A long time ago during the process of a job application I was required to take a fatuous psychometric test of very dubious value. One of the questions that stuck in my mind was “which would you rather be, a landscape gardener or a bishop?”. Given that I have a tendency to kill plants as soon as I even look at them, that I can’t bear getting dirt under my fingernails and I hate being stung and scratched, a bishop seemed like the most obvious answer. You get to wear a pointy hat and purple has always been my favourite colour. Twas a no-brainer really!
Of course, being a woman, at the time I took the test, being a bishop was not a career option that was ever open to me, (nor indeed any non-Christians, hence the inanity of the question) but it looks as if that is all due to change over the course of the weekend.
I personally am very sad about developments, and not simply because it seems likely that women are to become bishops. What saddens me is that the Church of England, which previously had a reputation for it’s liberalness, for its open-mindedness, for being a broad Church, is displaying exactly the same kind of intolerance towards opponents of women bishops, which it is professed to fight.
This is not a question of misogyny or intolerance. The opposition to women priests and bishops is not based on fear, intolerance or a sense of male superiority. The Bible is extremely clear on the equality between man and woman,”God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him, male and female he created them.” (Genesis 1:27) Mankind is created in God’s image, both male and female. Those who are opposed to women priests and bishops base their opposition on theological grounds.
Though, personally, I have absolutely no doubts about whether or not a woman could adequately perform the priestly ministerial duties, we need only look at the complete mess that the English Bishops have made of the Papal Visit (couldn’t be trusted to book the parish hall for quiz night) to realise that their priestly orders haven’t exactly imbued them with admin skills. In fact, whilst I’m on the subject, most priests I know seem to be a little *ahem* lacking in this area, although to be fair, I don’t remember Jesus saying anything about paperwork when He was giving out the sacraments! This is not about doubting women’s ability to perform the role, but what needs to be remembered is that no-one, male or female has the “right” to be a priest or bishop. It is not like a job application with all the ensuing and necessary equality legislation. It is a sacrament, and no one has a title to grace. It is an unmerited gift from Christ.
This may strike some as unfair, if this is a gift reserved for men, but God has given women other gifts that he has not given to men. For example, women bring the body of Christ (souls) into the world one birth at a time. Men do not have this privilege. Priests bring the body of Christ (Eucharist) into the world one Mass at a time—a gift reserved to them, acting in the person of Christ.
The problem comes for the Church of England in that if despite the best of intentions, women do not hold valid orders and are not in fact priests, this then has ramifications for the future of the Church of England, in that there is doubt as to whether those ordained by women bishops, do in fact hold valid, sacramental orders.
I cannot help but believe that it is wrong for traditionalists not to have any compromise afforded to them, and to be forced to accept the jurisdiction of someone whom they do not believe to be in possession of sacramental orders. This is not about female repression or subjugation. This is not about inequality. Actually the inequality comes from the liberals themselves who are refusing to let the traditionalists keep to their position. It seems to me that the Church of England is saying “there is room for everyone’s views, except yours”. The liberals screaming that they have won and that there can be no room for catholics to be able to keep their integrity intact, that they need to be forced to accept women in the episcopate, is highly unedifying. I hope that some compromise may be reached, not least for the sake of Christian Unity. Whatever happens it is a sad and momentous weekend.
Back to the original question, I guess I would have to accept the landscape gardening position. At least I’d get to sit on one of those fun ride-on mowers!