Sunday, 11 July 2010

After women bishops, what next?

I've not had time to follow the Synod debate on women bishop's much less to comment. However, I was having a discussion with some of our own folks on Thursday night, where I observed that the introduction of women bishops is by no means the end of the line, for there are explicit indications amongst the chief supporters of the consecration of women that our theology and liturgy are also in line for changes.

Just to give an idea of what this entails, I have simply cut and pasted the following from a paper on the WATCH website:
2. Language and theological issues:
God, Christology and the Church
The constant and uninterrupted use of language which is exclusive and used repeatedly can be intimidating or even aggressive: Almighty God, Lord of Power and Might, Everlasting Father, Dear Lord and Father of Mankind. Intimidation and aggression do not give life to the people of God called to grow in wisdom and understanding. We need to use the full range of biblical images for God, the tender and nurturing as well as the powerful. Yet we must recognise that our growing includes encouraging fresh expressions of language for each new generation. The gospel always has a reforming, reinterpreting edge to it. “Almost all of the language used in the Bible to refer to God is metaphor, with the possible exception of holy...There is no point in pontificating what metaphors like “God as father” ought to mean. If God metaphors become problematic for a significant group of people, it is pointless and patronising to tell them they ought to understand differently”. (What Language Shall I Borrow” by Brian Wren). God reveals the Godself to us throughout the scriptures as mother, father, friend, love, wind, fire. And for some God is more than static noun: God becomes dynamic verb. We may leave words behind entirely: “The more I walk with God, the less words about God will do” (John Spong). The best God metaphors are those that move us deeply and enable us to encounter and be encountered by the dynamic dance of incandescent love that Christian experience names as Trinity. 

Interesting to see a quote there from John Spong, someone whom no less a personage than Jeffrey John has dismissed as lacking any Christian credibility.

Now it would be wrong to suggest - and I am not suggesting - that all supporters of women bishops think this way. But the point is that some do, and that they have clearly signalled their intentions, and that therefore this is the next big area with which the Church will have to deal, alongside (of course) homosexuality.

As they say, "Discuss".

John P Richardson
11 July 2010

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  1. I'll let C.S. Lewis speak for me,

    Suppose the reformer stops saying that a good woman may be like God and begins saying that God is like a good woman. Suppose he says that we might just as well pray to "Our Mother which art in heaven" as to "Our Father". Suppose he suggests that the Incarnation might just as well have taken a female as a male form, and the Second Person of the Trinity be as well called the Daughter as the Son. Suppose, finally, that the mystical marriage were reversed, that the Church were the Bridegroom and Christ the Bride. All this, as it seems to me, is involved in the claim that a woman can represent God as a priest does.

    Now it is surely the case that if all these supposals were ever carried into effect we should be embarked on a different religion. Goddesses have, of course, been worshipped: many religions have had priestesses. But they are religions quite different in character from Christianity. Common sense, disregarding the discomfort, or even the horror, which the idea of turning all our theological language into the feminine gender arouses in most Christians, will ask "Why not? Since God is in fact not a biological being and has no sex, what can it matter whether we say He or She, Father or Mother, Son or Daughter?"

    But Christians think that God Himself has taught us how to speak of Him. To say that it does not matter is to say either that all the masculine imagery is not inspired, is merely human in origin, or else that, though inspired, it is quite arbitrary and unessential. And this is surely intolerable: or, if tolerable, it is an argument not in favour of Christian priestesses but against Christianity.

    Nigel Cundy,
    Regensburg, Germany

  2. My guess is that the C of E will go a similar way to TEC. I would predict the timeline as:

    1. After the present Monarch dies( she is now 85) and King Charles III ascends to the throne, moves will be made to disestablish the C of E and they will be successful.

    2. The liberal clergy, increasing dominated by women clergy and Bishops will press for full inclusion of the liberal agenda. We can see what that looks like now in TEC.

    3. Groups within the CoF will breakaway and form a new communion similar to ACNA. There may be disputes over property and so on, but it is hoped that it will not be so acrimonious as the litigious Americans.

    4. A new reformation will emerge (indeed is emerging) within Anglicanism that will return it to its biblical roots. These churches may well find themselves facing persecution from intolerant liberals and secular authorities both within the so-called "official church" and without.

    5. When history comes to be written, it will be seem that Open Evangelicals will have been instrumental in bringing the demise of the CoE about. They are going to have to choose which way to jump as they will be increasingly squeezed and marginalized by intolerant liberals.

