Wednesday, November 21, 2012


Church of England voted to not permit elevation of female priests to the episcopacy.  Thirty-six years of saying it was okay to have female priests, eighteen years of actually having female priests and now the vote to allow them to answer the call to be bishops fell by a lousy six votes. Six votes.  Forty-two of forty-four dioceses were in favor of allowing the act, there was a definite majority in both the clerical order and that of the bishops, but it was the lay people, who let down the side.  Why?  That's a good question.

The most usual explanation is that the act under consideration did not give sufficient protection for those who could not in conscience accept what they clearly believe the Bible said about women in leadership. Hmmm. I guess it's good for HM the Queen that, even though she is the titular head of the church, she didn't have to get a 2/3 majority before assuming the title as head of the CofE.  But they can live with that, I guess; HM doesn't preside at the Eucharist, confirm those seeking confirmation and ordain those discerned and approved for ordination.  No, the traditionalists insist that they must be protected from female contamination of the sacraments and, after all, "The Bible clearly states...."  We've heard that excuse before.

Jesus didn't pick the most suitable of companions when he chose the disciples. Fishermen? And, God forbid, a collaborating, money-skimming tax collector? If that wasn't unsuitable enough, he had Mary Magdalene and other women who traveled with the group and provided for their needs. God certainly picked a most unsuitable protagonist for Christianity, namely Paul, righteous Pharisee and persecutor of the early Christians.  Oh, but they are men, comes the argument, and Mary Magdalene and the others are secondary, so secondary that there's no mention of Jesus calling them to be disciples like Peter and Matthew -- and Judas Iscariot. To me, it sounds like an argument designed to maintain the supremacy of patriarchy, conveniently overlooking the apparent unsuitableness of Jesus' choices in disciples and followers, at least in the eyes of many of his fellow Jews. As for the rest of the world, as long as it didn't upset Rome, who cared what anyone else thought?

What I don't get is that some modern women seem to go along with this reasoning that only men were disciples and church leaders, as if simply by being women they (and all other women) were unsuitable to do what is considered a "man's job." If God made humankind, then God made both male and female. If God issues a call to the diaconate, the priesthood, even the episcopacy to a woman, then who are we to say "Oh, no, that can't happen because it is unsuitable. God would never do such a thing because the Bible clearly states..."  Certainly calls must be tested; the process is designed to enable the church (and the candidate) to discern God's will in the process. Chromosomes and, yes, genitalia and glands shouldn't be the determining factor about whether or not that call is genuine.

By voting down the opportunity for women to answer the call God has given them to use their gifts in God's service. The CofE, God bless it, has caved in and allowed the wishes of a handful to guide the actions of the majority. That would be tantamount to having Matthew's  or James' or Peter's wants and wishes direct the direction in which Jesus' ministry would go and where it would go.  Jesus was in charge -- as Jesus should be in the life of today's church.  The church decided to go with business as usual rather than business as God probably wanted it to be. Still, it is their prerogative to make the rules their church will follow; it just seems a shame that those rules are so easily kept in place by so few.  In a time when churches are fading into inconsequence among modern people, is it advantageous to draw a line in the sand and refuse to consider that the line might be in the wrong place?  It isn't for culture that the church needs to change, it is for the growth and building of the kingdom, the kingdom that Jesus sought to reform and cultivate. 

The Church of England missed a chance to advance the kingdom and reach out to marginalized people who would otherwise look to them for a place to belong, to grow, to worship, to serve, and to use their God-given gifts to help in the building of that kingdom. They have allowed six individuals to determine the course of the entire church for at least the next few years. I am sorry for the church.  I am sure there are gifts out there just waiting, praying, hoping and working to be used to bring those who seek into the fold and offer them spiritual food and shelter.  They have shut the door on those gifts as if they were nothing. And it was done in the name of purity and righteousness. That's what makes it even more painful.

This is a teachable moment for all the churches, I think.  Are we paying attention?  Whose gifts are we rejecting because we are so sure we know the mind of God?  Did God stop speaking when the last period was put on the last book of the canon?  Did Jesus teach the maintenance the status quo, or did he teach that we need to grow in wisdom and knowledge and use those for the benefit of all God's children, whether we are male or female?   I guess it depends on how someone hears the gospel message and the background of the gospel message that came before.

It isn't just the CofE's loss, it is a loss to Christianity and Christendom.  Hopefully when this comes up again (and it will come up again, I am sure of that), maybe wisdom will win out over piety. I hope so, anyway. A church that recognizes gifts and not just genders is a church I can believe in. I don't think I'm alone in that boat -- or nave.

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