Because I am a political junkie, and can’t leave well enough alone, I listened to the audio feed of the debate in the Church of England’s General Synod today as they debated (again) whether to introduce the appointment of female bishops at this time. I did this in July when they met as well.
And each time they go through it the same way– well meaning, good hearted, faithful Christians stand up and say, “We can’t do this yet, it will split the church, it will drive out people who can’t, in good conscience, accept the ministry of women.” Some stand and argue that women aren’t called to Christian leadership. Many others stand and argue for equality, that Jesus calls us all, that in Christ there is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, etc, but, in my lifetime, in the Church of England, as of today, women cannot be appointed to the episcopate. The measure failed again today in the lay order by 4 votes.
Now, in my church, in my lifetime, women have always been priests, and women have always been bishops, thanks be to God. This hasn’t always been accepted everywhere in the church, but in the annals of The Episcopal Church, this has been what we told ourselves we were doing, since 1979. In every parish I attended growing up, there was a female priest somewhere, and so, I was blessed to always believe that this avenue was open to me. Why in the world wouldn’t it be?
So, naively, I think, some part of me was surprised when the measure failed today. Are we really so far apart as Anglicans that we’re still talking about this? Should binders full of women be distributed to the Church of England to facilitate the episcopal search process? Can’t we just assume that everyone believes in gender equality, and call it good, because we should have gotten at least that far in, say, 1982? Didn’t you people elect Margaret Thatcher?!?!?****
But perhaps I am approaching this debate the wrong way. Maybe we all have. I’ve been assuming that the humanist principle of equality is the way to argue this. Clearly, it hasn’t gotten us the result of gender equality in the church. So behold: let us try a new thing.
Please– Please show me the place in the gospel where Jesus and the disciples are staying with Mary and Martha, and Jesus sends Mary away, because he only wants men to learn from him, and this woman is being really inappropriate with all the sitting and listening and disciple-like behavior. Guide me towards the spot where Jesus firmly declines the money from the women who supported him and his ministry, because that’s man’s work! Kindly point to the verse where Jesus, from the cross, tells the women waiting and suffering with him, to hit the road, because, after all, he never had any female disciples and he was worried about their emotional nature. Point to the place in each of the four gospels where Mary Magdalene is told by the angel that Christ is risen, and to go tell the disciples, but hey, you better take a man with you, because they may not receive your testimony, and we can’t make them uncomfortable.
Most of all, kindly point me to the caveat or asterisk in my baptism that dares place a limit on what wonderful, mysterious, exciting dream God has for me.
Up until you can do any of that, then you do not get to tell me that gender is any sort of disqualifier.
****I now have my NT professor voice in my head reminding me that Margaret Thatcher’s election was about as much progress for feminism as was Sarah Palin’s VP nomination. So let’s take that last one with a grain of salt.