Dr Rowan Williams following General Synod's rejection of women bishop's
The Bishop of Durham, Justin Welby, the next Archbishop of Canterbury tweeted yesterday "Very grim day, most of all for women priests and supporters, need to surround all with prayer & love and co-operate with our healing God." He was of course talking about the failure to pass through General Synod the vote to allow for the ordination of women as bishops.
Twenty years after women were allowed to be ordained as priests, there was real hope that this week the final hurdle for them to be ordained as bishops would be removed. In order for the motion to be successful, it had to get a two thirds majority from all three houses of General Synod. The motion got overwhelming support from the House of Bishops and House of Clergy, but failed by only 6 votes to get the two thirds majority required in the House of Laity.
There has been huge outpouring of anger, and a sense of disbelief that this vote could fail, and by such a narrow margin. Rowan Williams, addressing General Synod yesterday said that the Church of England has lost a measure of credibility following the vote and that the church appeared "wilfully blind" to modern trends and priorities.
There is a huge amount of discussion taking place as to why the vote failed, and what the impact will be on the Church of England, especially as 42 of the 44 Church of England Diocesan Synods had backed the motion. Some people have even described the decision as a disaster for the Church of England.
But I worry about some of this language. Yes the decision is upsetting and very disappointing, and I’m concerned that the Church will now spend the next five years focusing its energies on this one issue, whilst ignoring the much more pressing need to engage with mission and evangelism, but I don’t think it can be described as a disaster. Real disasters are what are happening in places like Gaza, Syria, and Afghanistan. Real disasters are where people are suffering and dying due to war, poverty and disease. What happened on Tuesday was a setback, but not a disaster.
The reason Tuesday’s vote has caused such strong emotions is that it appears to send the message that the church does not fully support women’s ministry.
The reality is of course that the vast majority of churches up and down this country value and appreciate the role of women in ministry, and that the church has been greatly enriched by women’s ministry.
Jesus also clearly valued the role of women. Although the twelve disciples were all men, women played a crucial role in Jesus’ ministry. The Gospels portray Jesus as someone that not only spoke and interacted with women, but also treated women with compassion, dignity, and respect.
James Hurley writes, "The most striking thing about the role of women in the life and teaching of Jesus is the simple fact that they are there… The presence of women among the followers of Jesus and to his serious teaching of them constitutes a break with tradition which has been described as being 'without precedent in [the then] contemporary Judaism.”
It was women who supported Jesus’ ministry, and it was Mary the mother of Jesus, Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of James who were with Jesus at his crucifixion, and who saw where Jesus’ body was laid, when most of his male disciples had fled. But even more crucially, the first witnesses to the resurrection were women. This is important because in the Judean culture of the time, the testimony of women didn't count, yet the people Jesus chose to reveal himself to first were women, and they acted as the apostles (witnesses) to the apostles.
What we see from the New Testament is that Jesus was truly revolutionary in his treatment of women, and that women played a key leadership role in the life of the early church.
Therefore God does equally affirm the ministry of both men and women. I am sure it won’t be too long before the Church of England finally does allow women to be ordained as bishop’s, but in the mean time as men and women we need to get on with the vitally important that God has set for us, to build God’s kingdom, of love, justice, mercy and peace.