man who told you and for conscience' sake – the other man's conscience, I mean, not yours. For why should my freedom be judged by another's conscience? If I take part in the meal with thankfulness, why am I denounced because of something I thank God for?

So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God. Do not cause anyone to stumble, whether Jews, Greeks or the church of God – even as I try to please everybody in every way. For I am not seeking my own good but the good of many, so that they may be saved.

The take-home message there is: don't stand on your rights, however right your rights may be. Other people are more important. One of the biggest problems of the pro-women's ordination in the past was that too many approached it as a right to be demanded, not a calling to serve. And that goes for some of my colleagues in Aberystwyth, too, which was one reason they were singularly failing to make any kind of progress. There's a danger of doing it again here.

Let's be straight – those who for whatever reason don't believe women should be bishops are just plain wrong, simple as that. There should be women bishops. I welcome women bishops.

There may be situations where a woman bishop is not advisable - say, running a diocese in a Muslim area? But that is an obstacle to overcome, a challenge, not a reason for an outright ban. Still, tempting as it is to dismiss the contras as a bunch of fuddy duddy misogynists with psychological hangups about women in authority, they are also hurting human beings and the hurt needs to be addressed.

I've no idea how but I'm sure the Archdruid is working on it.

Entirely on topic is this cartoon from Matt.

Not really on topic, but not entirely off it either, is this from punditkitchen.com.

Obama Pictures and McCain Pictures


  1. Hooray for women bishops. What amuses/bothers me is the Bishop of Fulham claiming he wouldn't be able to "live in dignity" under a woman bishop. The problem I see here isn't that the contras are bigots, it's that they choose to hide their bigotry behind words like "dignity".

    (Cf Archbishops Rowan Williams and John Sentamu complaining last year that it should be religious organisations' "right of conscience" to discriminate against gay couples wanting to adopt. Although apparently they're not against women bishops.)

    I'm particularly proud to see Archbish Williams pointing out that the contras' proposed "compromise" of inventing a new level of men-only episocopy above women bishops is just an effort to humiliate the women and keep them down. I realise as an atheist that he's not exactly my Archbish to be proud of, but nevertheless. I feel happier about a church that's going his way.

  2. Surely women bishops will wear dresses just like men ones? Or was that what you were getting at...

    Top story about student Christian politics. My equivalent was NUS Womens Conference. On the way out of a subterranean fringe meeting I was waylaid by a little Revolutionary Communist waving a leaflet in my face and shouting "are you anti-imperialism or anti-tampon?". That all depends what day of the month it is, I said.

  3. Ah, students, eh? What's the betting she's now a kept housewife in suburbia with 2.4 kids and an SUV?


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