Dr Rowan Williams, the outgoing Archbishop of Canterbury, during the general synod meeting that included the vote on women bishops. PHOTO: Yui Mok/PA Wire

‘I am embarrassed to be in Church of England’ - a member’s view of the women bishops vote

Friday, November 23, 2012
8.23 AM

I am a Christian. And, as far as such a thing is allowed, I am proud of that fact.

I am also a member of the Church of England - converted, confirmed, leader of a small group, occasional preacher and even a member of a parochial church council.

Today, I am not proud of that. In fact, I am rather embarrassed.

I am embarrassed because I do not know how to explain to people why “my” Church cannot accept women as bishops.

As the Archbishop of Canterbury said, the decision is “not intelligible” to our wider society, and it makes the Church seem “wilfully blind” to some of its trends and priorities.

Not that I advocate a situation where the Christian Church is blown by the wind of public opinion and allows its unique message to be diluted and destroyed.

There are core values that must be adhered to - and core doctrines that are not for changing.

But this, in my opinion, is not one of those values or doctrines.

Paul the Apostle wrote his guidance on women in the Church at a time when the status of women was second class at best. To have women in senior leadership roles way back then would have been scandalous, and would have alienated many people.

Thankfully, we have moved on. And, although real equality is yet to be fully grasped, there are few roles to which women cannot aspire.

In the light of that, should we still be clinging desperately to words that were written in such a different societal context?

What makes it harder to take is that the vast majority of those who voted were in favour of the change. There is a strong consensus.

But the final decision - or indecision - was just so very Church of England: mired in mist, befogged and befuddled, with all the clarity of a quote from John Prescott.

Surely it is not beyond the general synod to vote on the principle before hammering out its application - in the same way that the House of Commons votes for legislation and the committees draw up the devil in the detail?

Don’t get me wrong or invoke my excommunication. I still love the Church of England. But I reserve the right to not always like it.

The same goes for my children. They can be assured of my love, but I sometimes do not like their behaviour, clothes or music.

The Church of England is at times anachronistic, infuriating, muddled, marvellous and idiosyncratic.

It is broad enough to embrace the extremes - from the robed, incense-waving Anglo-Catholics to the hand-waving, clappy, dancy folk of the charismatic wing.

If you were to visit Cromer Parish Church, where I worship, you would see a pot pourri of people and an enticing vision of what Christian community can be.

All ages and abilities mix with the ease of orange squash and water.

Locals and tourists, white and black, learning difficulties and PhDs, toddlers and the elderly. Oh, and even men and women. Shock, horror.

While the feminine touch means there are sometimes a few too many flower arrangements, I can testify that women do not bite - nor seriously damage your faith.

We have women in senior positions, including a church warden, an assistant curate and some lay readers. Their sex is not important; their humble service is. When they preach, I listen.

At the risk of coming over a bit Roman Catholic, I have a confession to make. A few years ago I was in the “traditionalist” wing, and would have found some rent-a-quotes from the Bible to back up my view that women could not be heads of the Church.

At the same time, I would have turned a blind eye to the bits that require women to be silent in church and believers to stone adulterers to death. I can’t recall following Jesus’s instruction to poke out my eye if it had a peep at a lady, either.

It is easy to pick and choose Bible verses to support a stance.

It is considerably more difficult, though, to allow yourself to be challenged by the good book as a whole, and then to set it in the context of historical and current influences to maintain the balance of integrity and relevance.

The doors of the Christian Church should be thrown open to everybody. There were many reasons why they could have been bolted and barred to me, but I am grateful that they were not.

Sadly, the decision of the general synod has put a metaphorical bar on the doors for many women - and made the inside a far less comfortable place for others.