Today: Tuesday, December 10, 2019

Obstacles to faith: women bishops    (7/21/2013 )

The question of whether or not women should be able to become bishops in the Church of England (and other part of the Anglican Communion) has been a source of irritation for Christians and non-Christians alike for some time. Some are angered because of the apparent lack of gender equality; some because they believe women should not be priests, let alone bishops. Many are irritated because it seems that the church does nothing but argue and can’t make a decision! 

This week, as we continue looking at what some people see as obstacles to Christian faith, we consider the issue of women bishops. As always in this series, we’re explaining some perspectives, rather than taking a position. 

Why shouldn’t women be bishops?

  • “Some Bible passages say women should not be put in positions of leadership over men (largely the writings of St Paul, eg 1 Timothy 2:12 - I do not permit a woman to teach or to assume authority over a man; she must be quiet”)
  • “Ordaining women (even as priests) prevents unity with the Roman Catholic church, which only has male priests”.
Why should they be bishops?

  • “Society has changed since St Paul’s day and is no longer patriarchal”
  • "St Paul should not be the only or last word on the subject"
  • “All are equal in God’s sight”
  • “Women can already be priests, so why not bishops?”
  • “Women make up a growing third of the Anglican clergy in England — so it makes no sense to limit their progression”.
Why has this argument been going on so long?
20 years may seem a long time, but it’s not very long in the history of the church! One must be a priest before one can be a bishop, and women only began being ordained as priests in 1994.

Aren’t there women bishops in some places?
Some provinces in the Anglican Communion, such as the USA, Canada and Australia, already ordain women as bishops; the first Anglican woman bishop was Barbara Harris in Massachusetts in 1989. Some other provinces allow women bishops but haven’t consecrated any yet (eg Bangladesh, Brazil, Japan, Mexico and Sudan).

Why can’t the church just make a decision?
As members of a single ‘body of Christ’, the church, it’s important within the Christian context to listen to one another (however much people may disagree), to respect the views and feelings of everyone, and to make decisions together. This takes time.

Isn’t there a compromise solution?
Over the past decade there have been discussions around allowing Church of England parishes to have access to an alternative (male) bishop if they cannot support their own (female) bishop. This compromise position is now starting to lose support. 

What’s the current position?
In July 2013, the General Synod of the Church of England voted to restart work on allowing women to become bishops. Delegates voted by 319 to 84 to move forward on a new draft law, although this isn't expected to get final approval until mid to late 2015. The Archbishop of Canterbury said at the time: "We aren't at the stage of saying should we ordain women as bishops; we are at the stage of saying we are going to ordain women as bishops, how do we go about that?”

Pray: Lord, give us wisdom on this subject; fill us with grace and love towards one another; help us to understand your will. Amen.

Think about: Do you think it is helpful for people to adapt their views on this subject, perhaps after hearing the arguments for both sides, or do you think that it is better to defend our position if we feel strongly about it?

Challenge: Research some of the opposing views on the internet and find out more about the arguments on each side.

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