The following blog post is not an official statement for the organisation I work for. It is offered as a reflection from a non-Anglican, but a friend of the Anglican church. I offer no expertise on the internal intricacies of the #synod system. I am a man and so have never suffered because of my gender. I write as an Asian so I know a little of what it means to be treated differently because of my genetics. I am very open to receive correction and critique.
It’s been a painful week for the Church in the UK. I don’t mean the Anglican church, I mean all those that have pledged their allegiance to Christ. The public reputation of the Church has been severely damaged. The coverage and social media buzz I have picked up on have underlined a public perception that the Church is anti-women. This is devastating for all of us because Jesus deliberately challenged the gender stereotypes of his day. He used women as role models over and over again – from the widow’s mite to the faith of the Syro-Phoenician woman. It’s a sad day when the Prince of Peace has his name sullied in this way.
No room for sexism in Christianity
To be a Bible-believing Christian you must believe that all human beings are made in the image of God. Every person – whatever their gender, race, class, faith, sexual orientation – is of intrinsic value because they are made by God and made in his image. This is a fundamental Christian value. It can be summed up in Jesus’ commands to love your neighbour and to love your enemy. That seems to capture everyone. Everyone is worthy of loving. These are incredibly tough words. Whatever the rights and wrongs of the debate around women bishops we need to set the record straight – Christians can’t be sexist, or racist, or classist. When we are, we betray our call to walk in Christ’s footsteps. All of us have to believe in the profound value of all humanity. But what are we to make of the charge that a few sexist “evangelicals” stopped progress in the Church of England?
Not all evangelicals are against women bishops or female leadership
Firstly, not all evangelicals are against women taking on leadership roles. In fact the Evangelical Alliance survey in 2010 of 17,000 evangelical Christians found that 71 per cent thought that women should be eligible for all roles within the Church. That is my belief too in light of what I read in scripture, in Christ the divisive hierarchies of our societies between slaves and free people, between men and women, are nullified, we are one. (Galatians 3:28ff). (As an outsider looking in on the Anglican debate – a powerful argument for women bishops has to be the fact that the Queen is the Supreme Governor of the Church of England – so there must be an implicit acceptance of women in leadership roles).
Not all complementarians are sexist
Secondly, not all evangelicals who are against women in leadership are sexist. This might be hard to understand or to stomach, but let me do my best to explain it. From the EA survey we could say the minority of evangelicals believe that some of the leadership roles within the Church are to be limited to men. They do so not because they believe that women are inferior to men, but because they see that the Bible teaches equality of persons but different roles. I am 100% a parent and so is my wife, but our equality as parents does not negate the fact that we had different roles to play in the birth of our children. Some evangelicals would argue that the same is true in the Church- everyone has equal value but we have different roles. As I say, this is not my view, but to argue that Christians who hold a different view to me on this issue because of their reading of scripture and because of their consciences are therefore sexist or anti-women is unfair. In fact to insult, ridicule or mock people that hold this view is not to honour people made in the image of God, it is a failure to love our neighbour (or even our enemies).
How will we treat those we disagree with?
Thirdly, church governance systems can be clunky, but if you have a democratic system, you need to honour it. I am not completely up to speed with how the Synod system works. Are those that are on it invited to vote on behalf of their personal opinions or on behalf of a constituency? It is possible for a minority to hold a majority to hostage. There can be a stubbornness that selfishly seeks its own way rather than preferring the needs of others. I am not sure if that is what happened at Synod on Tuesday. But equally learning how to find space to value the minority voice, leaving room for the brother or sister with the “weaker conscience” (1 Cor 8 ) is another mark of Christian community. I have ringing in the back of my mind the famous quotation: “The most certain test by which we judge whether a country is really free is the amount of security enjoyed by minorities.” If that is true for a country how much more is that true for a church. So how do we move forward? As ever we seek to do so with grace and truth, just like Jesus. Grace means honouring and valuing those that hold different views from us whichever side of the debate we fall. We cannot allow discouragement, fear or triumphalism to rule our relations with one another. We are having this debate in public, the world is watching. We live in a fractured world so learning how to love those we disagree with is sorely needed at a time when conflict is raging in Syria, Gaza, Congo…. How can we model a better way of working through our differences? When we are hurt or victorious we are at our most vulnerable. With the world’s media on us we need the grace of God more than ever.
Croatian Theologian Miroslav Volf who writes from the experience of the horrors of war torn Yugoslavia argued:
“This is what Jesus Christ asks Christians to do. Assured of God’s justice and undergirded by God’s presence, they are to break the cycle of violence by refusing to be caught in the automatism of revenge. It cannot be denied that the prospects are good that by trying to love their enemies they may end up hanging on a cross. Yet often enough, the fragile fruit of Pentecostal peace grows–a peace between people from different cultural spaces gathered in one place who understand each other’s languages and share in each others’ goods.”
Now is the time to praying for our Anglican brothers and sisters to find a way forward that models the grace and truth of our Lord Jesus.