Sunday, November 3, 2013

Women against women bishops

In an exercise which is at best well intentioned but misguided sexism, the General Synod approved the election of eight senior female clergy to attend and speak at meetings of the House of Bishops until women can legally become bishops of the Church of England. Given that the vast majority of bishops are in favour of women bishops, it is a curious thing that a group such as the women clergy of the C of E should be given this place, as if they represent "the women of the Church." What a pity if this were to result in the bishops overlooking another very significant group - those women of the Church who are theologically opposed to the ordination of women as priests and bishops. Indeed, the question arises, who represents THEM at meetings of the House of Bishops?

Of course it is easy - and a cheap shot - to accuse men who oppose the ordination of women of being sexist and mysoginist. So it is pleasing that every now and then the media notice that there is also strong opposition among the women of the Church - and younger women at that. For example, the following article by Riazat Butt appeared in The Guardian on Monday 27 February 2012. Go HERE for the original . . . the comments, too, are worth reading (though they're not for the faint hearted!). 

The women who oppose female bishops 
Among those who are still unhappy with the idea of women at top of the Anglican church are a number who are women themselves. What's their case?

Emma Forward: 'We represent thousands in the Church across the country'. 
Photograph: Jim Wileman

The Church of England is, in its own confounding and impenetrable way, preparing to welcome women as bishops. At the meeting of its general assembly earlier this month there was much debate about what should be done for Anglicans who do not accept female clergy ahead of a vote this summer. Among these traditionalists are several women.

One of them is Emma Forward, a teacher in her 20s who was elected to the Church of England's lawmaking body at 21, making her the youngest of its 485 members. One of almost 9,000 women who signed a petition in 2008 objecting to the ordination of women as bishops, she says many other female members of Synod share her views.

"We represent thousands in the Church across the country. I think that women who oppose haven't been in the spotlight as we are from ordinary walks of life who aren't known to the media. Perhaps some press coverage finds it easier to portray this as a male versus female issue, and we complicate the issue for those who only see it in those terms."

Traditionalists such as Forward want to serve under a male bishop because they believe the Church of England has no right to introduce women bishops. They may not have a majority, certainly not expected to be enough to stop the legislation to allow women bishops getting final approval in July, but they cite Jesus's choice of only male apostles and the fact that other, major Christian denominations have not introduced female clergy as evidence to support their beliefs.

It is perhaps unthinkable that women should oppose the progress, or even presence, of women in any walk of life. "It always makes my heart sink when a woman speaks out against women bishops," says Christina Rees, a forthright and formidable Anglican who has been campaigning for equality in the Church of England since the 1980s. "The impression I often have of these women is that they are highly intelligent and in positions of authority in their own profession. A lot of them show signs of leadership but it feels wrong to them to have female priests. If they had been formed in a different church tradition they themselves would be ordained or they would be in a position of leadership in their own church."

Anglican opponents have had to come to terms with the fact that there have been female clergy in the Church of England since 1992. It is the leadership they opposed and several such as Forward are trying to obtain alternative male-only structures that will "protect" them from women bishops.

"I have come to terms with the fact that there are women priests in the Church of England," says Forward. "I've grown up with that. As an adult looking at the issue of ordained women I came at it with no preconceptions. You'd imagine I'd come from an extreme family or some kind of odd sect, it's simply not the case."

When asked if she thinks she is sexist, she replies: "I don't think I can be. To use terms like sexist or misogynist is reducing a complex theological matter to terms of hatred and negative feelings."

While Forward has chosen, as a parishioner, to avoid female clergy it is is difficult for her to avoid them altogether. At Synod, whether in London or York, what happens when their paths cross, during tea breaks and toilet breaks, for instance? "We'll meet and we'll talk as women do, woman to woman … about tights. I feel there are some women priests whom I've really admired and find them really generous in the kind of friendship they've offered. Neither of us know necessarily what to say."

Christina, for all her years of campaigning on the issue, doesn't think women who oppose women are sexist either. "I think their understanding of theology is flawed. I think it's too simplistic to call them sexist. They are not misogynist, they do not despise women. I try to address their views and leave their gender out of it. Otherwise you subject them to greater scrutiny than you would a man."

Another woman who believes in the stained-glass ceiling is Lindsay Newcombe, a 30-year-old technical specialist in orthopaedics for the British Standards Institute. The mother of one, who has a PhD in mechanical engineering, says the Church of England was wrong to begin ordaining women.

"The C of E does not have the authority to make that change, the C of E is just one small part of the worldwide church. If this was the will of God, the rest of the church would have to have agreed and gone ahead together."

"A priest represents people to God, he also represents God to the people and a male priesthood is a gift that helps us to understand God. Having a woman in that role makes it just that little bit harder to have that relationship."

She compares the situation to having a woman playing a man's role on stage. "They have to work that bit harder to be convincing."

Newcombe knows her views will perplex, maybe anger, some people. "On the face of it my views are counter-cultural to the spirit of our time and equal opportunity and equality. I believe men and women should have the same opportunities in life. But this is a church matter. Opposition to women in the priesthood used to be the majority view. I don't think we're such a small minority. It is a normal traditional Anglican belief to hold. Why is it that something that wasn't true 50 years ago is true now?"


Anonymous said...

Alice Linsley has left a new comment on your post "Women against women bishops":

God bless you, Emma Forward!

Anglicans have no authority to corrupt the pattern of received tradition. It is a matter of spiritual pride to think we know how to improve on the pattern. Instead we cause confusion because we are dealing with matters that are very deep of of which we have little understanding.

Posted by Alice Linsley to Streams of the River at November 03, 2013 11:41 PM

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