There is always hope-251688

Grace, Truth and Synod

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.

 

39 thoughts on “Grace, Truth and Synod”

  1. Thanks for this, Krish. You’ve hit the nail on the head with that bit about a minority holding the majority to hostage. General Synod’s voting system makes a mockery of democracy and it would be very easy to fix without abandoning the 2/3 majority principle: an overall 2/3 majority backed by a simple majority in all three houses. That way, a majority objection in any house can still effectively veto the other two and ensure further listening. It’s not difficult to get this right.

    My view: as currently constituted, GS is not fit for purpose and I’ve put forward a vote of no confidence calling for an urgent review in this petition to the Archbishops’ Council, the House of Bishops and ABC Designate Justin Welby: http://www.ipetitions.com/petition/no-confidence-in-general-synod/

  2. Krish,

    Great article, very helpful, thanks. I have not got a hard-line opinion on this subject, but I lean towards what you describe in your paragraph “Not all complementarians are sexist”. I believe in reading scripture as simply as possible, and I believe that we can go out of our way to twist it subtly or dramatically to suit our own needs. From my reading of scripture I see that as people before God men and women are absolutely equal, and both equally as sinful, and both equally unworthy of mercy and grace which is given freely to both. I also see that there are quite a few places where men and women are given different instructions, especially in the area of leadership.

    If an allegation of sexism can be levelled against me, it is that I favour women too much in the church; I look back with shame on the past 50 years and see how the men have let the church down (generalisation of course, not all men) and how the women have been the powerhouse, at the prayer meeting, in the home, on the mission-field, and latterly as deacons, elders, and even ministers. I am an elder in a church with women elders, and in my humble opinion the women out-qualify me on all but one qualification; that I am male; they are Godly, Godly women. I am not even going as far as to suggest that we should remove these women because of their gender. IMO we’ve gone wrong in appointing them, over time we will be able to correct that, but it doesn’t need corrected this very minute.

    However, just like in the home, as in your example about children, women and men have different strengths, and we should encourage and nurture that. I think that when us men get our acts together then women can start being women again.

    In marriage the husband is not the boss. He is the head, but not the boss. Eph 5:33 tells husbands to love your wife as yourself, and that means sacrificial love, putting her needs and wishes before you. Its not about power. Same thing in the church. The eye is not a nose, and the nose is not an eye.

    The New Testament clearly challenges a lot of fundamental cultural norms of the day, putting emphasis on women’s testimony etc., and that is why we should pay attention when it does differentiate between gender roles.

    I say all of this not to cause a fuss, but because I wish to discuss and learn. I think that current affairs programs on the TV are not the place to have these discussions within the church, and I was disappointed to see that two interviewees who had ample time to speak talked about feelings and moving with the times, and the first one to quote scripture was the presenter. Anyway, it wasn’t the proper place for an internal discussion or debate.

    1. I couldn’t agree more with you Simon. I have been thinking about this all week since it all happened. It does sadden me that that we seem to be all in turmoil. I am not part of the Anglican Church either and I would class myself as a non-sexist complementarian. I do believe there are different roles within the leadership of church, however I agree with Simon, Men have been an awful example of this in recent years!

      I would like to make a comment over the Queen being the supreme governer of the CoE. I can see the argument but I don’t agree with it. She doesn’t have a say in the Synod (correct me if I am wrong) or a say in Church matters per say (again this may be wrong). I think it’s just a title she has been given following her ancestors before her – I think it’s a weak argument to use the Queen.

      Finally it’s a tough one that this is being played out in public. People outside the Church (the people of God) as well as some within it don’t see the whole pciture I feel. They want to move with the world and feel we are being left behind. A lot of people outside the church misunderstand and just think we are idiots. We must consult scripture and what it says, to me scripture goes over the law of the land, it is what I live my life by, not what the government or anybody else thinks – I want to follow Jesus and his example. The Bible is the word of God and so needs to be taken seriously. I fear for the future. I fear that we will be persecuted heavilly for this as well as many other areas (eg gay marriage) in years to come for not accepting people and ‘moving with the times’.

    2. Another man with you Simon. I don’t have strong views about women being able to hold all positions in the church, but I do have strong complementarian views.

