But perhaps not quite the story you might be expecting. Early last week I was contacted by Justin Brierley at Premier Christian Radio, who runs a great little programme called ‘Unbelievable’, asking whether I would come on and debate ‘women in ministry’ with Christina Rees of WATCH.
As it happened, I was about to embark on what I knew would be an incredibly stressful trip abroad, so I suggested a couple of other names, but they couldn’t do it, so in the end it came back to me.
Plan B actually looked good on paper — do the New Directions board-meeting in London on Thursday, stay overnight with friends and then go on to Premier on Friday. Unfortunately, things began to go wrong as soon as I got to Homerton station.
First one train was cancelled, then a second, then the third was ten minutes late. By the time I got to Highbury I ought to have been at Pimlico, but at least I was moving and had reached the London Underground.
Then, one stop along the Victoria line, everything literally came to a halt. The only realistic option by this stage was to get a taxi, which I did, but had to get the cash to pay for it first. And of course thanks to the underground being out (including, by now, the Piccadilly line) the traffic, even in the London Congestion Zone, was horrendous.
By this time I’d given up trying to tell Justin when I might arrive, but I finally turned up at 2.30, several pounds lighter in both respects.
And so to the interview. Unfortunately, this rather turned out like my perambulations around London — never quite getting to the point but expending a lot of energy in the process. I’ll put up a link when the broadcast goes out (a week today) and people can judge for themselves, but I came away more frustrated by this than by the breakdowns on the trains.
But it is not just the radio debate which frustrates me. In preparation, I had taken away with me Discovering Biblical Equality : Complementarity Without Hierarchy, which has contributions from, amongst others, Gordon Fee, and I Howard Marshall — both people whose scholarship I respect. However, I really felt that the arguments it presented were just not terribly good. Marshall’s conclusion was, I thought, typical. Basically, in Ephesians 5 Paul does really advocate submission from wife to husband, but,
Paul wrote as he did about marriage because in his world he did not know any other form than the patriarchal. (204)
So dear old Paul could, under the revelation of the gospel and the inspiration of the Spirit, get his head around laying off with circumcision and food laws, sacrifices and holy days, indeed the whole Law of Moses, but he hit the buffers when it came to families and households.
This is not to say there is no debate to be had. On the contrary, there is much to debate, not least because (as I said in a previous post about other matters) on principle if “two men say they’re Jesus, one [or both] of them must be wrong”. And certainly both sides can’t be right about women’s ordination.
But there is another elephant in the room when it comes to ordination itself — certainly within Anglican circles. For as I said in the interview, the deacons of the Church of England are nowhere to be found in the New Testament, nor are the bishops the same, and even the priests are clearly somewhat different from New Testament presbyters. If you are a devotee of later tradition, you will perhaps see this as a proper development, but if you are a thoroughgoing evangelical you will surely be wanting to ask serious questions in this area too.
Part of our problem, therefore, is that at the same time as we are rewriting the book on male-female relationships we are unwilling to confront our institutional structures. Indeed, one of the striking things about Discovering Biblical Equality was its repeated antipathy to any sort of metaphorical hierarchy between men and women, whilst having little or nothing to say (at least in the bits I read) about the literal hierarchy to be found in denominations like the Church of England.
If you are to allow some element of the latter, however, then you cannot surely exclude the former simply on the grounds that hierarchy in personal relationships is fundamentally antithetical to the gospel! Yet in the index of DBE, the entry for ‘hierarchy’ simply says ‘See male leadership position’ — something of a blind spot, I would suggest (though not quite on a par with the entry in our old Yellow Pages which read ‘Boring — see Civil Engineers’).
Meanwhile, I was intrigued to discover on the AWESOME website some statistics about women in church leadership. According to one survey published in Quadrant for Christian Research, female ministers generally were most likely to: come from the Salvation Army, or Methodist or URC Churches and be theologically Liberal, Low Church or Broad.
Within the Church of England itself, on the Register of the Evangelical Patrons’ Consultative Council (which brings together bodies who have ‘patronage’ rights regarding parish appointments and which therefore seeks names of potential candidates), in 2004 there were twelve women’s names (13%), and in 2010 just seven (9%).
Some may say this is not surprising, given the views of Conservative Evangelicals like myself. But the fact is that we are a small minority compared with those who identify themselves as evangelicals in favour of women’s ordination, and now consecration (including many in New Wine or associated with the Alpha movement).
The problem, which I have highlighted before, is that this endorsement doesn’t actually seem to be feeding through on the ground. There are not large numbers of evangelical women clergy — certainly not when compared with men — and one is therefore left wondering whether either the arguments of egalitarians are not actually persuading people to step forward for ordination or (and here is the real worry for me) that the arguments are, in fact, essentially liberal in their formulation, and that therefore those whom they persuade do not, ultimately, self-identify as evangelical.
John RichardsonPlease give a full name and location when posting. Comments without this information may be deleted.