It is not a common occurrence to see issues associated with the church on the front pages of newspapers and the lead story of TV news. It seems everyone has an opinion about the role of women in the church, particularly whether they should be bishops. The advice from many in the church is to keep your head down and not to comment, however I have never taken advice and feel that I want to respond and bring my own perspective on what is happening.
I feel there are at least 3 distinct issues which are worthy of comment and clear thinking which I will try to address.
The first issue is the perspective that the church is out of step with culture and the insistence of many, including the prime minister, that it needs to get back in step.
In my mind this is the most dangerous and important issue, the assumption that the church should keep up with the times, because the times are by definition always right. Tom Wright, formally Bishop of Durham, bravely and eloquently deals with this in an article that was published in the Times.
“But that would be putting the clock back,” gasps a feckless official in one of C. S. Lewis’s stories. “Have you no idea of progress, of development?” “I have seen them both in an egg,” replies the young hero. “We call it Going bad in Narnia.”
Lewis nails a lie at the heart of our culture. As long as we repeat it, we shall never understand our world, let alone the Church’s calling. And until proponents of women bishops stop using it, the biblical arguments for women’s ordination will never appear in full strength.
“Now that we live in the 21st century,” begins the interviewer, invoking the calendar to justify a proposed innovation. “In this day and age,” we say, assuming that we all believe the 18th-century doctrine of “progress”, which, allied to a Whig view of history, dictates that policies and practices somehow ought to become more “liberal”, whatever that means. Russia and China were on the “wrong side of history”, Hillary Clinton warned recently. But how does she know what “history” will do? And what makes her think that “history” never makes mistakes?
… What is more, the Church’s foundation documents (to say nothing of its Founder himself) were notoriously on the wrong side of history. The Gospel was foolishness to the Greeks, said St Paul, and a scandal to Jews. The early Christians got a reputation for believing in all sorts of ridiculous things such as humility, chastity and resurrection, standing up for the poor and giving slaves equal status with the free. And for valuing women more highly than anyone else had ever done. People thought them crazy, but they stuck to their counter-cultural Gospel. If the Church had allowed prime ministers to tell them what the “programme” was it would have sunk without trace in fifty years. If Jesus had allowed Caiaphas or Pontius Pilate to dictate their “programme” to him there wouldn’t have been a Church in the first place.
Well said, Tom, I couldn’t agree more. Let us not be caught up in the trap that public opinion is always right, it often isn’t. Sometimes we have to stand up for what is right rather than to seek to be popular. We should never be bullied into accepting what the world says we should believe and do, once we do that we loose all our distinctive we stop being yeast, salt, light and all the other metaphors of what our calling is meant to be to the world.
If the implication of this argument is that the bishops should not sit in the house of Lord’s that is a small price to pay to allow the church to be true to itself rather than to unthinkingly reflect popular opinion.
Questions you might consider regarding this:
Why do you think that so many people feel the need to tell the church what it should do and believe?
What would be the consequences of us seeking to be popular by embracing the world’s view on things?
How important is it for the church to be represented in parliament via bishops in the house of Lord’s?
LOOK OUT FOR PART 2 NEXT WEEK
Written by Tony Thompson