      I’m concerned that appointments will be made for the wrong reason (I remember the feminist thrust back in the ’90s when women were first ordained, and the enthusiasm of some of breaking into a Male-only preserve rather than Godly reasons); and that complementarian views will be sidelined and discredited by the appointments. This view affects every day Christian life in my opinion (Krish, would you say you and your wife have different roles in marriage?), and while women bishops and it coexist comfortably in my head, I don’t think they will in the world at large.

  3. I appreciate the care with which you’ve written this piece, Krish, and as a non-sexist complementarian who disagrees with women bishops, I appreciate the way in which you have done your level best to represent fairly the views of those with whom you disagree. Nice one, bro.

    1. A very well balanced and grace-filled post. Thank you so much. As an ordained woman in the C of E I have found this a very tough week, but reading posts like yours helps to put things in bigger perspective. Jesus is Lord and we’ll be celebrating that in all Church of England parish churches on this Sunday (Christ the King). That’s what holds us together as we pray and work for his kingdom to come on earth as in heaven.

  4. Thanks for your carefully thought, loving & grace filled approach in the wake of Synod this week.
    The picture knocked me for six when I saw it. I gave it as a card to a couple on the first birthday following their teenage son’s death. Mainly because I didn’t know what to say to them, but felt that the picture said what I couldn’t frame into words. It just goes so perfectly too with the words you have written.

  5. We have a two-thirds majority rule for the very simple reason that we want to maintain consensus. Having this high barrier mean that when we move forward we move forward together. The alternative to some form of compromise is a single clause measure with no provision for traditionalists, and that would be the ecclesiastical equivalent of telling them to “**** off somewhere else”.

    So like it or not, we need to all sit down and work out a solution that will satisfy everyone. If we can’t then we can’t move forward short of ejecting the minority who are substantial enough to cause us to stop and think.

    1. What you’re saying there, Peter, is that we move forward together except for that even smaller minority that a 2/3 majority in all three houses shunts to one side: the fact is that unless it’s unanimous, someone gets shunted aside, and for those people it hurts.

      But no one I know is telling that minority to leave: if they leave, that’s by their own free choice. What we are saying to them is that they must accept and acknowledge that the church they are part of does not share all their views. In other words, learn to live with diversity and stop expecting everyone else to pander to your expectations. I disagree with all sorts of things in the C of E. I support marriage equality, for instance. But that doesn’t mean I have to walk away.

      I agree with the high bar: a 2/3 majority makes sense; but what we’ve got works out in practice at around a 3/4 majority requirement, which a minority have taken advantage of to continue excluding half the population. The C of E has been a party to inequity for too long; and it is now allowing an inequitable voting system to be abused by a non-representative minority.

      That system is broken: it’s time for change.

      1. but … hang on a minute: you couldn’t get to BE a bishop if you didn’t hold to the progressive view (so that’s not representative); and it is very difficult to get elected to the clergy if you hold traditional views (so that’s not representative either)…

        1. Not quite sure what you’re thinking of there, Michael, but I was referring to those in the House of Laity who voted according to their personal preferences rather than in a way that represents the laity within their respective dioceses. Hope that clarifies for you.

  6. I Loved reading this blog post, Krish, and I am completely on the same page as you!! I also like the loving way you show respect to those of a different view-point :), so no disagreements here just encouragement! Good stuff :)

  7. Great post, and I agree with all of it except one point:

    “Not all complementarians are sexist … they see that the Bible teaches equality of persons but different roles … to argue that Christians who hold [this view are] sexist or anti-women is unfair.”

    I am sure that most people who hold these views do not hate women. I am sure they honestly believe this view is not sexist, but they are wrong.

    It doesn’t matter how much we *say* men and women are equal in our eyes. If we continue to assign people to particular gender roles, we are still upholding a sexist point of view. Complementarianism is inherently sexist – whether one likes it or not.

    Your example of different roles in childbirth is besides the point. Those roles are not assigned according to tradition or scripture: they are assigned by the simple fact that a woman has a womb and a man does not. On the other hand, there is no deficiency in women’s physical or mental capabilities which should debar a woman from becoming a bishop.

    To claim a woman cannot be this or that because ‘it is not a woman’s role’ is sexism, plain and simple, whether we make that claim from prejudice, from tradition, or from God.

