Women as Bishops

This post is not more of my own thoughts. It is an announcement of an opportunity to hear some other thoughts on the subject “Women as Bishops: what next for Evangelicals, what
do we need from each other?” (Here “Evangelicals” should be understood as “Evangelicals in the Church of England”.) This is a meeting of the Chelmsford Diocesan Evangelical Association, like the last one I advertised here, and will be held at the same venue, which is my home church, on this coming Saturday morning.

Again this will be a chance for you, my readers, to meet me. It will also be a chance to meet two leading activists for and against women bishops. But the intention is not so much a debate on the issues as a discussion of how evangelicals can remain united on the fundamental issues while being divided on this one.

Pullman's Good Man Jesus, or the Church's Scoundrel Christ?

Bishop Alan Wilson has an interesting review of Philip Pullman’s new book The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ, which sounds like bad history but interesting fiction. The author is of course a well known atheist.

I haven’t read the book, so I am relying here on the bishop’s review. As far as I can tell from that, Pullman has taken the 19th century speculation about the historical Jesus and the Christ of faith and turned them into two separate people, brothers but very different. Indeed there seem to be elements of the Prodigal Son story mixed in. But it seems that Pullman’s good man Jesus represents the real original man from Nazareth, and his scoundrel Christ is a caricature of what the church has turned Jesus into.

Bishop Alan quotes at length Pullman’s version of Jesus’ prayer in the garden:

Lord, if I thought you were listening, I’d pray for this above all: that any church set up in your name should remain poor, and powerless, and modest. That it should weild no authority except that of love. That it should never cast anyone out. That it should own no property and make no laws. That it should not condemn but only forgive. That it should not be like a palace, with marble walls and polished floors, and guards standing at the door, but like a tree with its roots deep in the soil, that shelters every kind of bird and beast and gives blossom in the spring and shade in the hot sun and fruit in the season, and in time gives up its good sound wood to the carpenter, but that sheds many thousands of seeds so that new trees can grow in its place. Does the tree say to the sparrow “Get out, you don’t belong here?” Does the tree say to the hungry man, “That fruit is not for you?” Does the tree test the loyalty of the beasts before it allows them into the shade?’

So far, so good. But I was disappointed at the Anglican bishop’s response to this:

Amen! This is a rather C of E ecclesology; The Church is anything but perfect, but always in need of necessary reformation. This comes from its interaction with the society it serves, not some infallible magisterium. …

No, Bishop Alan, Pullman’s Jesus is not commending the Church of England. It may not have an “infallible magisterium”. It may have become relatively poor, recently, but not by renouncing riches or giving generously, only by being inept at holding on to its wealth. But it still owns huge amounts of property, and makes its own laws or gets the government to do so for it. Many of its buildings are precisely “like a palace, with marble walls and polished floors”. Its bishops (not Bishop Alan, at least yet) still wield secular authority in the House of Lords. And if its official leaders are no longer quick to condemn, that lack is more than made up for by the pronouncements of some of its clergy and lay people.

If the church wants to show the love of the real Jesus to atheists like Pullman, it won’t do it by boasting that it is not as bad as those Roman Catholics with their “infallible magisterium”, but by doing something about the points which Pullman actually puts on the lips of Jesus. May the church indeed become

like a tree with its roots deep in the soil, that shelters every kind of bird and beast and gives blossom in the spring and shade in the hot sun and fruit in the season, and in time gives up its good sound wood to the carpenter, but that sheds many thousands of seeds so that new trees can grow in its place.

C.S. Lewis got it wrong on women priests

A couple of days ago I noted C.S. Lewis’ criticism of the arguments used by complementarians. But of course that does not imply that he was an egalitarian. Indeed I now have proof that he was not. I thank my commenter Iconoclast for a link to an interesting essay by Lewis apparently entitled Priestesses in the Church?, posted last year by Alice C. Linsley on her blog. According to this page the essay was originally written in 1948. In it Lewis makes clear his opposition to the ordination of women in the Church of England.

