John Pearce revisits the women bishops controversy and concludes that it had better be done quickly

In the last issue of this publication John Broadhurst suggested that it is time that the two thirds majority of the Church of England got on with making women bishops. It seems to me that he was exactly right.

The fact of the matter is that in the major integrity women are getting a very raw deal. Indeed. in one diocese known to me women are only offered the jobs that no one else will take. It seems to me that this is sheer prejudice and unkindness. It is hard enough for women to be priests and to blaze new trails in the English church but it is too much to give them the very hardest jobs so that they may be seen to fail. And yet this is what those in power from the majority view are in fact doing. There are a great many parishes up and down the country which voted for women priests but who will not short-list a woman as the new incumbent.

An archdeacon protagonist of the ordination of women as presbyters said to me that we must wait a good while before putting women in senior posts. But many women have been deaconesses and then deacons for many many years and have a good deal more experience than a large number of men. We see that same phenomenon in the USA and Canada where many women priests are unemployed as priests or are working in non-parochial jobs such as running diocesan offices. (Indeed this is one of the reasons why there is so much oppression of the second integrity in the States – because women feel oppressed NOT by the minority but by their own side).

For these reasons it appears to me that the Church of England should get on with the job. The theological case has already been settled in the priesthood of women. Of course there are some evangelicals who believe that the issue is of a different order. One evangelical diocesan said that we who take a biblical view ought not to worry about women presbyters because he, as diocesan, was the head of every parish in his diocese! This rather quaint view has recently been expounded by Archbishop Carey. He insisted on the view that really the bishops run the church and all the authority of the local incumbent is only delegated from him. In fact this view really stands the facts on their heads. The church is in the parishes and the bishop is the chairman of the local group of churches and not of a separate order. He is consecrated not ordained to his work. George Carey’s view would only hold good in primitive terms if applied, say, to the rector of a group or team ministry who in fact does have oversight in every sense. The fact is that the headship argument has been conceded already and, for the two thirds majority, there is no reason whatsoever why women bishops should not be consecrated at once. Only misogyny prevents this – just as it prevents women from being given good jobs in the parochial ministry.

For the second Integrity the situation is very different. Since we believe that women cannot occupy posts of headship in the church of Jesus Christ, it is even more clearly the case for the episcopate.

In some ways the appointment of women to such posts would make us face the real issues which are before the church in these days. Already in one diocese the appointment of a woman archdeacon has produced deep issues of conscience for many clergy. And it is remarkable to note that the diocesan authorities cannot understand what the problem is. Indeed members of the second integrity in that diocese have been accused of bigotry when the issue is really one of theological and biblical truth.

So it might be that the appointment of women bishops would concentrate the minds of one third of the Church of England.

On the other hand experience across the Pond suggests that things might be far more dangerous. Those women who have become bishops have, for the most part, been crusading women who have turned out to be far more prelatical than most of the men they replaced. One example of this was recorded in previous issues of New Directions when the woman suffragan of Massachusetts insisted on holding a Visitation of an orthodox parish and brought a ‘rent-a-crowd’ with her. The consequences of that action and the rector’s failure to co-operate with her illegal act was, I understand, that his licence was withdrawn by the diocesan. I preached in that parish of All Saints’, Ashmont, Boston, last year, and I know that rector to be a godly and effective parish clergyman. If we have women bishops here it is possible that the bell will toll for a great many clergy and parishes in England and especially for those who do not have the freehold.

How, then, ought we to pray? Should the majority go ahead with the logical conclusion to which their own past actions inevitably lead them? Or would this further novelty bring yet greater pressure upon the orthodox minority with catastrophic results?

On balance my view is that the quicker the real consequences of what happened on November 11th 1992 are seen, the better. There are still large numbers of good biblical Christians who believe that nothing very much has changed because it has not yet affected them and their parish. Many of the larger churches think that they are impregnable. But All Saints’ Boston, was not impregnable even though it is very well endowed and attended.

Let us see the truth of the liberal agenda. Let them have the courage of their convictions but, above all, let them give up their misogyny and appoint women to senior jobs and major parishes now. We shall respect their integrity and we trust that they will respect ours.

It is not we who are prejudiced against women. In fact it is in our parishes that women are most deeply valued and used by the Lord in ministry. Our objections are wholly on the basis of Scripture. Would that the Word had given us an easier road to follow but, for us, it is clear and we must stand firm, however hard it is going to be.

John Pearce is Rector of Limehouse and Trustee of Reform