Friday, 23 November 2012

Sorry, CofE, you have made me angry

Generally speaking, the Church of England is an underrated organization. As religious organizations go it is moderate and caring. CofE vicars do a remarkably good job on the whole in difficult circumstances. The local church still plays a role in its community, particularly when it comes to big events like weddings and funerals. But the recent women bishops debacle was terrible.

What I find bizarre is what has happened is due to an abysmal organizational structure, not in any sense a reflection of the will of the majority. If you look at the Synod, the 'parliament', only one of the 3 houses, the laity (i.e. the ordinary folk) didn't pass the motion for women bishops. But the church also has local synods, based on the diocese structure. Of these, 42 out of 44 supported women bishops. So how was the vote lost? Where's the representation in this?

The anti-vote comes from a strange (some might say un-holy) alliance of the two extreme wings of the church - it's as if the extreme right and the extreme left came together in parliament. The extreme right, the  anglo-catholics, basically don't want anything that's different from Roman Catholics, so don't want women priests at all, let alone bishops. The extreme left, the evangelicals, take a very literal view of the Bible as their guide. The trouble is, their interpretation relies on two dubious points. That the Bible is the inerrant word of God, and that you should apply magic.

Let me clarify that. The first bit ignores that a) the Bible most people read is a translation, and b) that was written by men. Like it or not, the Bible and the doctrine of the early church was decided by men with an agenda. It is very clear just from comparing the four gospels, describing the same events in sometimes conflicting fashion, that each book was written to get a particular message across, and slant things accordingly. They are not historically accurate documents, each is worded to establish one particular view. And one faction of the early church very much wanted the message that woman should keep quiet and know their place. It seems pretty clear that Jesus himself was atypical of Jewish attitudes of the period and treated women as equals - but the men who set up the early church were not comfortable with this.

As far as I understand it, the two arguments against women bishops are these. 1) The apostles - the 12 who Jesus set up to pass on the message - were all men, so bishops should be men, and 2) Jesus was a man (can't argue), so priests (let alone bishops) should be men to represent Jesus (that's the magic bit). The first argument is irrelevant. There were female disciples and the only reason we only hear about male apostles is because that's what suited the bible writers, and because it was what worked with the social structures of the time. It doesn't work for the present.

I'm being provocative but accurate when I label that second argument as an appeal to magic. There is no reason why a woman can't represent a man. (My MP has been a woman several times.) The only reason you could argue against a woman is if somehow the magic won't work if a priest/bishop is a woman. That's not right. It's just silly. A representation is a model, it's not the real thing. The fact that Jesus was a man - so what? He was also a Jew. If you take this argument seriously you would only allow Jews to be priests or bishops. Why draw the line at a man? I'm happy for you to say only a human being could represent him, so sorry, no canine applications for bishop. But no women? Give me strength.

My only positive take on all this is that it will be sorted. I can say with some confidence that the Church of England will have women bishops fairly soon. Certainly before the Roman Catholic church has women priests - or Moslem religious organisations have women in positions of authority. I've heard some people say that equality law should apply to the Church of England - and I agree. But only if it also applies to all religions. Good luck with that one.

Quick addition: thanks to Henry Gee for pointing out another potential 'reason' that is flawed. Apparently some people cite one of the epistles in which we are told women should not have authority over men. But the word used is mistranslated. It is not the Greek word for authority as used elsewhere in the Bible but rather implies sexual licence. It seems the writer was warning against getting together with the dubious priestesses of some of the other religions.

No comments:

Post a Comment