Thursday, 12 February 2009

General Synod: A magical land in the upstairs wardrobe?

Well, the Women's Guild is back from the General Synod debate on Women Bishops. There was certainly a marked toning down of the venom witnessed in July, but nevertheless there was still a sense in which people just weren't listening to each other. There was no real debate, but rather a series of views which could be ignored entirely if one desired, rather than real discussion and argument (in a positive sense). There were more than a couple of moments when I found myself utterly incredulous at the things being said in the chamber. Not least the constant refrain of 'justice for women'. Yes, please. The Church of England was criminal to allow women to be ordained to the priesthood but not the episcopate - I mean, if one is accusing people of being sexist or bigoted, surely that is a fine example! Now that women may be ordained to the priesthood, the only logical thing to do is to ordain them to the episcopate. This I concede. Yet, this justice for women sentence seems to have a silent 'cough' in the middle of it: "Justice for *cough* some women". I'm a woman. I'm being offered a Code of Practice. Which I say won't do. Which is supposed to enable me (a "valued member of the CofE") to stay in the CofE - but, of course, (and as I have said) it doesn't, because it doesn't actually respond in any way to a Catholic understanding of the episcopate and the Church.

It's not our custom at the Women's Guild to point fingers or be 'political', but I'm afraid I can't pass over the Bishop of Lichfield's speech in which he used C.S. Lewis' The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe to justify women's ordination to the episcopate. You'll remember that, at the end of the story, Peter, Susan, Edmund and Lucy are crowned as kings and queens of Narnia. They are all equal rulers - the boys and the girls. Apparently this is sufficient justification for +Lichfield. For my part, I'm unsure as to what we say about ourselves as a church, if our theology and ecclesiology is based on a fictional story about a talking lion... Not to mention the fact that C.S. Lewis was opposed to women's ordination. In addition, you'll note that a new phrase which was put 'out there' yesterday was "Women in the Church Hierarchy" - the acronym for which is, in fact, a key part of the title of one of CS Lewis's best-known novels... "Is there a 'misreading C.S. Lewis' conspiracy? Is the next step to say that, in his classic 'Trilemma', Lewis is in fact arguing that Jesus is not God? That would certainly be an argument more in line with 'what society thinks' and 'what society wants'. (If this were Private Eye there would now, no doubt, be the following comment: [Enough. Ed.])

Still, it just seemed to me to exemplify the kind of disregard for context that finds us in this mess. In any case, a children's book is undoubtedly far more accessible than the sorts of complex argument set out by the likes of Fr Paul Benfield and the Bishop of Gibraltar in Europe. Perhaps we need to be even clearer about things - even more basic in our explanations. After all, that's how Our Lord did it...

And the future? Well, we keep praying, talking, debating, working - all of us, at every opportunity in whatever way we can. Personally, I keep coming back to the first verse of Newman's hymn:
Lead, kindly Light, amid th’encircling gloom, lead Thou me on!
The night is dark, and I am far from home; lead Thou me on!
Keep Thou my feet; I do not ask to see
The distant scene; one step enough for me.

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