MND Musings - formerly Diary of a Donkeybody - This is a record of a chronic illness, Primary Lateral Sclerosis, a Motor Neurone disorder, like a slow MND / ALS. My body may not be very cooperative; in fact it's become as stubborn as a donkey, but I've found a dancing joy nonetheless.
The Church of God usually deals with a rather long
time-frame. Last week the Church of England met the temporality of politics in
which "a week is a long time", including a number of politicians
pontificating (an activity usually reserved for popes) about its affairs and
issuing thinly veiled threats against it in view of its recent inexplicable
entry into madness, as its failure to agree about women bishops was regarded.
Even the Prime Minister upbraided it to get "with the programme" -
though I wonder whether he had actually read, let alone understood,
the Draft Bishops and Priests (Consecration and Ordination of Women)
Measure [item 501] - or if 99% of the MPs had for that matter. (I'm sure he'd
have approved to the reference to civil partners in it, if he had.) It must be
frustrating for governments, once they have devolved powers to a body, to find
them being used in an uncongenial way. But, as the saying goes, as you make
your bed, so you must lie on it.
there you go. The media, including the blogosphere, have had a field day. Even
my small last piece had an extraordinary circulation, which I am at a bit of a
loss to account for. It seems it may have provided first aid for some of the
women, not least priests, who were reeling from the blow that Tuesday had
inflicted. It was, I must say, a long week for me, and though I longed to move
on I kept chewing the matter and the debate over. This post might, I think, be
an attempt to find some sort of resolution in my own mind, so that tomorrow I
can back to business as normal.
was surprised to find that my disappointment over the vote was not shared by
everyone. I think at least one of our local clergy thought the measure was not
sufficiently clearly defined, and therefore didn't offer enough protection for
conscientious objectors. Perhaps if the Code of Practice which every diocesan
bishop would have been required to draw up to “respect” the sincere requests of
parishes and vicars who found themselves unable to accept the ministry of a
woman bishop had been clarified beforehand (or at least the minimum
requirements of a code) rather than the simple obligation to have a code, some
of the fears might have been allayed. My listening to the debate, however,
revealed that a lot of the argument was about the principle (or doctrine) of
women in church leadership, which had already been agreed upon, rather than about the practicality of safeguarding
the "traditionalists". I do understand that in fact producing specific
safeguards is easier proposed than achieved. A previous attempt was felt to
create second-class female bishops.
of my reflections was regret that we would have been even further out of step
with the most ancient churches, like the Roman Catholic and the Orthodox Churches,
who of course have only male priests. One of the clearest demands Jesus made of
his followers was that they should be "one", i.e. unified; and one of
the scandalous results of either outcome would be to deepen divisions in what
likes to be regarded as the Christian Church. Of course, it may be too that those who long for another Council to continue Vatican 2's work may in time be rewarded and the Catholic Church may change.
A friendly theologian came to lunch on Saturday and I
blithely expected him to confirm my half-baked impressions. Sadly he was more
cautious about my interpretations of the evidence! He pointed out that actually
there's a lot about submitting in the New Testament, such as submitting to the
authorities, children submitting to parents, wives to their husbands -
"and each submitting to the other," I pointed out.
"Indeed," he agreed urbanely! - and even the Son submitting to his
Father. There was, he reckoned, a structure of authority within Creation,
reflecting the Trinity. I may not have got it exactly right, as by now my
carefully constructed universe was rocking! Reflecting on it later, it occurred
to me that there's an essential difference between voluntary submission and
institutionalised submission. There's a world of difference between saying,
"Choose to submit yourselves..." and "You have to
submit...". In fact, submission is of its very nature a voluntary
attitude. And to be blunt, it seems to me to be a precarious business
to argue from the nature of the Trinity, which to me at least it is an
also took me to task over the meaning of the word, head (kephalé), the part of
the anatomy, when I argued that we overlay it with meanings of superiority,
such as head honcho, head teacher, head man. The Bible, said I, places the will
and the centre of motivation lower down the body than the head.
"Hmm," he said sceptically. And Jane told me to smile and stop giving him indigestion!
I reflected, "What has all that to do with leadership in the Church?"
