MEMBERS of the General Synod, who meet today in York will have
received a special note from the Archbishops about women bishops.
It mentions the assurances given to Evangelical opponents that "at
least one bishop" will be appointed to the college of bishops "who
takes a conservative Evangelical view of headship". The note
appears to be an apology that this aspiration has not yet been met.
It warns that it may be difficult to meet it "within a reasonable
This is all very revealing. Perhaps dioceses are not too happy
about having a "headship" bishop. Or perhaps there are no plausible
candidates who hold precisely the right views on headship.
Identifying what those views are is not as straightforward as it
might seem, because ideas about headship have evolved.
It is, of course, true that a doctrine of male headship can be
drawn from Paul's teaching that Christ is the head of the man, and
the husband is the head of his wife. But behind this is the Genesis
anthropology of women as secondary beings, a bit less in God's
image than males.
On top of that is the moral guilt that Eve incurred by listening
to the voice of the serpent in the Garden of Eden. Adam's (lesser)
sin was to listen to the "weaker vessel" instead of exercising his
(superior) reason. Women are inferior not only physically, but
morally and spiritually. Like other traditional faiths,
Christianity, for most of its history, has endorsed a view of the
superiority of men which has justified women's subordination.
Most conservative Evangelicals no longer buy into this, and
currently propose a more moderate interpretation of headship. They
scrap the general scriptural anthropology of female inferiority,
insisting that scripture teaches that there are only two contexts
in which male headship actually applies: the family, and the
Church. Women are not inferior, but different.
This is a strange position to end up in. It may be a logical
deduction from scripture to believe in male headship, but it surely
makes sense only if it is total; a creation ordinance, tragically
demonstrated by the Fall. To limit women's subordination to the
part they play in church and family must be dubious on scriptural
If I accept male headship, I should be slightly worried about
women in any kind of leadership position. I should regard it as
"unnatural", as our forefathers (and mothers) did; otherwise, God's
law is rendered arbitrary and irrational. Perhaps that is why the
Archbishop's aspiration to appoint a "headship' bishop is proving
trickier than expected.
The Revd Angela Tilby is Diocesan Canon of Christ Church,