The Church of England has just defeated, by a very narrow vote, a proposal to allow women to become bishops. The measure needed two-thirds of the vote in each of the houses: the House of Bishops, the House of Clergy, and the House of Laity. It passed the first two, but lacked 6 votes (or five, according to one source) in the House of Laity. Now my friends in England are too, too outraged. They hope the State will impose fairness on a body which cannot seem to achieve it on her own. They feel stunned, they feel almost physically sick, they are ashamed, they say, to be laypeople in the Church of England.
Now all of this I can understand, but ladies (and gentlemen) of the UK, take a deep breath.
The first thing we all need to remember is that it is virtually certain you will have women bishops in the not-so-distant future, just as Episcopalians here in the U.S. have. You’ve waited 2,000 years; what’s five more? I doubt it will take even that long, but whatever the duration, it gives you time to pause and look at the whole complex of issues from a different perspective, so it’s a blessing in disguise, if one lets it be.
Ask yourselves, with all brutal honesty and seriousness, what do you want to be bishops for? I mean, what do you want to be bishops for? And to this question there’s really only one Christian answer, isn’t there? “To love and serve the Christian people.” But of course you can already do this! You can comfort the bereaved, visit the sick and imprisoned, clothe the naked, feed the hungry, counsel the perplexed, instruct the ignorant, proclaim the Gospel, etc., etc., etc. You do not need to be a bishop to do these things; you don’t even need to be a priest. Why let hot tears of indignation distract you from the work at hand? Just do it. Exercise whatever gifts God has already given you.
Ah, but there’s more to it that this, isn’t there? God has given some of you, you tell me, gifts of leadership, which the Church of England isn’t letting you fully use. In effect, you’re telling me your church has been at odds with God from the beginning. And after 2,000 years, you are trying to correct that.
Among the Orthodox Christians here in Richmond, among the Greek ones at least, our spiritual leader is an elderly woman named Adamantia. She’s the one people go to when they need personal advice, when they are wrestling with a church teaching or a spiritual issue such as forgiving others or dealing with bereavement. You already know the Orthodox do not ordain women, so obviously Adamantia holds no church office. So how did she get to be so influential? Is she rich? Is she beautiful? Is she highly educated? Is she the sort who just naturally takes command? No, no, no, and no. Her one and only qualification is that she is Christ with skin on. In her flesh, one readily sees Christ moving and breathing and acting. In her, you encounter His own compassion, kindness, love, humility, wisdom. And that qualification is the greatest, the highest, the all-sufficient. That is what makes this woman our spiritual leader.
Adamantia doesn’t get to be center stage in worship, but she does get to do far more important things. Like praying. And the highest function of all that we mere mortals can perform within the Divine Liturgy, namely to receive the Body and Blood of Christ, she gets to do right along with the rest of us, ordained or lay. (Yes, consecrating the bread and wine is indeed an even higher function, but the priest doesn’t do that; the Holy Spirit does.)
In this same way, you, too, can exercise whatever gifts of leadership God has given you. But being a genuine Christian leader is much harder than merely being made a priest or a bishop; it involves being re-fashioned into Christ. You really don’t want to take the cheap way out, do you?
But I fear all this is still missing your point. There appears to be yet more involved with this highly-charged issue. And it has to do with fairness and rights and equality, and even with how the wider society will regard the Church of England if she is so backward in these things. Is that it, or part of it?
The issue of the wider society is obviously a pressing one, given the hemorrhaging of membership you’ve been experiencing. You desperately need to attract new members. But do be careful! Satan is very subtle, and here is just where he sets his traps for you. There are at least two of them.
One is, you must never be motivated by your church’s needs. God will provide for His Church. God will “grow” His Church. (And if He does not, then one must seriously question whether this church really is His or whether He is deliberately letting her die.) Christians are to leave God’s job to God and let themselves be motivated always and only by love — love unmixed with other motivations, ideally.
The second trap is the temptation to conform to the values of this world. That’s actually the opposite of the Church’s mission to help the wider society conform more nearly to Christ.
What’s worse, and I’m not sure I know yet how to explain why this is so, this temptation to adopt the values of the pagan society around you is, in a terrible irony, the very thing killing the C of E. I stand by distressed to see the C of E committing ecclesiastical suicide and not perceiving that suicide’s exactly what it is.
So to tie the issue of women bishops to the opinions of the secular society is a mistake. Our only legitimate concern is what Christ thinks of the Church, not what anyone else does. Whether Christ calls women to be priests and bishops is a legitimate question, but whether society approves is not…
Complete post here.