I have to confess to a certain ornery kind of pleasure in the vote of the General Synod against women bishops. Here’s why:
I don’t really give two hoots whether the Church of England has women bishops or not. In fact, if it were up to me and me alone and only my opinion I’d give the women ministers the benefit of the doubt and certainly, now that they have women ministers it seems silly and inconsistent and unkind to the existing women ministers to deny them the final step and thwart their ambitions to high office. I’d give them the pass and say, “You go girl.”
The reason I’m delighted about the vote is that it has overturned the entire system. Here’s what I mean: the whole idea of General Synod was a liberal invention in the first place. It was supposed to give a voice to the people. It was supposed to bring a democratic method of governance to the fusty old hierarchical Church of England. It was supposed to be a counter balance to a Church of England hierarchy dominated by aristocratic bishop types.
The crusty old establishment types got all modern and democratic and consultative and “listened to the voice of the people” but the people didn’t actually do as they were supposed to do. Didn’t they know they were supposed to listen to voice of the clergy and the bishops like faithful sheep and vote the right way? The Church of England bishops have spent the last six months bullying the members of General Synod with a syrupy and soupy set of videos in which the Bishops emote on cue to camera saying, “I have thought and prayed long and hard about his, and at last the time of waiting is over and I really think the time has come for you to vote for women bishops.”
Instead the laity said, “Nah. Fanks very much bish, but we ain’t goin’ along wiv it.” This tickles me pink because the establishment types–so keen to have a democratic process have been frustrated by the very process they thought was going to bring in all the radical changes they wanted. The democratic process was supposed to bring in more democratic stuff like equality for women and then gay marriage and all that, but the democratic process didn’t work–and neither did the episcopal bullying.
The other reason the vote is rather pleasing is that I believe it was overturned mostly not by the Anglo Catholics–who are pretty much a spent force–but by the conservative Evangelicals. You have to have lived within the Church of England to realize just how much the conservative Evangelicals are despised by the establishment. “They’re so lower class with their enthusiastic happy clappy worship, their tendency to fundamentalism and their grinning vicars with bucked teeth!” You can just hear the upper class English snoots saying, “Don’t you know they’re just so dreadful with their women in calf length floral print skirts and bad hair dos, their summer Bible camps and their earnest Bible studies…”
And yet, in one interview I saw a very nice Evangelical lady who was a member of General Synod was treated aggressively by a TV interviewer who said, “Are you happy now that you’ve held the entire Church of England to ransom??” The nice Evangelical lady replied very sweetly and smiled and said, “I don’t think we held anyone to ransom. You see, we are the growing part of the Church of England, and our voices deserve to be heard.”
She might have added, “We are not old fashioned duds and dinosaurs. Our churches are full. Are yours? Not only are our churches full, but they are full of young people. Are yours? We contribute the majority of the running costs of many of the dioceses. Most of the seminarians are Evangelical. Our theological colleges are full. Are yours?” She might also have added, “Furthermore, our part of the church is the part of the church which is growing around the world. There are more Evangelical Anglicans in Nigeria, for example, than in all of the UK, Canada and the USA combined.”
Everybody likes an underdog, and the fact that these sincere Bible believing Anglicans stuck to their guns and sank the big liberal establishment ship and annoyed virtually everybody in England makes me grin.
The fact that the smug establishment liberals with their self righteous assumption that they’re not only right, but everyone knows they’re right have had their canoe turned over is rather pleasing.
What tickles me even more is that they are all turning up with glum faces saying, “We are deeply saddened….” which is liberal code for “We are really, really pissed.”
The other thing which I can’t help being pleased about is that the whole Anglican authority structure has been shown for what it is–a completely incoherent mess. People talk of the guidance of the Holy Spirit and how the Holy Spirit will guide the church. But how does that happen? Has anyone in the Anglican Church thought it through? Did you think the Holy Spirit would guide you through an elected body? How does that work?
So after forty years of debating the question of the ordination of women the Holy Spirit finally guided you to make a choice to have women priests–something which the Holy Spirit had never guided any Christians to do for the first 2000 years. Then 20 years later when it’s time to seek the Holy Spirit’s guidance about women bishops the Holy Spirit changed his mind? First he was for women priests now he’s not so sure?
This is why the system is so ridiculous. Do you think any of the liberals in the Church of England are sitting at home right now saying, “Well, goodness me, it seems the Holy Spirit is directing the church NOT to have women bishops after all! I guess we got it wrong. Furthermore, if we’re not to have women bishops, maybe we should not have women priests either! Thank the Lord for the wonderful General Synod through whom, in a wonderfully mysterious way the Holy Spirit has directed us.”?
I don’t think so.
They’re gathered around their kitchen tables tonight venting about the few fundamentalists who dared to rock the boat. They’re busy planning how they can overturn their own General Synod rules and cheat the system. They’re planning the campaign for the next five years and how they’ll win the vote next time. They’re planning how to get Parliament to side with them and make a rule to have women bishops anyway.
Had they won, however, it would have been all roses and smiles and “Isn’t the Lord good to have guided the General Synod so wisely to vote for women bishops.”
Finally, I remember how, when the whole debate started the people who were for women priests were the “brave pioneers” they were the “few courageous prophetic voices” calling the church to change. They claimed the moral high ground because they were the minority–the persecuted minority. They had to be right because they were the few, the faithful few. Now they are the establishment and they’ve been turned upside down by a seeming minority they’re not so sure about all that “few the faithful few” garbage. When they were in the minority they were the “brave pioneers” but this minority are, of course, hidebound, stubborn conservatives.
General wisdom is that the whole thing will go through five years from now, but what if these few laity are not a dying breed, but the first wave of a new kind of Anglican? What if, in fact, the liberal surge is over and the conservative Evangelicals continue to grow in the Church of England and continue to make their voices heard? What if this new group of “brave pioneers” are to become the new establishment?
That prospect would really put the wind up the aging trendies.
Sorry for spilling my guts, but I thought you might like to know how I really feel…