Archive for July, 2014

Should Women be Permitted to Serve as Bishops?


Should women be permitted to serve as bishops?  

Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori, first female Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church

Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori, first female Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church

In July of 2014 the General Synod of the Church of England meets to discuss and vote upon whether women will be permitted to be consecrated as bishops of the Church of England.  A similar vote failed by six votes in 2013.  This issue is discussed in an article published by the Religious News Service.  When reading this article, it was the final statement that really caught my eye:

  •      “Passage of legislation allowing women bishops will end a 20-year dispute.  Women were first allowed to be ordained as priests in 1994.”

How is it possible, I asked myself, that women were allowed entry into the priesthood, yet denied offering service as bishops?  I guess I am naive (I do have this tendency).  I would have expected any arguments against accepting women as priests, would simultaneously serve as arguments against accepting women serving as bishops.  And logically, once one accepts the service of women as priests, one simultaneously accepts their service as bishops.


I see only two ways of arguing this question:  

The first argument reaches back to Paul.  We have extremely clear evidence that Paul understood women as being able to serve at all levels of the early church.  Paul periodically speaks of this in his letters.  The strongest case is found in Romans 16:7 where Paul speaks of Junia as a woman who served the same role as himself:  that of an apostle.

  •      Sidebar:  Junia is a female name.  In some manuscripts this has been changed to Junias, which is a male name.  This point is debated by some, but most scholars agree this was originally a woman’s name (including the late Ron Miller).  So if your New Testament reads Junias, be aware this is a later revision of the original Greek text, as most scholars understand it.

Now, when I speak of Paul, I am speaking only of the authentic Paul.  I am not speaking of those authors who later forged their letters in his name, such as the letters supposedly written to Timothy and Titus, which contain the most misogynistic views within the entire New Testament.  Most scholars (but not all) are convinced these letters reflect a much later view than when Paul was alive.

In Paul’s day, an apostle was one who assumed the duty of spreading the gospel (good news) about Jesus.  I think we get a better feel for what their mission meant to them, if we use the late Ron Miller’s translation of “ambassador” in place of apostle.  To be recognized as an ambassador (apostle) was to be given a very high status in the early Christian community;  it is clearly a position of authority within the community.  But for me this is not the strongest argument in favor of allowing women to serve as deacons, priests and bishops.

To examine the strongest argument in favor of women serving as bishops, we need only ask…

Are we God?

If we answer in the negative, then the obvious conclusion is that being human is of a different nature than that of being God.  That the nature of any truly transcendent Supreme Being -or Ground of Being- must be categorically different than that of being human seems obvious to me.  (One may argue no such category of the transcendent exists;  but if we posit such categories of existence, then we must also accept the radical differences between the human and transcendent.)

Equally obvious is the corollary that there is no difference between being male or female, in terms of how this relates to the nature of the Supreme Being/Ground of Being.  Which is to say, neither men nor women are more like God than the other.  One’s sex and gender has nothing to do with such a question.  This is a question of one’s spirit, not one’s body.

  •      As one of my bishops is fond of observing, God does not have X or Y chromosomes.

Thus, I feel the only defense one may adopt in the attempt to restrict women from being ordained, and later consecrated as a bishop, is to admit one is sexist.  This is to admit one wishes to denigrate another based merely upon the disposition of their chromosomes.

This is an extremely weak defense, and one I would hope would be seen for what it is:  bigotry.

I certainly do hope the Church of England votes to join the rest of us, here in the 21st century!  May the Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, and all other churches, soon join those of us who accept all humans as equals in our humanity!

End of rant.




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