Thursday, 3 April 2008

The Bishop and the Bill

Of course, it was always going to be the case. Someone would be disappointed. Yet, there is little elation on either side of the issue, if the truth be told. The vote taken by the Governing Body of the Church in Wales as to whether or not women should be ordained as bishops is one that has many claims attached to it. It's a matter of justice and equality, a matter of mission, a matter of tradition, a matter of unity, a matter of being the church in the modern world, a matter of conscience, a matter of fact. So, where are we now? The so called 'traditionalists' are waiting for its return; those in favour of the motion are waiting for its return. Of course, it was always going to be the case.

Read the newspaper reports, glance through the various blog entries and email comments on countless web sites, read the editorial in the Welsh newspapers (sorry, the South Wales Echo!), listen to the Bench of Bishops, even, and people will suddenly say that having women in the episcopate is no different from a woman being a bank manager or a headteacher or a Member of Parliament or even the prime minister. It's all about equality! Of course, it was always going to be the case. Someone would be disappointed. But the disappointment (or one of them, at least, and in my mind, at least) lies in viewing the episcopacy as a human institution that happens, by some great coincidence or happy accident, to accomplish something within the church. Yet the episcopacy is far more than that. In fact, it's not that at all! Which is why it was sad that the Archbishop, in presenting the bill, did not really talk about the theology of the episcopate at all. So, let's leave the bishop and the bill at the podium for a moment and sneak into the streets and ask the people what they think. 'Do you think women should be bishops?' a woman in the street is asked by a TV news reporter. 'Well, yes, you can have women doctors and prime ministers and bank managers and headteachers? So why can't a woman be a bishop.' Ahh, but what is a bishop? That would have been the interesting question to have asked. Because there is something more, here. And we are missing the point. But of course it was always going to be the case.

So what is the case? What's the point of the episcopacy? What on earth (not to mention heaven) is a bishop? What has a bishop got to do with Jesus? What has it got to do with being an apostle? (And what is an apostle anyway - ask the woman in the street!) What has it got to do with mission and what has it got to do with the end of time? What has it got to do with male and female? What has it got to do with being human? What has it got to do with the designs that God has for the church and the world, for you and me? What has it got to do with being the Church? What has it got to do with transcendent truths that are hard to see in the street? What has it got to do with grace and failure, what has it got to do with anything we know and everything we would like to know? What has it got to do with the way that God shares his love with us? What has it got to do? What has it got that other means of 'leadership' haven't got? Alas, in a society that says it seeks (its own versions of) justice and equality you don't hear those questions asked on the street or in the pub or by TV reporters or even by many bishops and debators at the Governing Body. But of course that was always going to be the case.

1 comment:

Morgan Hen (Morgan the Old) said...

Dean.

a very good post! Of course +Barry would not talk about the Episcopate in theological terms, that wouyld ditract from his treating it as a human rights issue and making traditionalist look like the southerners that opposed Civil Rights in the US. Just another version of the KKK.

I am sure that Kay Schori (who I have met in the flesh) gave him some good advice! "take no prisoners"