Lewis certainly would not have approved of Barbie becoming an Episcopal priest, as pictured here. Thanks to Dave Walker at the Church Times blog for the link (although it’s broken) to the Facebook group Friends of Episcopal Priest Barbie (not sure if my link will work any better). It is a real group, so this is not just an April fool, and I took the picture from it.

To start with, C.S. Lewis got one thing quite wrong: no one was asking for a separate “order of priestesses”, but for women to be admitted to the existing order of priests, as has now happened. But I think he is on the ball to say that

the opposers (many of them women) can produce at first nothing but an inarticulate distaste, a sense of discomfort which they themselves find it hard to analyse

– to which some would add a shallow and tendentious interpretation of certain Bible passages.

When it comes down to it, the argument which Lewis makes is that God is male, not female. That implies that for him women are less the image of God than men. He admits that it is “masculine imagery” which is used of God, but he confuses the imagery with the reality when he makes God really masculine. When Robert Burns wrote “My Love is Like a Red, Red Rose”, his beautiful poetic imagery was not supposed to mean that the woman he loved was in fact not a woman but a rose. I’m not really qualified to lecture a professor of literature like Lewis, but he seems to have forgotten the basics of how poetry works. Poetic images are figures of speech not to be taken literally. So if calling God Father is indeed “masculine imagery” of the poetic kind, it precisely does not imply that God is really and essentially male.

Lewis gets to the most basic issue when he writes:

The innovators are really implying that sex is something superficial, irrelevant to the spiritual life. To say that men and women are equally eligible for a certain profession is to say that for the purposes of that profession their sex is irrelevant. We are, within that context, treating both as neuters. As the State grows more like a hive or an ant-hill it needs an increasing number of workers who can be treated as neuters. This may be inevitable for our secular life. But in our Christian life we must return to reality. There we are not homogeneous units, but different and complimentary organs of a mystical body.

Here “complimentary” is a transcriber’s error for “complementary”; Lewis certainly wouldn’t have confused the two words, and the latter appears in this version of the text. So he upholds the principle of complementary roles for men and women, while in this essay being careful to avoid the kinds of arguments which he put in the mouth of the Ape in The Last Battle.

In the paragraph I just quoted Lewis has hit the nail on the head. Indeed I would hold, along with most egalitarians I imagine, that distinctions of sex are “irrelevant to the spiritual life”. But Lewis seems to disagree. So how can we resolve this? Lewis, having rejected reason earlier in the essay, turns to church tradition. As an evangelical I prefer to turn to Scripture. And there I read:

So God created human beings in his own image,
in the image of God he created them;
male and female he created them.

Genesis 1:27 (TNIV)

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

Galatians 3:28 (TNIV)

Thus the Bible makes it clear that males and females are equally made in the image of God, and that the distinction between them is precisely “irrelevant to the spiritual life” in Christ. Thus the clear biblical position is that God is neither male nor female, and that neither gender is better fitted than the other to represent him to humanity.

Of course C.S. Lewis was right and prescient to write that

the Church of England herself would be torn in shreds

by allowing women priests. In the 1990s the shreds were inexpertly patched together by such means as the infamous “flying bishops”. Now that women bishops are in prospect the whole patchwork is falling apart again. But the reason this has been so contentious is that a large minority in the church has been taken in by the kinds of bad arguments about the essential masculinity of God which Lewis put forward.

To be fair to C.S. Lewis, he was a man of his time and so shared “an inarticulate distaste, a sense of discomfort” with the idea of women priests. In 1948 he was not young (he turned 50 that year) but still unmarried. He had little experience of women apart from his odd relationship with his surrogate mother Jane Moore. It is perhaps hardly surprising that he treated them more or less as a separate species. But, fortunately for half of humanity, that is not how God treats them.

The last act for the Anglican Communion?

Since the busy summer of GAFCON and the Lambeth Conference, nearly two years ago now, there have not been so many stories around about the imminent break-up of the Anglican Communion. It was beginning to look as if a typical Anglican fudge had worked, with only a few Anglicans actually leaving their troubled church.

