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A DINOSAUR SPEAKS says Leslie Price

   For and Against - women priests  

For and Against: Women's Ministry


In a strongly worded editorial, PN has supported a bill, now in parliament, to remove the Church of England’s exemption from equality laws. This follows the recent decision by the Synod of the church to reject proposals to consecrate women priests as bishops. But is it wise to intervene in the affairs of another religious body?

The C of E has a democratic voting system which divides power between bishops, clergy and laity. Big changes require a two-thirds majority in each house. There were not quite enough votes among the laity.

If we look more closely we find that the C of E had already accepted the principle of women bishops. What was rejected was a particular scheme. Even some supporters of women bishops voted against this scheme. They held that it broke a promise to provide safeguards for those who took the traditional view, safeguards which go back to when women were first ordained in the church.

It is also apparent that many of those voting against women bishops were themselves women. Hundreds of women had also signed a petition against the scheme. We should not lightly overrule their misgivings. Undoubtedly the church will come up with a revised scheme which includes safeguards and which will be passed.

However there are those people, men and women, who are against appointing women, not only as bishops but even as vicars in the church. I am one of them.

This was not always so. I was once a member of the Movement for the Ordination of Women, and even met their Moderator (leader) the distinguished writer Monica Furlong. I have also known some excellent women ministers, especially in the Methodist church. How can such ordinations possibly be regarded as a mistake?

According to a lady named Prudence Dailey, when writing about the vote against the women bishop scheme:  “Those of us who in good conscience voted against the measure have been collectively subjected to an outpouring of vitriol, bile, misrepresentation, and contempt, including (I am sorry to say) in some cases from other members of General Synod, through the media and social networks.”    

The problem begins with God, who (Christians believe) has revealed Himself. Some emphasise the revelation in scripture, and some the revelation in the Church, but either way, leadership among the people of God is male. This is how it is in the Church of Rome, and in the Eastern Orthodox churches. As is well known, the Apostle Paul, so influential in bringing the gospel to non-Jews, and whose teachings came from revelation (that is, from spirit) taught the headship of man.

And then there is the matter of ministry. God calls a person to be a minister, and a church body confirms this call. The example is of Jesus himself who made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men. No one has a ‘right’ to be a minister; it is not a matter for self-assertion. So for the thoughtful Christian, female leadership in the Church goes against much of the revelation. Note that there is no problem with female leadership elsewhere, such as a female monarch. Nor with female ministers in bodies like the SNU which make no claim to be Christian.

You may be surprised to learn that there are people in the Vatican who are pleased that the Church of England has ordained women. This because when the C of E declared independence of the Church of Rome, it claimed to have the reformed gospel, closer to the Bible. By ordaining women, Anglicans and other smaller churches, like Methodists, undermine their claim to be an alternative to Rome. They also promote splits among themselves.

Relatively few people left the C of E when women were ordained, but there have been consequences on the ground. Plenty of women are being ordained, but fewer men. In my own parish, twenty years after the legal change, there is a female vicar and a succession of  female curates. Could it be that God has ceased to call men to the ministry?

There is also a problem in congregations. Men are becoming conspicuous by their absence. Of course this problem pre-dates women ministers. Leslie Weatherhead, a Methodist minister well known to PN, attributed it to the feminisation of religion.

Church House    

Women ministers have also had an effect nationally, in the Synod. They have of course been generally in favour of women bishops, but also of a more prominent role for gays. (In his 1993 book The Church of England Michael De La Noy estimated that 3,000 out of 14,000 clergy were homosexuals.) This has led to much bigger splits than did the ordination of women, most apparent at present in the Church of Scotland.

Again, these splits are a delight to conservative forces in the Vatican, which have spent centuries trying to undermine Protestantism. I believe they would also please ‘Screwtape’ (the senior demon in the famous C.S. Lewis story), who likes to turn Christians against each other.

Well, you may say, these splits among the Christians may be seen by Spiritualists as sad or even entertaining, but they have no direct relevance to Spiritualists who, as PN’s editor noted, do not discriminate against women in leadership.

Actually they do have relevance, because Spiritualism is facing some of the same problems.

According to a lady named Prudence Dailey, when writing about the vote against the women bishop scheme:

“Those of us who in good conscience voted against the measure have been collectively subjected to an outpouring of vitriol, bile, misrepresentation, and contempt, including (I am sorry to say) in some cases from other members of General Synod, through the media and social networks.”

Did the PN editorial fall into this category? Consider the following terms:

Head-scratchingly baffling; blatant sexism; incomprehensible; deeply unjust; ludicrously illogical; bizarre; blatant discrimination; anachronistic dinosaur; an injustice inflicted on hundreds of women.

Well, as the editorial noted, it is the season of goodwill!


