Sorry, but I’m not giving my personal opinion here. The aim of this is not to polarize, but to open up a conversation.
There is something deeply hypocritical about allowing female priests and not allowing female bishops. I’m not necessarily saying that one should have female priests, but, if one has them, one is going to have to extend that theological decision up the hierarchy. (Of course, the problem people have with this is that those who object to female leadership would actually have to be in submission to a female bishop, but that is to do with holding the Church together, not to do with theology – the two shouldn’t be confused. There is no theological reason, it seems, to have female priests and not female bishops.)
A depressing number of the comments I’ve heard about women in leadership have been along the lines of ‘the Church is remaining culturally irrelevant/stagnant’ and ‘how can people relate to the Church now?’. Frankly, I couldn’t care less how ‘culturally relevant’ the Church’s theology is, and neither should you. That isn’t to say that having women bishops is wrong – but arguing that it is right from a secular, cultural perspective is massively missing the point. If we want female bishops, we should want them because they are right in God’s eyes, not the BBC’s. Talk to me about Paul’s theology and how we interpret it, not about the Church losing its grip on English society. The Church at its best has always been counter-cultural. (Of course, by the same token, just because something is counter-cultural, it doesn’t make it right. We should constantly be seeking to assess whether church tradition is in line with God’s will.)
Progressive women – why do you want to become bishops? What is your reasoning? This is really important. If it is because of your conviction theologically, let’s talk about that. But – again – I don’t think ‘feminism’ and ‘equality’ (worldly reasons) on their own are good enough on this one. Where is the humility and servant-heartedness and loving one’s weaker brother that should frame the Church?
Conservatives of all kinds – would you split the Church over this? Where is your sense of perspective? We should be outraged at hideous injustices, at poverty, at the lack of compassion in the Church itself – that credits outrage. Does the question of women in leadership really fall into the same category? Challenge yourself – is this a form of self-righteousness or superiority? Why does it bother you so much?
All of you – please, please, please be nice when you talk about this. I don’t care how wrong you think the person next to you in the pew is, you’re stuck with them for eternity – and their opinion on women in leadership isn’t (as much as you might want it to) going to exclude them from heaven. Start liking each other now, because forever is a really long time. Enough petty infighting, enough ‘walking out’ on women speakers, enough tearing men down as ‘sexist pigs’ when they disagree with you. Enough. Let’s talk to each other with respect. Please, for the love of God.
This article is part of a special series commissioned by guest editor Claire Rush to celebrate and remember International Women’s Day on 8 March.