That is not to say nothing has happened for nearly two years. The Fellowship of Confessing Anglicans (FCA), which arose from the GAFCON conference in 2008, doesn’t seem to have had much of an impact. More significant was the formation of the Anglican Church of North America (ACNA), bringing together conservative Anglicans in the USA and Canada who had left the official national Anglican churches. ACNA has become so significant that even the General Synod of the Church of England recently gave it some kind of official recognition, although formally it remains outside the Anglican Communion.

But the process which led to the crisis is continuing, and the papered over cracks are gaping open again. Some people had hoped, and perhaps even believed, that The Episcopal Church (TEC), the official Anglican church in the USA, would abide by the moratorium on consecrating practising homosexuals as bishops, as it had reportedly agreed. But, as I noted at the time, in July last year the bishops and other General Convention members of TEC in effect voted against this moratorium. The Communion survived this vote because, as everyone realises, such a decision is meaningless unless put into practice.

Now, however, things are about to change. A little over a week ago the leaders of TEC officially confirmed the election of the lesbian Mary Glasspool to be a bishop in Los Angeles. If TEC ignores, as is to be expected, some last minute pleas which will no doubt be sent from various directions including Lambeth Palace, and the consecration of Glasspool actually goes ahead on 15th May, then something clearly new will have happened. No longer can people say that the election of the gay bishop Gene Robinson was a one off aberration, and no longer can they claim that TEC is at least more or less abiding by the various moratoria it had supposedly accepted.

Another thing that is different this time is that this move by TEC is being condemned only by those groups in the Church of England which can be written off as extreme. As John Richardson has noted, strong words are also coming from the generally moderate Open Evangelical group Fulcrum. The Fulcrum leadership team has published an important paper about the issue, in which they write:

We are now indisputably in a radically new situation. TEC as a body has determinedly, perhaps irrevocably, chosen autonomy over “communion with autonomy and accountability”.

It is important that this is not simply a matter of disagreement about biblical interpretation and sexual ethics although these are central and important. It is now very clearly also a fundamental matter of truth-telling and trust.  In September 2007, at the Primates’ request and after meeting with the Archbishop of Canterbury, TEC bishops confirmed they would “exercise restraint by not consenting to the consecration of any candidate to the episcopate whose manner of life presents a challenge to the wider church and will lead to further strains on communion”. They made clear that “non-celibate gay and lesbian persons” were among such candidates.

When asked recently how they could therefore now proceed to confirm Mary Glasspool in the light of that assurance, one TEC bishop said this simply expressed where the bishops were in 2007 and they may be somewhere different now. At least where they are now is crystal clear.  Both moratoria have been rejected. In addition, TEC is pursuing legal actions, with widespread concern its leadership intends aggressive action against the diocese of South Carolina which upholds the Communion’s teaching.

The key question is ‘what happens next?’…

They go on to call for “clear and decisive action by the Archbishop of Canterbury”, and conclude:

Although decisive action is necessary, Archbishop Rowan’s limited powers within the Communion and his laudable desire to keep on going the extra mile to enable dialogue mean many think it unlikely. Some long ago gave up on him. Many, however, both within the Church of England and the wider Communion (particularly in the Global South which meets next month) have been patient and sought to work with him by supporting the Windsor and covenant processes. They need now to make clear that unless he gives a clear lead then all that he and others have worked for since the Windsor Report and all that is promised by the covenant is at risk because of the new situation in which TEC has placed us.

Indeed. The time for “going the extra mile” is past, or will be on 15th May. If Archbishop Rowan continues to take no action, he will now lose the respect not just of extreme conservatives but also of those in the centre, like Fulcrum, whose concern is not so much with homosexuality as with “a fundamental matter of truth-telling and trust”. How can TEC remain within the Anglican Communion while continuing to deceive its communion partners? Rowan Williams’ position will be untenable without the support of the centre of his own church. So he needs to act – or depart and leave his successor to act.

It is not yet quite the end for the Anglican Communion. But we are past the end of the beginning. This is surely the beginning of the end, at least of the Communion as we have known it.

New Bishop of Chelmsford announced

As the Church Times blog and Sam Norton report, Stephen Cottrell will be the new Bishop of Chelmsford. This was officially announced by Number 10 Downing Street.

