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Theology and women bishops: responses to the Church Times Guide

25 January 2013


From the Revd Claire Turner
Sir, - In identifying that there is "another view" that is not represented in the Church Times Guide to the theological debate about women bishops (18 January), last week's leader comment appears to acknowledge an inherent failing in the publication, which leads WATCH to ask: so why publish in this form?

Seemingly in passing, the leader comment references the view that there is sufficient consensus within the Church of England to consecrate women as bishops; and yet nowhere within the Guide is this view given voice. Such an omission, combined with the fact that only one of the contributors was a woman and that six of the nine articles were opposed to women's ordination and/or opposed to the consecration of women as bishops led to a highly misleading, misrepresentative, and biased publication.

Indeed, one author questions why, if the Church calls on the Holy Spirit's guidance before debate, does it not then accept the resulting decision; but there is no mention of what the Holy Spirit may have been saying in the myriad of "yes" votes at parish, deanery, diocesan, and indeed national level; no acknowledgement that the theological debate that led to those "yes" votes has been had; and no opportunity given to explore how the Holy Spirit may have been leading the Church when the flawed and potentially divisive legislation that was on the table was defeated in November.

Perhaps most significantly, there is no acknowledgement from the editorial team that the decision to ordain women as priests and bishops in the Church of England has already been made, and that women have been serving as priests and leaders for almost 20 years.

On behalf of the WATCH National Committee
6 Yale Drive
Wednesfield WV11 3UA

The supplement was in response to readers (male and female) who asked for elucidation of the theological objections to women bishops - frequently mentioned, but seldom explained in detail. This seemed, in itself, a helpful journalistic undertaking, but, in addition, it seemed fair to us to ask those in favour of women bishops to justify their positions theologically.

These were the four main pieces in last week's supplement, pro- and anti-, from the Evangelical and Catholic positions. We added a sidebar to one of the pieces, an exchange about St Paul, a consideration about process, and reflection on life after the vote.

We approached several potential contributors before securing these pieces, and would have preferred a more even gender mix - not least to avoid these inevitable criticisms. But we hope that the contents will be judged on their merits, as useful background to the ongoing debate.


From Dr Eric Whittaker
Sir, - The Church Times did us a service in publishing its Guide to the theological debate on women bishops. It was interesting to see what some of the antagonists regard as the basic problems, though also very worrying to find how seriously they take some of them.

Of the four contributions that are clearly against accepting women bishops, two are based mainly on the fact that it would involve stepping out of line with Rome. But, of course, it would not be the first time we have done this. We did this in adopting services in the vernacular, and had to wait for four centuries before Rome caught up at the Second Vatican Council; but we took the lead.

The time scale of these things is measured in centuries. We have been waiting for more than a century for an official withdrawal of the statement of 1896 that all Anglican orders are absolutely null and utterly void. One may reasonably hope that, on a time scale of centuries, Rome will again eventually follow where we have led.

The other two contributions that oppose the introduction of women bishops are much more difficult to take seriously. Their attitude to gender depends on the story in Genesis 2 that the human male was created before the animals and the human female after that. Seeing that we have an alternative story in Genesis 1 that the human male and female were created at the same time, and after the animals, it seems quite extraordinary that our church orders should have to be based on this peculiar alternative story in Genesis 2.

60 Exeter Road, Kidlington
Oxon OX5 2DZ

From the Revd George Curry
Sir, - Thank you for the women-bishops supplement. Professor Dunn's argument should not go unchallenged. He correctly asserts that "it is a very dubious procedure to abstract . . . texts from their historical situations." But he incorrectly opines that "conservative Evangelicals cannot justifiably claim the authority of Paul for their unwillingness to recognise that God may today be calling women . . . to the episcopate."

His argument begins with, and is dependent on, his understanding of Romans 16.7. It is seriously undermined by three considerations.

First, it cannot be definitely established that Junias was a woman. In fact, a search of 8203 works by 2889 authors yields only three other instances where variants of Iounia render the name Junias (one each from Chrysostom, Epiphanius, and Plutarch). Of greatest importance is that of the historian Epiphanius (AD 315-403). He informs us that the "Iounias Paul mentions became bishop of Apameia of Syria". The Greek construction that he employs unequivocally indicates that he regards Junias as being a man.

Epiphanius is supported by Origen, who, in his commentary on Romans, uses the masculine form of the name, albeit in Latin and not Greek.

Second, although some confidently assert that Paul calls Andronicus and Junias outstanding apostles, it should be noted that it is quite possible, and even probable, that the term he uses means "outstanding in the eyes of the apostles".

Third, it is uncertain that Paul uses the term apostle in the, technical sense that Professor Dunn favours. He could well use it in a general way to refer to "messengers" or "representatives". That all believers are.

These facts demonstrate the need for caution. It is simply not possible to establish the existence of female apostles (in the technical sense) in apostolic times.

Space does not allow us to demonstrate other ways of interpreting 1 Corinthians 12 and 14 and 1 Timothy 2. Suffice it to say that in these passages, unlike Romans 16.7, a sustained argument is developed. Far from being primarily, if not exclusively, "the language of household codes", as Professor Dunn implies, 1 Corinthians 14 and 1 Timothy 2.12f seriously undermine his argument.

We are on safer ground to say that Paul asserts in those chapters abiding principles about what it means for mankind, male and female, to be created in and as the image of God. That being so, it should not surprise us that Evangelicals cite not just Paul but other scriptures (e.g. Genesis 1-3 and Isaiah 3) as teaching that elders (servant leaders under the authority of Christ) in the Church are to be male, not female.

The Vicarage, Clumber Street
Newcastle upon Tyne NE4 7ST

From Canon John Goodchild
Sir, - The Bishop of Ebbsfleet, the Rt Revd Jonathan Baker, refers (Guide, 18 January) to the claim in the preface to the 1662 Ordinal that the orders of bishops, priests, and deacons have been evident from the time of the apostles.

Historical study, however, suggests a very varied and unplanned development of ministry, as churches adapted to local need. This justifies Article XXXIV, which states that a National Church can organise itself to suit its particular situation.

It sounds good to move with the universal Church on important matters; but today we have a great variety of Christian churches with different forms of ministry. Study of the self-serving claims and behaviour of popes through the centuries hardly provides a pattern of Christian leadership and ministry to imitate.

39 St Michael's Road
Liverpool L17 7AN

From the Revd Tony Davies
Sir, - In his article "Is there a better way?", the Revd Dr Edward Dowler speaks of majoritarianism, and says that "protecting the rights of the minority [was] exactly the concern of the House of Laity" in November's vote last year.

He could have included the fact that, at the very meetings at which 42 of the 44 diocesan synods approved the draft Measure, 11 - a full quarter - gave notice that provision for that minority was inadequate. They did this by passing following motions, or by not approving the Measure.

The House of Laity was, there-fore, very much representative of the views of the Church of England, and, had this been acknowledged at the time, the unwarranted chaos that ensued - in the secular press, Parliament, and the columns of your own paper - could have been avoided.

St Augustine's Vicarage
Redthorpe Close, Bolton
Lancs BL2 2PQ

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