And behold, Christianity is a lot tougher than it looks

Nov 22, 2012
Crispin Black

Not everyone is crying about the Synod's No vote on women bishops. Crispin Black, for one

THE non-kumbaya, non-right-on aspects of Jesus's nature are shown clearly in a number of passages in the New Testament. The least in tune with the modern liberal zeitgeist are the accounts of his 'Anointing' - the pouring by a female follower of a small pot of very expensive scented oil over his head (in Mark and Matthew) or feet (John and Luke).

In some of the accounts the disciples question whether this is an appropriate use of resources. In the account in St John's Gospel Chapter 12, interestingly, it's Judas who poses the question:

"Why was not this ointment sold for three hundred pence, and given to the poor?"

To which Jesus replies:

"For the poor always ye have with you; but me ye have not always."

Christianity is a much more austere religion at its heart than many of its modern Disneyfied versions pretend. It's not just that there were no animals or shepherds singing at the Nativity - as Pope Benedict explains in his new book published this week, The Infancy Narratives: Jesus of Nazareth - it is a religion based not only on love but also on more difficult notions for modern man to swallow, such as sin and judgment.

Everyone can be saved – there is equality of opportunity - but not everyone will be, or deserves to be.

And all this unfolds in a created, although fallen, world. Given the bleak circumstances and all the other great theological difficulties such as the problem of evil, it seems entirely possible that God planned a stained-glass ceiling for women - a male priesthood, or at the very least, a male episcopacy. But the sisters won't have it.

There are other, more everyday, annoyances in the whole saga of the Synod vote on women bishops, particularly the patronising attitude to the result.

A lot of breathless headlines in the media beforehand seemed to suggest that the result was a foregone conclusion. But a vote is a vote. It was tight in the laity – six votes short out of 206 cast. Ask Al Gore how it feels. But the rules are clear enough: a two-thirds majority is required for a big change like women bishops in all three houses of the Synod (bishops, priests and laity).

Incidentally, this is a slightly easier procedure than a change in the US Constitution which requires two-thirds majorities in the Senate and the House of Representatives, and then ratification by the legislatures of three quarters of all the states.

The losers in the Synod vote might consider why they failed. The proposals, while accepting in principle that individual parishes could opt out entirely from the control of a woman bishop, failed to set up a sufficiently safeguarded procedure to make sure that this could come about. The opponents of women bishops rightly smelt a rat. Once the measure was through, they were afraid that they would be forced to submit to what they regard as the unbiblical and unhistorical "authority" of a woman bishop – if only at one remove.

There were tears when the vote was lost. Some of them, at least, looked like the tears of thwarted temporal - rather than spiritual - ambition. There are plenty of ways for women to serve God in the Church of England without consecration as bishops.

Predictably, David Cameron, our left-wing Etonian prime minister, quickly shored up his bogus 'equality and diversity' credentials by telling the rebels to "get with the programme". No doubt they will be harassed by another Etonian leftie and prominent supporter of women bishops, Bishop Justin Welby, who takes over as Archbishop of Canterbury next month.

Frankly, if we are going to have Etonians running everything, it's a shame we can't draft Boris in to do both jobs.

Sign up for our daily newsletter

Disqus - noscript

Oh Dear, Eton again! I wonder why these small minds are so anti - especially when it happens to be a very good school indeed
I have always assumed that Old Etonians get good jobs
because "They are worth it"

Thank you Crispin for pointing out some of the salient points. People who are interested in why enough of us Laity voted against to defeat the Measure might like to see my speech - which perhaps helped some waverers come down on the side of saying NO as I did. To my surprise I was asked by Archbishop Sentamu to open the batting after the lunch break (what is sometimes called the "pudding" slot). I said:

I suppose it was preparation in a way. This weekend I have been reviewing 10 hours of Wagner in Nuremberg and Luebeck - Tristan and Parsifal: “Durch Mitleid wissend, der reine Tor” - The pure fool, enlightened by compassion. Compassion.
Of course this debate with all its pressure, is designed to make it hard for us to say NO. So how can I, who want women bishops, decide to say no and dig my heels in now as an improbable liberal Anglo-catholic donkey? If the Archbishops’ appeals for the minorities were voted down, what chance had I? Our only real chance to stop this bad Measure is the last hurdle - where we are now. It is perfectly OK to say no now. Yes we can. This is the moment for NO.

