The Church of England’s rejection of women bishops has been criticised within the church and beyond. But Pete Myers, of campaign group Together 4ward, tells Channel 4 News his view is not sexist.
The General Synod’s vote on the ordination of women bishops was an important decision which was always going to be difficult. The decision was not whether to introduce women bishops – but how.
The Together4ward team and I are saddened by the pain that the outcome of the vote has caused to many. We have compromised to accept that women bishops will happen. But we welcome the decision to affirm the need to provide proper provision for those of us who believe that women bishops are unbiblical. We are a minority in the UK right now, but stand with the majority of Christians in the Anglican community worldwide and throughout 2,000 years of church history.
Some [including the Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams] have publicly criticised the decision for making the church less credible to the world. But the church’s credibility does not stem from its agreement with the world. After all the apostle Paul said many years ago that trying to please other people and seeking popularity meant not acting as a Christian.
In fact, I think it is when the church’s message is too aligned with popular opinion that the church really lacks credibility.
Read more: What next for the Church of England?
Ultimately all of us agree with male headship. The church submits to Jesus as its only head. This is why when Elizabeth I took the throne, she changed the monarch’s title from “head of the church” to “supreme governor.” She was the source of the church’s political authority, but Christ alone is its source of spiritual authority.
And all of us want to affirm women’s ministry. The vast majority agree with ordaining women as deacons for example. A large church in the City of London that was opposed to the measure employs 15 women in senior ministry roles. That is proportionally higher than any other building in the square mile.
What much of this argument comes down to is gender differences – we believe these differences are part of who we are, and God calls us in affirmation of our individuality and differences. In a society where many of us struggle with our sense of identity, this truly is good news, and very credible.
So many women have spoken up in synod and the media against the measure, which they felt at some points denigrated their calling and identity as biblical women. Pete Myers
Men are called to emulate Christ as head over the church. Women are called to emulate Christ as he submits to his Father. Therefore, the Bible calls men and women to live out these roles in the life of the church so that the world can see just how brilliant Jesus Christ is. This is why Paul is not sexist to affirm those distinctions and say “I do not permit a woman to teach or to assume authority over a man…” (1 Timothy 2:12).
There is a key passage from Paul that some believe justifies women bishops: “there is neither male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28). But I disagree – this key passage is not saying that there is no difference between men and women, but that our differences don’t prevent us from being united. He calls men as men and women as women.
This is why so many women have spoken up in synod and the media against the measure, which they felt at some points denigrated their calling and identity as biblical women. Sadly, even someone on our campaign team as bright and independent as Zoe Ham has received derogatory comments for simply standing up to say “please let me live out my calling God has laid out for me in scripture”.
But, while we could throw around such terms as “sexist” and “denigrated,” I feel it is time to leave that kind of language behind us. The first step forward is to put away emotive language. There are many positives and much agreement among us, and we need to focus on that.
Our community has compromised to accept that women bishops will happen, and I hope our brothers and sisters can compromise to provide something like alternative Episcopal oversight, or perhaps make the office of bishop less monarchical and more collegiate.
The incoming archbishop Justin Welby [who supports women bishops] has been gifted to us at just the right time, and we are already grateful for the lead he is providing to help all parties move forward.