    6. Will the last person to leave please turn out the light.

    Chris Bishop

  3. Hi John,
    The situation in the Church of England may unfold as you fear because it is England and there be gremlins which exist nowhere else. :)

    But if you were willing to hear a voice from elsewhere then I suggest that one can have women bishops and not necessarily proceed from the thin to the thick end of the wedge. On the specific issue of language, I have been intrigued here in New Zealand to observe that the (somewhat) strident feminist critique of 'power' language in the late 1980s when I was first ordained (thumbs down to 'Lord', 'Father', 'Son') has swung back to a much muted critique, along with all sorts feeling free to use 'Lord', 'Father', and 'Son' when praying in gatherings of clergy.

    On the question of homosexuality it is difficult to say where we will end up, but our situation does not have the feel that because we have ordained/appointed women to all three orders then the next step is necessarily the ordination of partnered gay and lesbian Anglicans to all three orders. (Currently we have a moratorium on ordination to any of the orders).

  4. Hi John
    My last sentence in my previous post should read, "(Currently we have a moratorium on ordination of partnered gay and lesbian Anglicans to any of the three orders)".

  5. You might wish to read my articles, especially those on the Church of Sweden, here:

    for some indication of "the shape of things to come." I think that the situation of the Scandinavian churches, and especially that of Sweden, is more salient to the English situation than that of the egregious Episcopal "Church." The Church of Sweden was disestablished with effect from 1 January 2000, but it was done in such as way as to institutionalize the control of the church structure by liberal bureaucrats and at the same time both to eviscerate the episcopate of all real authority and to ensure that none but liberals or "collaborationist conservatives" would ever become bishops in the future (the Swedes do, of course, now have an openly "out and partnered" lesbian as Bishop of Stockholm). You might also find the following lament by a clergyman of the Church of Sweden of interest as well:

    (A Grief Observed: On Being a Living Priest in a Dying Church in Sweden, by Folke T. Olofsson)

  6. The next logical step is to appoint a lesbian bishop and be done with it.

  7. rev. simon a russell11 July 2010 at 15:46

    forgive a baptist sticking his oar in, but what happens to the C of E does cause ripples. I am still hopeful for the C of E because the liberalism of North America and USA in partiuclar is different from that of England - and that is borne out from your referance to J. John on J. Spong. I listened to the debate on the computer (quite sad of me I know)and the only person who got my blood boiling was somebody with a north american accent who went on about the justice of the matter and missed out the point about theology,they were in a different conversation, I thought they should go back to college in the u.k. Also there is the influance of those training colleges and how they will accomandate the various streams within the C. of E. I sense unlike another province there is enough divercity and grace to cope with all streams. It is here that the use of language will be challeneged and perhaps already is, but with the heritage of the C of E I cannot see it going the same as America. The C of E does still have an identity that is strongly rooted in christian tradition/orthodoxcy and will miliatate against the extremes that are seen in other places. The tension between presant culture and traditional language is surley to be welcomed as it causes us to think about what we say and how we say it, without losing the meaning and pandering to latest trends.
    One of the problems with the ordiantion of Bishop Mary Glasspool (for me) was the total abondament of one set of language for another set, which allowed an incorperation of other faith language (first nation) which was jarring to say the least. Could this happen in the C. of E.? no but the discussion will happen and the road referred to in N.Z. may be repeated to an extent.

  8. from Bruce Toman in NY

    Nigel: God is not a man.

  9. Here in America, the so-called "Orthodox" or "traditionalist" evangelicals that are trying to steal our churches and sew discord in our congregations call for the imprisonment and execution of homosexuals, and the public humiliation of women who dare to speak in church. There seems very little difference between their hatred and the hatred of the Nazis. Indeed their scapegoating of gays and women seems identical to that of the 20th century fascists. The most preposterous thing is that these so-called orthodox dare to call themselves Christian when they adhere to a gospel of hate.

    These Reformed or Evangelical Anglicans seem to believe that God justifies their hatred of women.

    Now it would be wrong to suggest – and I am not suggesting – that all opponents of women bishops think this way. But the point is that some do, and that they have clearly signalled their intentions, and that therefore this is the next big area with which the Church will have to deal, alongside (of course) aging baby boomers who are sucking the life from the Church.