We are told we must vote Yes, or people outside the Church will be confirmed in their contempt for religion if we don't. For Guardian bloggers and some other fellow citizens, we here are religious nuts, a bunch of crazies, and legislating for women priests and bishops is just getting a bit real, being practical and just.

But, actually, what our belief in God, and the mysterious power of goodness, teaches us is that knowing what is good and of God, discerning the difference between right and wrong, good and bad, is not like telling the difference between black and white. One person's good may be another person's bad. God keeps moving the goalposts. That’s why it’s so hard to have a consensus about ordained women and about this Measure. Our God is full of surprises, miraculous surprises. He moves the goalposts, and churches split.

But that’s why we should have a concern with Reception. We the majority who want women as Bishops could still be wrong. The minority just could be right. Religions are anchored in safety by the weight of their traditions. We are lucky as Anglicans in the CofE with the richness of our opposing traditions. But when a religion shifts with
something such as the ordination and consecration of women, it is like an earthquake.

My reasons for voting NO now come down to two crucial factors - the compromises being made and what it is to be a minority within this religion of Christianity that traditionally proclaims unanimity - but has a sordid habit of door-slamming, closing ears, and outlawing opponents of those with power and the pulpit. I never forget the Bishop
of Beziers at the time of the Cathars: "Burn them all. The good Lord knows his own."

My friend Rosemary Mallet who I truly respect for her brainpower and spiritual gifts just repeated what she told us at a Southwark pre-Synod meeting that this Measure is a compromise for women in that it provides for a minority who don't accept ordained women. But I think that's not women compromising. It's facing reality.

Whatever this Measure does, whatever happens, women bishops as pioneers will not be universally accepted for years in Anglicanism worldwide. A majority of us here will be easy about them. But even here, for at least a quarter of us, perhaps a third - consecrated women will not really be
bishops. Rosemary may want this Measure to establish an article of faith. It cannot. Yes, a Synod makes law. But a Church decides in its heart and mind, in the private recesses where God lives, where people's strength to do His will lies.

Let's face facts. The Gordian knot the Measure cannot cut is about abolishing gender as a factor. Woman bishops will be not quite the same as men bishops till they are accepted
by all Anglicans, who worship God in their hearts. We cannot make that happen. We must treat with love this minority whose hearts I too hope will one day change (though I will vote NO). We must honour the promises we made to them 20 years ago and give them security about their life of faith belonging with us - not just a hotchpotch of schemes reworked every time a new bishop comes into one of our 43 dioceses. We need one legal way of handling this - adapting the Act of Synod.

Reception of our change may one day be complete. But if one just man was enough for God with the cities on the plain, and God's love and tolerance are eternal, how can ours be so much less? There is an alternative way, and it will be better.

Boris would probably be more pro the idea of women bishops than Cameron is.

It's more of a pro-Boris anti-lefty joke than a crack at Eton which as you say is a v good school indeed. The tie I am wearing in my photo at the top of the column might also give you a clue.

Religion belongs to an age of simply not knowing enough for survival. Today Hitchen is understated. Fry and Dawkins too, Life and the planet are so much better. On the positive side, why stop women for going into this enterprise? They are not entirly stupid. I say lety them in as Popes. They always sound nice.

What is called St.John's Gospel talks about "the apostle whom Jesus loved and coyly avoids mentioning a name. This is because she was Mary Magdalene - the most important apostle was a woman, not a man. Google "Nag Hamadi" and check out the Gnostic gospels. You will discover that Jesus kissed her often on the lips and Peter was jealous of Mary's close relationship with Jesus. There was no glass ceiling. Jesus ran an equal opportunities outfit, which is why men re-wrote the orthodox gospels to disguise the fact.

What nonesense - and certainly not the orthodox CofE view.

The Gnostic gospels are not part of the scriptures included in the New Testament because they were not considered fuly reliable.

Many women are mentioned by name in the Bible, both OT and NT, and their role is respected. Time passes and customs change, but dragging up weak sources to make a point serves no-one.

God keeps moving the goalposts? LOL!

And who decided which (of the many) Gospels, were reliable?