Women bishops welcome step but culture still needs to change

By Savi Hensman
November 18, 2014

The Church of England has taken the final step in allowing women as well as men to be chosen as bishops (http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/node/21059). General synod members, meeting in London, voted by a show of hands that “A man or a woman may be consecrated to the office of bishop.”

This followed years of wrangling over women’s full acceptance in positions of leadership. Special arrangements have been made for the small minority of congregations still unwilling to accept women’s ordained ministry.

This is a welcome move. Diversity among senior clergy promotes the priesthood of all believers (1 Peter 2.5, 9), encouraging all – not just those who are male – to play their part in bringing about God’s commonwealth of love and peace on earth.

It also marks a willingness to put openness to the Holy Spirit, whom Christians believe offers guidance and inspiration, above prejudice. Since the earliest days of the church, gifted leaders have been found among people of different genders. But, for many centuries, this tended to go unrecognised.

“Today signals a profound shift in the Church of England, and for Anglicans around the world,” remarked Hilary Cotton, Chair of Women and the Church. “WATCH looks forward to bringing gender justice to fruition in the Church of England.”

There is still a long way to go before the church is fully inclusive. There has been some cultural change so that bishops’ gatherings are less like a gentlemen’s club but an uncomfortable overlap with the British ruling class persists.

Too close an identification with the state gets in the way of witness to One who lived amongst the most marginalised and offered hope of radical personal and social transformation. Having seats for bishops in the House of Lords is problematic.

There is also an unhelpful tendency for church institutions to discourage expression of dissenting opinions, at least on the issue of sexuality. Bishops who disagree with the official position or who are gay or bisexual themselves can be pressured to stay silent, making authentic and heartfelt communication harder.

Nevertheless, this measure – the result of long and persistent campaigning and negotiation – is worth celebrating. Many other churches too allow women to be bishops, moderators or the equivalent, coordinating the work of many congregations and linking these to the wider church.

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© Savitri Hensman is a widely published Christian commentator on politics, welfare, religion and more. An Ekklesia associate, she works in the equalities and care sector.

Although the views expressed in this article do not necessarily represent the views of Ekklesia, the article may reflect Ekklesia's values. If you use Ekklesia's news briefings please consider making a donation to sponsor Ekklesia's work here.