Emily Gent, an ordinand, offers her reflection on the upcoming debate
Very often throughout the debate surrounding ‘women bishops’ I have seen the term ‘the opposition’ used as a description of those who in all conscience cannot accept the authority or ministry of a woman within the Church. Within this debate, whether conducted through blogs, published articles or even on Twitter, these people simply labelled as ‘the opposition’ are then discussed as though their very presence and the conscience they hold is merely some abstract concept which it would be futile to even try and understand. I do not view these individuals as ‘opponents’ or some enemy force, but rather I understand them to be my brothers in Christ who have just as much of a rightful place within our Church as myself; a woman called to ordained ministry.
I have been at theological college for almost a year now and have had the immense privilege of training with those who cannot in good conscience accept the ministry of women. It was members of the ‘opposition’ who supported and prayed for me as I discerned my vocation and it is the ‘opponents’ I am currently in training with who have become some of my dearest friends, as we support each other through the highs and lows of theological college.
A bitter argument
Throughout the ensuing debate, I have at times been quite shocked and appalled at the language used and the approach and attitude taken by those in the Church who, like myself, are in favour of the ordination of women to the episcopate. It seems the Church and all its members had a real opportunity to approach such a difficult and complex issue with a spirit of love, compassion and understanding, and I believe to have done so would have been a real act of witness to the wider society. Rather than witnessing those with differing views make any real attempt to understand the arguments, concerns and convictions of those on the other side of the debate however, we have instead seen the Church slide into a bitter and vicious argument. It seems those in favour of the ordination of women to the episcopate have, in some cases, taken up a militant attitude as they drive their cause forward and display a show of victory at the prospect of forcing ‘the opposition’ into an ever smaller corner.
Increasing anger and bitterness has also been thrown at the amendments made to the legislation by the House of Bishops, amendments which in reality add no provisions for those opposed to ‘women bishops’ but simply aim to give them some reassurance, however hollow. Those in favour, however, have flown into a rage and shown great resentment at the amendments made, amendments which give no extra provision to those opposed but which display some gesture by the House of Bishops to allow those members of our Church, and brothers in Christ, who cannot in good conscience accept the ministry of women to stay in a Church which may one day very soon include female members within the episcopate. I find it hard, then, to understand the deep resentment and anger displayed over these amendments, with one female cleric even likening them to domestic abuse.
I was five years old when the vote to ordain women to the priesthood was passed in 1992, and I have no doubt that perhaps that debate was just as emotive, vicious and bloody as the current debate over ‘women bishops’ is. I am fully in favour of the ordination of women to the episcopate but have been deeply saddened, over the past few months especially, by the lack of love, compassion and understanding seen in some arguments in the current debate. It is at these times, and with these feelings in mind, that I would not be too disappointed to see the legislation fail. It is not so much the end result, but the witness of how we have got thus far.
Love, compassion and understanding are attributes that I very much associate with our united Christian faith; the example of Christ that we follow and the Spirit of God that we share. That same Spirit which I have experienced in the reassurance of prayers for me by those opposed to the ordination of women as I discerned my vocation. The Spirit which allows my fellow ordinands to support me fully as I train for ordained ministry, despite their fundamental objection to the vocation I feel called to, and the Spirit which allows me to support them fully in their training, with my knowledge of their conscience and conviction.
Room for both
My experience of theological college and training for the ordained ministry has given me hope and a great belief that there is no need for an ‘us or them’ scenario within our Church: there is room for the both of us.
Perhaps some would call me too idealistic, but the Church I wish to belong to, pray for, and hope above all else can one day be achieved, would be a Church where my sisters in Christ can be ordained to the orders they are called to, be it the diaconate, priesthood or episcopate but equally a Church in which my brothers in Christ, who by conviction cannot accept the authority and ministry of a woman, can stay in good conscience and are equally welcome. Some may view it as an impossibility or an idealistic dream, but it is my firm belief that, with the help of the Holy Spirit which we all share, on whichever side of the debate we may sit, such a thing is possible. ND