A so-called “clumsy caricature” of the debate over women bishops as “a stand-off between liberal Christians who are prepared to twist scripture . . . and conservative Christians who remain faithful to the plain meaning of the text” is tackled in a new publication edited by the Bishop of Sheffield, the Rt Revd Steven Croft, and Dr Paula Gooder, a lecturer in biblical studies.
The book, Women and Men in Scripture, published this week byCanterbury Press, is written by Bishop Croft, Dr Gooder, and eight others: the Bishop of Chelmsford, the Rt Revd Stephen Cottrell; the Chaplain to the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Revd Dr Jo Bailey Wells; the Dean of York, the Very Revd Vivienne Faull; the Archdeacon of Portsdown, the Revd Dr Joanne Grenfell; the Revd Dr Emma Ineson, tutor at Trinity College, Bristol; the Vicar of St Thomas’s, Blackpool, the Revd Roz Murphy; and the Dean of Studies at St John’s College, Nottingham, the Revd Dr Ian Paul.
In an introduction to the book, the editors write that the debate about women bishops in the General Synod last November “revealed a need for resources to help churches and congregations to look again at the question of women and men in the scriptures.
“Many of those who opposed the Measure did so from a conviction that it is more ‘biblical’ to argue that women should not become bishops.” The authors argue that this view is “simply one way of interpreting the scriptures, and gives priority to just a small number of contested passages”.
The six chapters of the book each focus on a biblical passage, with an exposition, questions for discussion, suggestions for application and a closing prayer. The editors warn that, for some readers, the material may be “disturbing as well as liberating”. Also included is a history of the “slow and contested” recognition of the ministry of women in the Church of England.
On Tuesday, Bishop Croft said that he had been “frustrated” during the November debate that “we never quite got into the theological debate.” A subsequent meeting with women in the diocese had revealed “a desire for better resources . . . to enable parishes to talk about these issues really well and creatively.
“I hope people will hear again that what the Bible says about gender is fundamentally very good news for everyone: a profound message of equality and of women and men being made in God’s image together.”
A proportion of the royalties from sales of the book will be given to Christian Aid for its work among women in the developing world.
Much food for thought here for conservative Evangelicals, and others, who are still convinced that the Bible prohibits the idea of Women’s Leadership in the Church. This is a much-needed resource book for anyone keen on researching what the balance of the Scriptures actually does, and does not, say about women in ministry.
‘Headship’ is a real bone of contention with ‘sola scriptura’ Christians who, however, may not be keen to read of new arguments which go towards proving that the Bible is not quite so proscriptive about the place of women in the Church as they might like. Perhaps an intelligent perusal of the book: ‘Women and Men in Scripture’ might help to put to rest some of the entrenched feelings about how Scripture – on balance – view of the place of women leaders in the Church than has before been argued.
One can only hope that modern-day Christians will be able to admit to the need for a new and up-to-date hermeneutic, that will allow for the fact that women in biblical times were treated in ways that were consistent with the culture of the time, but which – in today’s world, where women hold positions of authority in both domestic and areas of the work–place, as well as in the public arena – are now simply not acceptable.
And as for women in the Church of England, who provide a larger than ever percentage of those coming forward for ordination to the priesthood; the proof of their value to the Church as capable and caring parish clergy, with a full load of pastoral, liturgical and administrative responsibilities, is already evident. Without them, the Church of England would simply not be able to function as well as it does at the present, nor probably in the foreseeable future. Natural progression, in terms of capability and pastoral and liturgical functioning, it would make it seem that any further delay in opening up the episcopate to women would only be deferring what will soon become an urgent necessity – if the Church is to move with the times, utilising the maximum benefits from its membership.
Other parts of the Anglican Communion have been celebrating the gifts of Women clergy and bishops for many years now. This is why it is so surprising that the ‘Mother’ Church of England has left it so long to catch up with her sibling Churches.
Father Ron Smith, Christchurch, New Zealand