  10. I'd like a date for the C S Lewis quote. As is well known, all his theology of marriage was turned upside down when his intellectual position began to run counter to his emotional experience. The same may be supposed about these barmy views about goddesses.

    Frank. Merseyside.

  11. "his theology of marriage was turned upside down when his intellectual position began to run counter to his emotional experience"

    True enough -- which is to say he abandoned Christian orthodoxy in favor of "if it makes me feel good, then do it;" the later CSL could just as well be regarded as the patron saint of homosexualists.

  12. "I am still hopeful for the C of E because the liberalism of North America and USA in partiuclar is different from that of England - and that is borne out from your referance to J. John on J. Spong."

    Actually a better comparison would be JT Robinson and J.Spong. That the CofE has not provided a more high profile example is mainly down to the fact that the church is more of a joke over here to start with.

    If you believe - as I do - that an established church always leads to eventual compromise, as well as a sapping of religious vitality more generally (along the lines of Rodney Stark's ideas about competition among religious factions), then the disestablishment of the CofE can only be a good thing.

  13. "can I remind everyone that on each side of the argument are people who are sincere and committed Christians"

    You can "remind" all you want, but it makes no difference to me -- any more than giving Athanasius such a reminder about Arius kept him from terming the latter's followers "Ariomaniacs" and worse. In other words, "sincerity" and "committment" should count for very little when a person is a "sincere errorist" or a "committed heretic."

  14. "As is well known [...]"
    "True enough [...]"
    What sloppy nonsense both Frank and William Tighe indulge in talking about C.S. Lewis: someone who always believed in arguments and evidence.

    Gentlemen, where are yours?


  15. RE: "But if you were willing to hear a voice from elsewhere then I suggest that one can have women bishops and not necessarily proceed from the thin to the thick end of the wedge."

    The problem with that cheery thought is that -- even were the theology behind women's ordination not to lead to the whole gay activist thingy [and I'm willing to grant that, due to the denominations who have done so and remain quite conservative] -- traditionalists who oppose WO will inevitably depart from the COE -- both AC's and Evos. Which makes the votes more and more iffy on all of the other delectable liberal/revisionist agendas that they have planned for the COE.

    Take it from someone who knows -- a person in TEC. It's inevitable because the loons slowly but surely end up outnumbering even the currently purported "moderates" in Fulcrum [whom I predict 5-7 years from now will be squawking and cawing about the horrors of having lost so many traditionalist delegates but never taking responsibility for being one of the causes].


  16. As a long-time observer of the machinations of WATCH, I can tell you that much material seems to have disappeared from their website (or at least, I can no longer find it.)

    I refer in particular to an item similar to this one on 'inclusive' language, which I posted furiously about on blogs at the time. Sadly I did not save it, and cannot remember the exact contents, but the gist of it was that many people were unhappy about the sole perception of God as Father (who, I wonder?) and felt that 'Mother' would be more appropriate for many.

    Believe me, Mother God is on her way. The ladies of WATCH may have decided to keep her under wraps for now, but they are just biding their time.

  17. You can "remind" all you want, but it makes no difference to me -- any more than giving Athanasius such a reminder about Arius kept him from terming the latter's followers "Ariomaniacs" and worse. In other words, "sincerity" and "committment" should count for very little when a person is a "sincere errorist" or a "committed heretic."

    You may scoff at the sentiment I described, but I believe it was sentiment that caused two good Christians to propose last Saturday's amendments. They, whilst supportive of women bishops, recognised that there were others in their community who, in good Christian conscience, did not share that view.

    I pray that come the Day, you will not be judged as ruthlessly as you seem to judge others.

  18. The CS Lewis essay was written in 1948 and was included in the God in the Dock essay collection.

    I've asked a Lewis scholar about his view on whether Lewis' marriage would have affected his argument on the point, though Lewis' own shift does not diminish any strength there may be in the argument made in his essay.

    Clifford Swartz
    New York City

  19. Regarding my query above, this reply:

    It was in 1948 that Lewis published 'Priestesses in the Church?' I know of no evidence indicating that he subsequently changed his views on women's ordination, either before, during or after his marriage (1956-1960).

  20. Bruce, `God is not a man'

    Are you saying that Jesus is not a man or that Jesus is not God? If your reference is to God the father, or the Trinity as a whole, then of course I agree with you. That, of course, bears no relationship to the question of whether the quality of masculinity which is an essential characteristic of men and alien to women is also an aspect of God (at least the father and the son).