(Why is it up to the Prime Minister’s office to make these announcements? I thought Gordon Brown had given up any part in deciding on bishops. Anyway I find it offensive that secular authorities have any part in choosing leaders in the church – but that’s another issue.)

In many ways Stephen Cottrell seems a good choice for this job – except that unlike the last five of the nine holders of the post he is not called John! He has been well regarded as Area Bishop of Reading since 2004. He is only 51 and so should be able to serve Chelmsford for many years – unlike recent post holders: only one of the five Johns served more than ten years. He received several positive mentions in comments in a post at the Ugley Vicar last September about possible candidates. Cottrell was brought up in Essex, and writes (as reported by the Church Times blog):

For me coming to Essex and East London feels like coming home.

But this appointment is bound to be controversial in some quarters. Only last week John Richardson, a vicar who will be serving under Cottrell, wrote in a post Erroneous and Strange Bishops:

When Jeffery John was forced to stand down as Bishop of Reading, the appointment of Stephen Cottrell as his successor was greeted with enthusiasm by evangelicals within the Diocese of Oxford. Yet John and Cottrell are both members of the liberal group, Affirming Catholicism, and a glance at the cover of this book (published in 1998) is a salutory warning that the two men may differ little in underlying theology. For what reason, then, was Cottrell welcomed in place of John, other than that he was not a homosexual?

Indeed as I write John Richardson has just posted his own announcement of this appointment, with a link to his earlier post and the text of a press release – but no personal comment as yet.

Should errant Christian leaders be restored?

While I am taking a break from my series on Authority, power and rights in the New Testament, my near neighbour (at least from a global perspective, but we have never met) Sam Norton has started a series on a related topic: Does the priest have to be pure? In this he talks about the Donatists, whom I discussed here nearly two years ago. Sam gives an excellent explanation of why they were wrong to teach that the ministry of a Christian leader is invalidated by their personal sin.

This doesn’t mean that the sins of Christian leaders should simply be ignored. Unrepentant sinners like Michael Reid certainly should not be allowed to continue in ministry. But it does mean that those who fall should be allowed to repent and be restored, the process which was at least starting with Todd Bentley (but I haven’t kept up with that story) – and which the Donatists did not allow with the original traditores in late Roman times.

But this argument against the Donatists has its limitations in that it is not really applicable when a Christian leader not only falls into sin but also teaches that that sin is in fact right. This, arguably, is what many of the practising homosexuals in Anglican and other churches are doing: they are not only sinning (at least according to traditional biblical standards) but also teaching that what they are doing is right. But the argument against Donatism doesn’t mean that these people should be accepted, because unlike the traditores they are unrepentant.

Indeed the same can be said corporately of The Episcopal Church, which has this week demonstrated its lack of repentance over the Gene Robinson affair, as well as its contempt for the Archbishop of Canterbury, by approving the consecration of another practising homosexual bishop. This is a direct challenge to the rest of the Anglican Communion, which will renew the tensions which have brought it close to falling apart. But this teaching in effect approved by TEC is also rife in the Church of England.

I am now looking forward to the continuation of Sam Norton’s series. He promises to answer the question “what do we do when the priest isn’t pure?” In a comment I challenged him also to consider what happens when the priest is not “holding fast to the truth of the faith”. I hope he also applies these principles to the current situation in the church and the Communion in which he is a priest.

PS: I will not allow any comments here concerning Todd Bentley, unless they include significant and verifiable new information about him.

Positive discussions among evangelicals about women leaders

In recent weeks on this blog, and elsewhere, for example at the Ugley Vicar, the picture may have been given that evangelicals, and others, in the Church of England are at all-out war with one another over the prospect of women being accepted as bishops. It is of course regrettable when Christians fight among themselves in public – although for some of us the continuing marginalisation of women in the church is an even greater scandal.

So I was pleased this morning to find a report of some positive discussions on this issue (PDF) (also available here, as HTML). The meeting described here, held in January, was one of a series between representatives of Reform (including Carrie Sandom who I mentioned here before) and of AWESOME (Anglican Women Evangelicals: Supporting our Ordained Ministry), a network of ordained Anglican women. At the meeting there were also some high-powered theological advisers.