  8. Thanks Krish. Great blog, clear and helpful. I completely agree with you about the “world is watching” and I was so disappointed by how we as the church portrayed ourselves this week. Whatever denomination we are part of (I am not an Anglican at the moment, but who knows things change! ) we are all the body and followers of Jesus and I would have loved this debate to have talked more about the kingdom and Jesus rather than splits, prejudice and Anglicanism! As believers we disagree on lots of things and its always grim to be known ‘out there’ for our splits and disagreements rather than our love, grace and unity. I was saddened by how the vote went but more saddened by the after discussion because of what it portrays to a watching world who are already cynical about the church. There was a horribly poisonous article in the guardian yesterday! Today I am thankful that I minister in a local expression of church where it’s my giftedness that determines ministry role, not my sex!

  9. I do very much appreciate this post. But I do have a couple of qualms with it. Nb. I speak as a complementarian presbyterian.

    1) You say “not all complementarians are sexist”, the wording of which assumes that you think that most are…

    2) You use the language of “holding hostage”. That is grossly unfair. The minority were not holding the majority hostage. The majority failed to convince the minority that their consciences would be respected. The offer on the table was woefully inadequate, and the attitude is “accept this, or leave”, which misunderstood the strength of that minority view.

    I am saddened that virtually nobody from the egalitarian side (this blog post may be an exception) have come out and said to the press “actually, those who opposed the measure are not sexist. We disagree but they are just following their consciences and we respect that”. No, what we have heard is that the minority “held hostage” the majority, that they are essentially anti women (and any women complementarians have let the side down – in tone even if not actually said), that they are backward looking luddites who are merely conservative for the sake of it. The “dissappointment” is a focussed one, like a teacher telling off a class for misbehaviour from a select few naughty boys and girls. Tsk Tsk Tsk.

    That as much as a yes vote has showed that conservative evangelicals are not really welcome in the CofE anymore.

    ps. Who cares what the world thinks. It is not our job to conform to their morality but to Gods. The world hates Jesus and so hates us. Remember, we believe a man who was God came back from the dead, folly to the gentiles. Lets get some perspective: whatever your views on the issue, what the World thinks we should do should not be a factor.

    pss. The Galatians quote wheeled out about equality is in a context: that of justification by faith alone, and not by national heratage. It is twisting its arm to say there is equality in roles in life. Employees still have a boss, we attend churches still led by pastors

  10. Thanks for this article. As an Anglican opposed to women’s ordination (not to mention their consecration as bishops) may I say that the real problem lies with the liberal majority which thought that it could muster enough votes to defeat the minority and dictate its own terms to them. It has been clear for some time that this tactic was unlikely to work, and the defeat of the majority on Tuesday was what they deserved. Their reaction has been overwhelmingly one of bitterness and a desire for revenge – hardly a Christian attitude. The minority, on the other hand, has expressed a desire to move forward. All it wants is recognition and protection; it has no desire to dominate or to exclude others. This is the Christian approach, and we must pray that the majority will take it on board. If it does, the atmosphere will change and a real accommodation will be possible.

    1. Gerald, what your minority have done is shoot themselves in the foot. You haven’t rejected women bishops; you have neither the mandate nor the authority to do that: what you have rejected is the accommodation that the majority held out to you, in generosity and love.

      Where the minority have been offered grace, they have responded with betrayal, abusing their positions in Synod and scuppering synodical process by voting in accordance with their personal preferences rather than on behalf of the dioceses they represent. The response of the majority has been shock and dismay, and rightly so at such a breach of proper conduct; some bitterness, yes, and perfectly understandable under the circumstances; but a “desire for revenge”? Where have you seen this, please? For what I have seen are cries for justice and equity.

      The time has come for your minority to acknowledge and accept that the Church of England is not minded to dance to your tune. You must accept, as do other minorities within the church, that you cannot be in control, and you must learn (as I have had to learn) to dance widdershins around the rest of the church: still with them but against the flow. Or do you no longer believe that Jesus is the Lord of the Dance, calling the steps in which we must all follow, albeit some of us more haphazardly than others?

      1. Phil,

        This would be a good argument if a substantial minority of the no voters weren’t themselves liberals who thought the provision on offer wasn’t satisfactory. It is not the minority attempting to call the tune to dance to – there are significant elements of the majority who will not impose women bishops at any price.

        This is the circle we have to square, and calling each other names doesn’t help in the slightest to do that.

        1. Peter, I think you’ll find that ‘liberal’ minority wouldn’t have voted as they did if they hadn’t been leant on by the ‘conservative’ minority.

          Regret you’ve lost me with the bit about “significant elements of the majority who will not impose women bishops at any price”.