    I do not know if Lewis later recanted this essay. Frankly, I do not consider the question important. What is important is whether the contents of the essay are correct or not.

    I posted the passage from Lewis's 1948 essay Priestesses in the Church for several reasons.

    Firstly, because reading it was crucial in my reconsideration of my former pro-WO stance; although I am now against WO and Women Bishops more following the conservative evangelical argument (also found in the Church fathers) than the catholic position based on representation which Lewis outlined (although I also respect the catholic argument, together with the argument from tradition and apostolic practice, and would not dare to argue with certainty that it is incorrect).

    Secondly because I think the principle point that Lewis was making was correct; those of a catholic ecclesiology accepting WO, to avoid logical contradiction, must reject the Biblical language describing God. Lewis correctly predicted that WATCH (and their allies in the US and elsewhere) would have these thoughts.

    Thirdly, there is the doctrine of the fundamental interchangeability of masculinity and femininity (at least with regards to the relationship between the two in the church and within marriage), saying that except for our outward biological differences men and women are basically the same, which is at the heart of the egalitarian gospel, and key to every pro-WO case that I have seen. It seems inconsistent to apply this assumption to people and not to then apply it to God. The presuppositions on which an egalitarian position naturally lead one towards the position held by WATCH. CS Lewis's argument against this conclusion is as valid now as it always has been: this is not how God has taught us to understand Himself.

    Nigel Cundy.

  21. Good point, Jill.

    Someone should really be archiving this stuff at a central location.

  22. Dear Messrs. Schwartz and Cundy,

    Thank you for the additional details and comments re. Lewis.

    Possible 'grist for the mill' may be provided by "Neoplatonism in the Poetry of Spenser", Lewis's review-essay of Robert Ellrodt's book of the same title, published in 'Etudes Anglaises'(XIV, no. 2. 1961) and reprinted in 'Studies in Medieval & Renaissance Literature'(CUP, 1966): Lewis asks of "the most cryptic image in 'The Faerie Queene'" (p. 153), "is it tolerable that, in defiance of all tradition, Form should be embodied in the feminine image and Matter in the masculine, and even called 'the Father of all formes'?

    "It is hardly tolerable, yet I believe we must tolerate it. [...] I do not say that this image, if rightly understood, is theologically shocking; it is imaginatively shocking. The intellect can accept it; but on the level of the imagination the masculinity of the Word is almost impregnably entrenched by the sixfold character of Son, Bridegroom, King, Priest, Judge, and Shepherd. Yet all these, apparently, Spenser was prepared to break through" (p.155).

    I do not think this can be taken as automatically supplying arguments for WO, or was so taken by Lewis.

    Does anyone remember the details of Lewis's discussion with Dorothy L. Sayers on WO? - I cannot immediately place what I read, where!


  23. Spot on. Has it really been 16 years since the American Methodists and Presbyterians experienced such turmoil over the use of Sophia as language to name God ? How strange and oozingly slow the path of history appears to those who live in it. Well, the reason it is called "ordination" is that this is how God's Church is set in order. Until such time as the discipline is set right, there will be nothing but disorder in the church. Those disciplinary rules can be rational or they can be maddeningly simplistic and morally empty. To Whose voice are we listening ?

  24. Dear David and others,

    For what it's worth, I don't think that Lewis' argument about a male priest representing God is compelling, as I reject the notion of a representational priesthood as a NT pattern. My views on ordination are informed by leadership in the family of the church and the home, etc.

    I noted the view of CS Lewis scholar Michael Ward to address the narrow point as to whether Lewis' view changed, not to comment on the strength of the original argument.

    Thank you for the reference to Lewis' critique of Spenser, which is interesting, and would possibly have a bearing on a representational priesthood argument.

  25. Hi Nigel from Bruce in NY

    Thanks for the response with regard to "God is not a man." But sheesh, the Bible is full of TONS of metaphors for God. God is a bear, God is an eagle, God is a rock (!) God is a mother.. why get so hung up on the male-oriented ones? I find this selectivity.... difficult to explain other than ... men want God to be like them.

    The humility of the early Greek Fathers' negative theology is compelling to me and feels like the path to truth. Whatever you say about God, negate it and realize that the truth is beyond both statements. Hosea knew this... cf 11.9.