COMMENTS ARE INFLAMMATORY   Sue Farrow replies to Leslie Price’s views on women in the Church 

With respect to Leslie Price, whose abilities as a historian of the Spiritualist movement and a psychical researcher I admire, his comments are, to say the least, inflammatory.

As a Spiritualist and a human being I’m committed to the principle of equality for all – female/male, gay/straight, black/white and so on. But my commitment to equality is not just an eccentric personal foible, it’s also a matter of UK law, which does not permit discrimination on grounds of gender, sexual orientation or race.

Or does it? Apparently so, if you happen to be a member of the established Church of England, which is exempt from various aspects of equality legislation.

Responding to my Christmas editorial, Leslie asks if it is wise to intervene in the affairs of another religious body. I have no interest in intervention. I’m simply speaking out for the equality of all human beings, in which I believe wholeheartedly.

     Word cloud  

The much-publicised vote against allowing women to become bishops came after years of negotiations and compromise, designed to “safeguard” (I would say appease) those who found the prospect of a woman’s leadership so intolerable that they preferred to leave the C of E rather than accept it.

Leslie points out that the C of E had already accepted the principle of women bishops, and that what was rejected by the Synod was “a particular scheme” which apparently broke a promise to provide “safeguards” for those who took the traditional view that only men could be church leaders.

This view derived substantially from the Apostle Paul, who said: “The women should keep silence in the churches. For they are not permitted to speak, but should be subordinate, as even the law says.”

However, he also said: “There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”

This is one of numerous apparent contradictions in the Bible. A fairly rapid trawl-through reveals many examples, including these two quotations, taken in each case from the very same book of the Bible:

“For I am merciful, saith the Lord, and I will not keep anger forever.” (Jeremiah 3:12)

“Ye have kindled a fire in mine anger, which shall burn forever.” (Jeremiah 17:4)

Or these words of Jesus, again from one book of the Bible, the gospel of John:

“I and my father are one.” (John 10:30)

“I go unto the Father: for my Father is greater than I.” (John 14:28)

Confused? It seems you pays your money and you takes your choice. Like you and me, Paul was simply a human being, a product of his time, thrust into the limelight, trying to make sense of a new philosophy.

And then, as Leslie says, there is the matter of ministry. “God calls a person to be a minister... No one has a ‘right’ to be a minister; it is not a matter for self-assertion.”

“Change is never easy,
and can prove immensely
unsettling for some who
are wedded to the comfort
of old, familiar ways.”
    Concerning the “right” to ministry, this is the first point on which Leslie and I are in full agreement. However, what about the C of E women who feel a profound vocational call to ministry? Is their putting themselves forward for ministry an act of self-assertion, yet not an act of self-assertion for a man who similarly puts himself forward? On this, Leslie has lost me, for I can see no logic in his position. Presumably if anyone (whatever their gender) feels a call to ministry, whether C of E, Spiritualist or any other, he or she will approach their particular organisation and submit to the appropriate selection and training procedures.   

Let’s look at the historical context. Two thousand years ago, when Christianity was just beginning to get off the ground, women played little or no role in the wider societies of their day. Their function was to bear and raise children, and look after the home. There were no female politicians, lawyers, medics, tax collectors, carpenters and so on. In short, the traditions of the time dictated that women did not assume any role outside the home.

So what exactly were these “safeguards” to which Leslie refers? Prime among them was the right to have a male bishop for congregations that objected to a female bishop. Many outside (and inside) the C of E find it extraordinary that a minority of people who are resistant to change should call the shots so comprehensively, when it would not be possible to do so in any other walk of life.

Can we for instance ask to be tried by a judge or magistrate of a particular gender? Of course not. Can we demand to have our post delivered only by a female? No. If we need brain surgery, does it matter if it’s carried out by a man or a woman? If my brain were on the line, I would want just one thing – the best person for the job. To put it bluntly, when it comes to the delivery of an important skill or service, most of us would care nothing for which body parts the supplier happened to possess. Ability is the only thing that matters.

Sister churches of the Anglican Communion in Australia, New Zealand, Southern Africa and the United States already have women serving as bishops. By voting against women bishops, the Church of England has revealed itself as a discriminatory organisation that wishes to be above the law, in order to appease a reactionary minority of its adherents.

Change is never easy, and can prove immensely unsettling for some who are wedded to the comfort of old, familiar ways. But let’s not forget that people feared electricity when it was first used; they feared the gas-powered engine, and perhaps even the telephone. Neither should we forget that one or two pioneering women doctors had to masquerade as men in order to practise their profession. Would we be without our electricity and telephones now? Of course not. Would we sack our female doctors? The mere thought is ridiculous.

I believe that time will see the C of E’s troubles resolved, for evolution is inevitable, and those who cling to the security of the familiar will not always be in a position to dictate terms.



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