After all, doesn't the Church have a very different view of authority, although
you might not think it with all the medieval paraphernalia of power, from
chunky rings and princely robes to "enthronement"? How I long, by the
way, for a bishop to say, "It shall not be so with me. I know it will at
first be a shock to you, but I am not going to go in procession with my
outriders"! Our model of authority is Christ, the slave on his knees serving, not
lauding it. And don't we see women exercising the spiritual and natural gifts,
including leadership, throughout the New Testament church, including
apostleship and eldership? In fact, it seems to me we make these terms too
technical and too restricted. After all, they are trying to describe functions
in a new sort of body which has never existed before with the limited palette
of the language of a patriarchal society. This is the new Temple. "This is
what is happening, some hosting, some prophesying, some teaching, some leading,
some healing etc etc." All these are empowered by one and the same
Spirit, who apportions to each one individually as he wills. And it
may be, may it not, that he empowers a woman with oversight (episkopé)?
struck me that he was quite Elizabethan in his emphasis on the importance of
hierarchical stability - but then so was my revered Shakespeare. The
enormity of Macbeth's crime is that he has murdered the King.
now hath made his masterpiece!
sacrilegious murder hath broke ope
Lord's anointed temple, and stole thence
life o' the building!" It is a return to chaos (confusion) or anarchy. And
that is most to be feared. Yet it also occurs to me that the great conservative
evangelical of the 17th century, another of my great Englishmen, who uttered
one of my all-time favourite sayings, "I beseech you in the bowels of
Christ: Think it possible you may be mistaken", was not afraid to
contemplate the unthinkable for the sake of justice. We may think history
proved him mistaken, but actually parliamentary democracy owes Oliver Cromwell a great
St Mary Magdalene Church, Bruges
give him his due, I’ve painted our divergence in rather starker terms
than he would recognise. I don’t think he’d be troubled by women bishops…. But
I think he didn’t want me to write off those with different views from mine
too dismissively. It’s possible that he (or I) may be mistaken – but, of course, I'm still sure I’m right! I return to the radical nature of Jesus' mission. In Tom
Wright's words, "The resurrection of Jesus is the only Christian guide to
the question of where history is going. Unlike the ambiguous 'progress' of the
Enlightenment, it is full of promise — especially the promise of transformed
gender roles.... The promise of new creation, symbolised by the role of Mary
Magdalene in the Easter stories, is the reality."
then I went to church on Sunday morning and, I assume, joined with tens of thousands of
others in confessing,
of our Lord Jesus Christ,
confess that we have sinned in thought, word and deed.
have not loved you with our whole heart.
have not loved our neighbours as ourselves.
your mercy, forgive what we have been,
us to amend what we are, and direct what we shall be;
we may do justly, love mercy,
walk humbly with you, our God,”
seemed very apt in the light of the previous week's emotions.
was time before lunch to watch BBC's The Big Questions with Nicky Campbell -
which I confess to not having watched right through before. It happened to be
on... Women Bishops. (How grateful the BBC must have been to have a home news
story which took the spotlight off itself!) I'm not sure how many of the
participants in the debate were in a state of grace at the beginning, but it
didn't take a minute for the gloves to come off in one corner at least.
friend Sally Hitchiner was in one of the front rows and was admirably
restrained, even when invited to speak. Like me she was very disappointed by
the vote, and she was hurt by some of the
other participants' doubting of her priesthood. I have to say in terms of graciousness the antis (i.e. anti
the measure) won the debate. I understand how hurt the pros were. But, as Sally
demonstrated, you didn't need to be full of bile and insult to make your point.
You didn't, Rev Pitcher, have to go red and wag your finger at those who
disagreed with you. It wasn't necessary to tell the rather nice, articulate Zoe Ham that she
was a misogynist. She clearly wasn't. As for the Speaker's Chaplain slagging
off the other side as Biblically illiterate, that was simply rude and untrue.
If I'd been a disinterested spectator, the fury of the pro-women troika on that
side of the studio would have had two effects: one, to make me doubt the validity
of their argument; and two, to put me off the Christian message of love. It was
Marshall McLuhan who said, "The medium is the message." If you appear
to hate your fellow-Christians who differ from you, what's your good news mean?
It will, I thought, take a more skilled mediator than Peter Hitchens to bring
this issue to a satisfactory resolution. Fortunately, in Justin Welby we have
just such a man, perhaps with Sally Hitchiner to advise him!
It will too take all his leadership skills to repair the
damage, not to the Church's image - because that doesn't matter -, but to its
witness to both the love and the justice of God. It would be worse than
sad if Parliament took it into its muddled head to tell the Church - or any
other faith group - how to organise its affairs. It is equally sad that, as it stands, the Church's prophetic voice has been compromised by not having its own house
trust and pray that the issue will be visited again soon and an arrangement
which accommodates all consciences is arrived at. I hope we will stop labelling each other and be one. Maybe something better will
emerge from all this travail. Impossible? Well, it won't be long before we
hear again the familiar story of ultimate encouragement, which starts with a faithful
unassuming woman and includes the statement, "For nothing will be
impossible with God," and includes Mary's great song of faith and freedom, the
BBC The Nativity
mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation.
has shown strength with his arm;
has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts;
has brought down the mighty from their thrones
exalted those of humble estate;
has filled the hungry with good things,
the rich he has sent away empty."
– or do I mean Ah... men :-( ? Sisters, don't lose hope.