No to Women Bishops

A November day at Church House, Westminster. I listened carefully to the debate in the General Synod. Speeches on both sides of the argument – some carefully reasoned, some delivered with great passion and conviction Then the voting and the waiting whilst the sums were done. The Archbishop took his seat and quietly announced the results, which were received in silence. There was a mixture of smiles and tears around the great Assembly Hall.

The Archbishop closed the session for the day and members, visitors and press filed out. I headed into Deans Yard to telephone BBC Radio Gloucestershire with the news of a great step forward for the Church of England.

But that was November 1992 – and the Synod had just voted for women to be ordained as priests. Twenty years later, the Synod has failed – by just 6 votes in the House of Laity – to approve the next step – women bishops.

I wasn’t at Church House this time round, but I was listening to the debate on my computer at home. I felt the same mixture of excitement and anxiety that I felt twenty years ago, because I knew it would be close. Will they – won’t they? Will the C of E take a leap of faith and allow women to exercise the same ministry within the church as men? I hoped and prayed that they would, for there are many women priests in the church with so much to offer as bishops. But now the waiting must go on. Because of the peculiar rules of the General Synod it could be several years before we can try again.

The press reaction after the debate was predictable. ‘A grave crisis for the C of E’; ‘Shows how out of touch the church is’ – and so on. The leader in the Times said this:
“Yesterday was a sad and shameful day for the Church of England and therefore for the country of which it is the established religion. It took 12 years of deliberation and prayer for the Church to arrive at its decision on appointing women as bishops, and yet it got that decision dreadfully wrong.
“What happened yesterday will be horribly familiar to leaders of political parties that have lost their way. The process was hijacked by a small but highly motivated group of fundamentalists more interested in factional organisation, textual analysis and strict orthodoxy than in the real world and how people live their lives. When such people take over any body, it drifts away from common sense.’

Canon Lucy Winkett in The Guardian was less angry and more optimistic: “This vote has been a disaster for the Church of England, one we will undoubtedly recover from, but one that further perpetuates the commonly held view that our society is better off without the contribution of the Christian church. Many like me will stay, of course. – – – we will hang on by our fingertips, sad and furious in equal measure, until the authority of women and men is accepted by the church we love but, at times like this, find impossible to defend.”

I am one of the many who feel like Lucy Winkett. In our ministry we work to help the Church be the body of Christ in the real world. But then the institution seems to drag us back into the ghetto of irrelevance.

This Sunday is known as the feast of Christ the King. Our hymns, Bible readings and prayers have been about the Kingdom of God – a kingdom which is real – but not yet in all its fullness. A kingdom where Christ is in charge. But not an earthly kingdom. It’s all a bit of a puzzle and a paradox.

The traditional understanding has been that the Church is a foretaste of the Kingdom of God. There’s even a hymn in our book which begins: ‘The Church of God a Kingdom is, where Christ in power doth reign.’ It’s a nice idea, but looking around the C of E as it is today – at the General Synod or at our little group of four parishes – can we really sing that hymn with any sort of conviction?

If we really did give a foretaste of God’s kingdom would we really have spent twelve years talking about women bishops and then failed to make it happen? Would we still be arguing about many other issues in which the world around us has no interest – or has made its mind up about long ago?

Jesus – the man we now call our king – lived in the real world of first century Palestine. He challenged the traditions and practices of his own religion. He was a radical, a rebel. He took risks. He upset the Jewish establishment and the Roman establishment. ‘Are you the King of the Jews?’ asked Pilate. ‘My kingdom is not from here.’ Jesus replies.

No – the kingdom of God is not a human or earthly kingdom. But we Christians hold dual citizenship. Here we are citizens of the United Kingdom – but at the same time we are citizens of the Kingdom of God. Our mission and ministry is to discern God’s will and purpose for ourselves and for his church, and then live out our lives as, in St Paul’s words, Christ’s ambassadors. And Paul also said: “There is no longer Jew or Greek, slave or free, male and female, for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.’

It’s a cause of great sadness that some within the C of E still cannot accept that men and women should have equal status at all levels of church life. For too long we wasted the potential of women who would have made excellent priests. We put that right in 1992. The sooner we can take the next logical step of ordaining some of them as bishops the better. God calls us all – both men and women – lay people, clergy, bishops – to make his kingdom as real as we can in this world – right here, right now.
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6 Responses to “No to Women Bishops”


  1. 1 Annabel Hayter November 25, 2012 at 9:02 am

    I am afraid I disagree with Geoff. Men are head of the family and as such should be head of the Church.

  2. 2 David Wood November 25, 2012 at 10:48 pm

    Sorry Geoff, but for me a Bishop will always be Male.

  3. 3 Sara Richardson November 26, 2012 at 10:06 am

    I still can’t understand why this wasn’t all put through when women were able to be priests, surely that would have been logical, but perhaps that is too much to ask!!

  4. 4 Bishop David Bentley November 26, 2012 at 10:52 am

    Many thanks for your words, Geoff. I totally agree and share your sense of deep disappointment. I pray that +Justin will give us a strong lead forward.in the days ahead

  5. 5 Cam Brown November 27, 2012 at 10:01 pm

    Sorry David & Annabel, you’ve both got it wrong. Annabel, men are not the head of the church, but a specific man, Christ, is the head of the church. It is a logical fallacy to substitute one man with all men.

    Let’s do away with male chauvinism wrapped in preference or a misapplication of scripture. Jesus wasn’t opposed to women leading others (least of all men), so why should you be?

    Galatians 3:28 NIV

    There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.

    Shall I list some female leaders, judges, disciples, and apostles mentioned in the bible? Junia, woman apostle (Romans 16:11), Mary Magdalene (named the apostle of apostles by the early church – her claim to apostleship is the same as St Paul’s she saw the risen Lord), Priscilla named before her husband as a leader in the church and therefore considered to surpass him, is thought to have written the book of Hebrews (Romans 16:3). Deborah, a prophet and judge who led Israel (Judges 4). How about Huldah, a woman whom the priests and King Josiah sought out for her opinion and authorization of the text that would form part of the bible (2 Kings 22) ? These are just a small number of impressive women leaders in the bible.

    God has not ordained that only men should be church leaders, only humans have. There is no biblical basis to reject women as bishops, only chauvinism.

  6. 6 Janet Marrott December 20, 2012 at 9:07 am

    I am not used to “blogging” so hope this works.
    If we were all made as one then we should all be treated as one. Gender does not matter to Christ.


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