Back in 1975 the Church of England’s General Synod passed the motion, ‘That this Synod considers that there are no fundamental objections to the ordination of women to the priesthood’. Thirty seven years later have we finally reached the point where women bishops become a reality?
On November 20th the Synod are back together again and after all the painful shenanigans back in May and July when they last tried to come to agreement without any success, it feels like a workable solution has finally been reached.
I try to avoid blogging about church politics mainly because it is maddeningly frustrating and quite often leaves me bemused. I did set my thoughts out on this earlier in the year and somehow David Keen at Opinionated Vicar appears to have read my mind on the theology of women bishops including my dislike of some flaky theology surrounding it. However, as a member of the Church of England I can see a light at the end of the very long and winding tunnel and it feels like the time has finally come to sort this seemingly unending conundrum out.
Considering in principle deciding that women should be allowed to become bishops is quite a simple concept, the proposed legislation appears to show that the opposite is the case. I’m not going to pretend that I understand the finer details of it all and I’m certainly not going to try to explain it all here, but if you do want to find out more I would suggest reading this article from the Church Times and also delve into the Church of England women bishops timeline.
As we rapidly head towards the next Synod gathering, there clearly is a groundswell of support for the legislation to pass that I’ve not witnessed before. Significantly the Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams has thrown his full support behind it this time by launching the ‘Enough Waiting’ campaign. In this statement he tries to address and satisfy the legitimate theological concerns some have, whilst calling for a decision to be made. He summarises by saying:
“My hope for next month’s debate is that it will tackle what is really before us, not what it is assumed or even suspected to mean; that it will give us grounds for trusting one another more rather than less; that it will be rooted in a serious theological engagement with what makes for the good of the Church and its mission, a serious attempt to be obedient to God’s leading – and, perhaps most soberingly, that it will not ignore the sense of urgency about resolving this that is felt inside and outside the Church, often with real pain and bewilderment. As a Synod, we are asked to act not only as a legislature but as a body that serves the Kingdom of God and takes a spiritual and pastoral responsibility for its actions. And I know that Synod members, myself among them, will be praying hard about what this entails.”
Rowan Williams has also got a number of bishops and lay people on board to record short videos encouraging the Synod to pass the legislation. The list is here and you can watch Chief Executive of the Church Army, Mark Russell’s message at the end of this article.
Whilst the Archbishop’s Enough waiting campaign is a major step forward, possibly of even more significance is the YES 2 Women Bishops initiative launched by the popular blogger/tweeter The Church Mouse. Mouse writes:
“Yes 2 Women Bishops was born out of discussions on the social media site Twitter, and now has a website which lets church members email their General Synod representatives and urge them to vote YES to women bishops in November.
“Chatting about the issues on Twitter, it was clear that many people wanted to get involved. A few tweets later, and we had a campaign mobilised. I was inundated with offers of support to help get the word out. A few days later and we had engaged hundreds of supporters to spread the word.”
General Synod member Rebecca Swinson has been helping the campaign and commented on the idea behind it, “We don’t want to re-hash the arguments for women bishops, or to debate the merits of the legislation as presented. Those debates have already been had. We want to provide an opportunity for those who have watched the debate and concluded that they want General Synod to pass the legislation to have their voice heard.”
Theologian and social media expert Vicky Beeching said, “This is an example of the social media ‘digital revolution’ in full flow; giving a voice to the people, a sense of standing together, and a direct channel to appeal to the decision makers. Our ‘Web 2.0’ world gives everyone the potential to have a voice. We need ‘Church 2.0’ where all those in the pews get to have a say on important matters. Hopefully, Synod members will listen to what these church members are saying.”
Considering it was only officially launched on Sunday, the word about YES 2 Women Bishops is proving to be a big hit. When I asked the Church Mouse today what sort of response there had been so far, he replied:
“We’ve had a massive response. It has been entirely viral, with the campaign spread purely by social media, and in the first 48 hours of the website going live over 600 people had logged on to make their voice heard.
“We’ve now been backed by the evangelical group Fulcrum and the campaign group WATCH, so interest is picking up even more.”
Once again social media is giving a voice to those who aren’t directly involved in making the decisions and that can only be a good thing in this case. The General Synod vote is still expected to be close despite most dioceses being in favour of the legislation, so if this is something that is of relevance to you, please take a look at the website and take action if appropriate. You can also follow YES 2 Women Bishops on Twitter and Facebook.
And whatever you make of all this, please pray that this whole process honours God and His church. After all, we need to remember that our agendas are only the right ones if they’re God’s agendas too.