The report states:

Our focus was mainly but not exclusively on issues of biblical theology, exegesis and hermeneutics rather than current political issues relating to women bishops.

Nevertheless it is an important contribution towards the current debate as it seeks to ensure that this issue does not drive a wedge into evangelical unity within the C of E:

We believe it is important that evangelicals in the Church of England with different understandings of Scripture’s teaching and divergent views on women presbyters and bishops should treat each other as evangelicals and Anglicans. The experience of AWESOME and other bodies within evangelicalism shows that differences here need not prevent us working together in the cause of the gospel as brothers and sisters in Christ who are committed evangelicals and Anglicans.

In order to accomplish this we believe more sustained discussions must continue between evangelicals, especially on the practical and pastoral implications of our differences in the life of both the local and the national church. We need to be clearer as to the patterns of evangelical love towards those with whom we disagree and how our views can be held while recognising others as evangelicals seeking faithfully to obey Scripture.

Indeed. But this whole process is threatened by inflammatory actions and blog posts from Reform members – and perhaps by inflammatory reactions like mine from those on the other side!

I found the report through the website of the Church of England Evangelical Council. I see that they are holding elections for their council members, and that nominations close this week. I understand that at least one of the candidates seeking re-election is a prominent and somewhat strident opponent of women leadership in the church. This may be a chance to nominate candidates who take a more conciliatory line. As a member of the Chelmsford Diocesan Evangelical Association I am eligible to nominate or second a candidate – but I will not accept nomination myself.

More on Reform: will they consecrate their own bishops?

Rachel has some interesting things to say about the Reform position on women bishops, including the text of a letter in the Church of England Newspaper (available online only to subscribers). See also John Richardson’s comment and Rachel’s reply.

Rachel also links to a post on the same subject by Peter Carrell, who offers a New Zealand perspective on the discussions.

And then Peter Carrell links back to England, and Cranmer’s Curate who has a post revealing that

Plans involving ‘senior figures’ are now underway to consecrate a group of Conservative Evangelical bishops for the UK.

The Curate (who is actually not a curate but an incumbent, a vicar) implies that this is something to do with the Fellowship of Confessing Anglicans, and Reform is not mentioned. But then if these new bishops are indeed to be “Conservative Evangelical” I can hardly believe that this is not something to do with Reform. Cranmer’s Curate is a member of this conservative evangelical group, and a signatory of their letter to the General Synod. I suppose he has been consulted in advance about their plans – and has broken ranks by revealing them. John Richardson the Ugley Vicar (who is not a vicar but a non-stipendiary curate), another member, has made proposals to Reform along these lines. So maybe the balance of views in Reform is shifting away from the strategy outlined in their letter to the General Synod and towards John’s proposals.

A question for Reform: what is "teaching"?

My post Reform are hypocrites over women teaching has attracted quite a lot of readers (145 directly so far, plus those reading from the main page and from RSS etc feeds) but surprisingly little response. Indeed the only actual comments on the post, apart from my own, are three thoughtful comments from TC Keene, who defends Reform on the charge of hypocrisy without actually agreeing with their position.

Perhaps TC has hit the nail on the head in his latest comment, in which he (in another comment he states that he is male) writes (in part):

Reform supporters will be bemused but possibly contemptuous of the remarks concerning Carrie’s leaflet … For some reason that is opaque to me and is clearly equally opaque to others but seems completely natural to Reform supporters that they never question it, written teaching does not fall under the ban on women teaching men. It has never done and it probably has never occurred to most of them that it should.

I replied (again in part):

if Reform really does teach that “written teaching does not fall under the ban on women teaching men”, then why haven’t they included this point in any of their written teaching? Or perhaps they have – in that case, where is that written teaching? Even if this “seems completely natural to Reform supporters”, they know by now that it doesn’t to others. So where are the Reform people coming out and saying this?

