Women bishops and gays?

That's the church for me!

by Jean Mayland

from Signs of the Times, No. 22 - Jul 2006

This headline I confess to having stolen from the article by Mary Ann Siegart in Times 2 on Thursday 22 June. She was referring to the American Episcopal Church and the article begins by asking how she can join it. It continues

It sounds great now that it has a woman, the Bishop of Nevada, the Rt Revd Katharine Jefferts Schori in charge and an openly gay bishop in Gene Robinson. That for me encapsulates all the best Christian virtues of tolerance, diversity and acceptance.

I agree whole heartedly - but that is also what I want both the Church of England and the Anglican Communion to be and my heart says,' How long O Lord, how long! ?'

When the news of the election of Barbara Harris as first woman bishop broke on the radio, I was driving back along the M62 at night after teaching on the Northern Ordination Course. Alone and in my car I cheered. When I first met Barbara Harris at the WCC gathering in Korea, I shrank back from the long red nails and the cigarette holder as she smoked in the corridor. When Katharine's election as Presiding Bishop was announced I was in our cottage with my husband and I cheered again. When I saw her photo I did not like the deep all round collar and the rather masculine dress. Long red nails, cigarette holders deep collars and imitation male dress are cultural differences I can live with. I am still delighted by these two elections.

There are, however, in the Anglican Communion, much deeper cultural and theological differences and those who hold conservative views do not want to leave room for liberals like myself and many other members of the MCU.

On June 20 Ruth Gledhill of the Times reported that

the Anglican Church in America descended into ecclesiastical anarchy last night as American traditionalists refused to accept the authority of a woman and asked the Archbishop of Canterbury to lead them instead.

It was also reported that Rowan Williams was seriously considering this! My blood pressure went up to new heights - why do all our bishops seem to have their backbones removed ?

Early on 21 June I rejoiced as I learnt that the House of Deputies has refused to bow to pressure and had rejected a motion to apologise for having a gay bishop and abstain from consecrating others. Later that night my heart sank again as I learnt that a specially convened joint meeting of the two houses of the General Convention had agreed to 'calls for restraint in consecrating bishops whose manner of life presents a challenge to the wider church'.

I was saddened to hear that the new Presiding Bishop has pleaded with them to do this as her church and the Anglican communion were 'like conjoined twins and needed to stay together'.

Why was I so in despair? Did I really want the Anglican Communion to break up ? No I do not - but I do not want to hold together at the expense of gay people - yes and in many places of women.

Bishop Katharine and others believe that it now gives a chance for conversation and in time things will change. Bishop Robinson himself observed, 'This is not what we hoped for but it is what we have'. He urged support for Bishop Katharine and said, 'In some sense having given the Anglican Communion what it asked for regarding gay and lesbian members in this church, we'll be looking to them to see if they were serious about wanting to be in conversation about this, or whether they wanted to end the conversation'.

My fear is that the latter is what they really want to do and they are already scenting blood. Those who are opposed to this change are often backed up by the money of wealthy hardline evangelicals. Archbishop Akinola is no poor impoverished African bishop. He has power such as no Church of England bishop holds. Moreover he countenances violence against women in their homes and treats gay and lesbian people in his diocese with many of the methods used by President Mugabe in Zimbabwe against opposition figures. There are gay and lesbian Christians in Africa and their situation is a tragic one. Give bullies and inch and they will demand a mile. One might have hoped that the Archbishop of Canterbury might have learnt this lesson by now but I see few signs. There are dark days ahead and much of the easy optimism of those who trust in conversations will wear off.

Do we then give up? No! Why should our church and our communion be taken over by those of extreme conservative views? I do not want to drive them out but they must learn to live with ideas and practices that are not their own. The Communion is only holding together because we liberals are not threatening to take our bat and ball and play elsewhere. One day we may have to as the cost to the marginalised of remaining may be too high. At the moment however I think we have to struggle on, but it must be remembered just how much we care. We must not be taken for granted.

Gene Robinson described the process as a journey but acknowledged there will be bumps in the road. He said 'I am more interested in talking about tomorrow than I am about yesterday or today'. A terrible burden now rests upon him and we should remember him in our prayers.

When he was in Stockport last November he said 'the change will come - but maybe not in our lifetime'. It seems increasingly and sadly likely that it will not come in mine. All I can do is work, struggle, write and pray that it may come in the lifetime of my children and grand children. Perhaps then they may attracted back to a church which at the moment seems to have little to offer them or their friends who do live in a society which is open, friendly and inclusive - even if the church is not.

At the final morning Eucharist of the Convention Presiding Bishop Katharine said

Mother Jesus gives birth to a new creation - and you and I are his children. If we're going to keep on growing into Christ images for the world around us, we're going to give up fear.

May we so grow.