Tuesday, July 8, 2008


The Church of England has agreed that the majority of its legislative body wants women bishops, and that it will make plans for how to introduce women bishops to the Church of England. It's a major step forward for women in the Church of England. But it is only one step, and a shaky one at that.

I am a fan of the Book of Revelation thanks to Dr. Sue Garrett at Louisville Seminary. She taught us to see the hope and promise of God's victory through the strange imagery of the book's author. There are many parts that I prefer to ignore - because I think they are about human beings' longing for revenge rather than God's mercy - but then it sings of God's grace and welcome of all, not just the tribes of Israel, but all the nations as they come streaming into the Reign of God in numbers too great to count. It is a message entirely consistent with the witness of all the rest of Scripture.

Revelation is also about judgment, though, and in the message to the seventh church, Laodicea, the author is told by God to write: "I know your works; you are neither cold nor hot. I wish that you were either cold or hot. So, because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I am about to spit you out of my mouth." (Rev. 3:15-16, NRSV)

The message continues about being rich and despising the poor. It's worth looking up. But this part about being neither hot nor cold came to me today.

The Church of England has allowed the ordination of women to the priesthood for about 15 years. I was in college when it happened. Jim Wallis, of Sojourners, was the person who told me the news, at breakfast before a lecture he gave at Austin College. At that time the Church of England decided either that the church wasn't ready to also accept women bishops, or that somehow the episcopate was so dramatically different from priesthood that while women were acceptable as priests, they simply could not be bishops. (The outstanding women bishops of the Episcopal Church have proven that that is not the case.)

Now, the majority of the bishops, other clergy, and lay people of the Church of England's governing body think that women bishops are okay on principal. But there is so much anger and resistance that they can't just make women bishops, they have to first form a committee that will write a report for another committee that will make recommendations that will be given back to the legislative bodies who will amend and approve or deny the recommendations which will or will not be implemented by whoever it is that appoints bishops in the Church of England. Reports say it will be 2014 before the first woman bishop is consecrated.

Does this sound ridiculous to anyone else?!

The fear, malevolence, and vitriol about women coming out of the Church of England is disturbing, to say the least. If anyone has any doubt about the strength of patriarchy, this should make clear that it is alive and well. Clergy are threatening to leave the church in droves, bishops are having secret meetings to figure out how to get recognized by the Roman Catholic church (which does not consider ANY Anglican ordination valid), and men with wives, mothers, sisters, daughters, aunts, nieces, friends, are acting as if women are some kind of plague, as if Jesus condemned women, and as if Paul were a 21st century Messiah. IT IS CRAZY.

Jesus was never unkind to a woman. Never. He always took the woman's side, he always brought her deeper into his circle, including the circle of apostles (Mary Madgalene was the first to announce his Resurrection!) Paul was a radical progressive in his day. He said wives were as worthy of respect as their husbands, women were leaders in the churches he established. In the first century that was remarkable; a more significant step than deciding to make a plan for how to make women bishops.

It is time for the Church to do its job. To speak for justice. To speak radical community. To stop being neither hot nor cold. Making compromises which allow women-hating people (men and women) to continue to lead the church is wrong. To act as if denying the full humanity of women is appropriate theological discourse is wrong.

Reading the rhetoric of those opposed to women bishops in the Church of England affirms and clarifies the fact that the issues of human sexuality that we've been talking about are deeply rooted in patriarchy and rejection of women's leadership, as well as that of anyone else who doesn't fit the social construct of masculinity.

I'm glad that the Church of England has at least taken this shaky step forward. I hope, though, that they and all of us, will find the courage to make it a definitive step in the direction of God's radical love revealed in Scripture and the work of the Holy Spirit in the world.

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