          As for squaring the circle: it’s easier to circle the square; you just have to increase the circumference – not difficult if you’re willing to accept diversity within the church.

          Where are you finding the name-calling?

          1. I’m finding the name calling all over the internet.

            I think you are in denial if you think there is a two-thirds majority in all three houses (at present) for a single-clause. Many bishops would vote against it, and quite a few clergy and laity who voted yes this time would also vote no. We *have* to find the compromise that works.

          2. I haven’t called for a single-clause measure, Peter, though thousands are doing so. What I do know is that we need to get on with it instead of the endless faffing about. Let Synod adopt my proposed voting protocol of a 2/3 overall majority backed by a simple majority in all three houses and move on from there with an equitable voting system. That protects a significant minority without allowing a lesser minority to scupper synodical process.

  11. I think this blog is by far the best I’ve read on the topic, I am in agreement with each and every word. I am totally for women being able to partake in all areas of spiritual leadership but have spent each morning since the vote re-reading scripture, studying debates etc just to check I am standing for God’s will and not my own. My prayer each morning has been ‘God, will you strengthen the hearts of those who stand for your will, and soften the hearts of those who do not.’ I now have even less question in my mind of whether I am standing for God’s will, but above all pray that we, as Christians, would care far more that we are in line with the heart of God than that we are right.

  12. Nice work, Krish. I’ve also been dismayed at the sheer vitriol that has been thrown at complementarians this week. As you said, most hold this view due to convictions born from their reading of Scripture. Whether you agree with them or not, they shouldn’t all be demonised as ‘sexist’ or ‘misogynist’.

    1. I have no intention to demonise, but complementarianism *is* sexist. It doesn’t matter how little hatred a complementarian has in their heart, or how much love; it doesn’t matter that their opinion comes from a reading of scripture: it is a view which discriminates against people because of their sex, i.e. sexism.

      If a complementarian doesn’t like being called sexist, if they think being called sexist is offensive, if they genuinely think sexism is a bad thing, they need to change their complementarian stance.

      1. Skepticle, are you arguing that a person who believes the bible teaches complimentarianism should go against their understanding of scripture?

        1. I believe everyone must find their own way, whether by reading of scripture or what they know in their hearts to be right.

          However, we cannot have it both ways. We cannot say men and women should have specific roles in life AND say we are not sexist.

          Different people read scripture in different ways. If a person’s reading is that God has defined roles for each sex, but their heart tells them God could not be ‘sexist’, I would urge them to seek out those who read scripture differently and hear their views.

  13. When some portion of Scripture appears not to conform to the gospel, this should warn us that our understanding may be incorrect and that intense reexamination is necessary.(1 Tim. 1:10–11; Phil. 1:27, Gal. 2:14.)

  14. As A Roman Catholic, the Cof E can do anything it wants and must live with the schism that follows and eventual dis-establishment with the probably threat to the monarchy.

    However, please do not continue the hubris of even thinking itself Catholic.

    The Holy Spirit doesn’t talk out of two sides of Her mouth.

  15. As A Roman Catholic, the CofE can do what it wants and live with resulting schism.

    However, the CofE can no longer maintain the hubris of considering itself Catholic. The Holy Spirit doesn’t talk out of two sides of Her mouth.

    1. If there is hubris, David, it is that of Rome, arrogating the term Catholic unto itself. The C of E, Baptists, Presbyterians, Lutherans, Orthodox and so many other denominations too numerous to list are all part of the One Holy and Catholic Church: we are one body with many parts and Christ alone is our Head.

  16. The Complementarian position sounds so reasonable at first but I’m with Skeptical: if you say two people have an equality of being but debar one from some roles, you cannot say they are equal any more.
    Equality, as per Galatians 3: 28 must lead to being open to the possibility that the Holy Spirit is calling some women to be priests and bishops.
    In fact concepts of ‘presbyteros’ (elder/priest) and and ‘episkope’ (overseer/bishop) are difficult to separate in the NT.
    As Sarah Coakley* has written, the failure of the Measure was under girded by bad theology.

    I take heart from open evangelicals like you. Thanks.

    * http://www.abc.net.au/religion/articles/2012/11/23/3639111.htm

    1. The term ‘Complementarian’ is nothing but political double-talk, just another way of saying “We’re all equal but some are more equal than others” — and it’s noteworthy that under complementarianism, it’s always the men who are more equal.

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