So if it is Reform’s position that only oral teaching is true teaching, where does this idea come from? TC suggests that it has roots in pagan Greek philosophy. Maybe. But I was surprised to find that in the New Testament the words didasko “teach”, didaskalos “teacher”, didache and didaskalia “teaching” etc are almost entirely restricted in their application to spoken teaching. I could find only one place in which any of these words are used of the written teaching of the Old Testament Scriptures, in Romans 15:4, and none where they referred to any other written material. Thus for example in 2 Peter 3 the author avoids these words when talking about both his own previous letter (v.1) and the letters of Paul (vv.15-16).

So perhaps Carrie Sandom could have made an exegetical case that the prohibition on a woman teaching (didasko) in 1 Timothy 2:12 applies only to oral teaching and not to distributing written teaching material. However, in her leaflet The role of women in the local church she makes absolutely no attempt to do so. As a result she leaves herself open to the interpretation I have made of her words, according to the regular English meaning of “teach” which includes written as well as oral teaching. If this is not what she meant, she should have said so. And if she, or someone else from Reform, would now like to clarify to me that this was indeed her meaning, I will withdraw my charge of hypocrisy.

However, if the Reform position is that women are forbidden only to teach orally, then that leads to some interesting issues about where the line should be drawn across which women are not allowed to step. Carrie Sandom teaches that there is no “blanket prohibition on women speaking” in a church context. So they can speak, but not to teach, and they can teach, if they don’t speak what they teach. Does sign language for the deaf count as speaking? Is a woman allowed to be an interpreter for a male teacher? Is she allowed to read out written teaching material? What if she reads out what she has written herself? But that’s what most male preachers do!

The whole thing can easily get ridiculous. I am reminded of how in 1988 Margaret Thatcher tried to deny publicity to Irish republicans by banning broadcast of the voice of their leaders like Gerry Adams. The broadcasters promptly got round it by dubbing the voices of actors over pictures of Adams and others speaking – and the republicans ended up with more publicity rather than less.

I am also reminded of how Jesus mocked the distinctions the Pharisees made between different kinds of oaths (Matthew 5:33-37) and condemned them for straining out gnats while swallowing camels (23:23-24). I’m sure Jesus’ message to Reform would have been similar: he would condemn them for focusing on small matters like exactly what women can do while

you have neglected the more important matters of the law – justice, mercy and faithfulness.

Matthew 23:23 (TNIV)

Reform are hypocrites over women teaching

According to a leaflet The role of women in the local church published by the Anglican conservative evangelical pressure group Reform:

It is not appropriate for a woman to teach or have authority over men (1 Tim 2:11-13) although it is entirely appropriate for a woman to teach and train other women (Titus 2:3-5).

The author of this leaflet: Carrie SandomCarrie Sandom, a member of the Reform council, who when the leaflet was written was “the ‘student’s curate’ at St Andrew’s the Great, Cambridge”, but apparently currently

works at The Bible Talks in Mayfair where she coordinates the women’s ministry. She is also an occasional lecturer at the Cornhill Training course in London.

Yes, “she”, so not a baby-faced young man with a feminine sounding name.

So what is this woman doing writing teaching materials like this leaflet which are distributed to men as well as to women? Do the publishers, Reform, agree with what Carrie wrote, that women should not teach men? If so, why are they allowing Carrie to teach men? That looks very like hypocrisy.

I suppose they could argue that this leaflet was intended only for women to study. But there is nothing in it to indicate that. And this is apparently the leaflet which was reportedly “issued to parishoners”, presumably men as well as women, at the Reform church St Nicholas, Sevenoaks, as I mentioned in a previous post. But see also this comment which clarifies some matters in response to Peter Ould’s post on the same subject – I note that the words “issued to parishoners” (sic) were in the version of the Daily Mail article quoted by Peter Ould but are not in the quite considerably updated version now at the Mail website.

Reform leaders, you need to get your house in order by making sure that, unless it is explicitly addressed only to women, the teaching material you publish is written by men. Or else you need to change your position to the truly biblical one which Peter Ould outlines, and recognise that

There is … neither male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.

Galatians 3:28 (TNIV)