Writing for The Guardian this morning, Andrew Brown has declared the decision by a handful of members of the General Synod not to approve the appointment of female bishops is tantamount to the Church of England committing suicide.
In some respects I might agree, though not necessarily for the reasons he suggests.
There is very little I can add to the plethora of media coverage, comment and analysis over the vote itself. What disturbs me, as a Christian, was the all too frequent sights and sounds of those favouring moves to allow for women bishops doing so on the basis of it somehow improving the image of the church, essentially a PR exercise to keep up with society.
For those who become Christians, they do so, or at least I would hope they do so, because they recognise both their own and society’s failings, and turn to God in the knowledge and reassurance his plans are, as outlined so clearly in the book of Jeremiah, to give “hope and a future”.
In admitting the failures of this world, the Christian life is therefore one which, with God’s help, should do all it can to live differently from the society that has fallen.
It should mean leading a new path to a certain hope rather than simply seeking to reflect society to improve the church’s image.
Jesus, the one Christians seek to follow, did so, teaching and practising things that were so unconventional to society at the time he ended up on the cross.
As the book of Romans declares:
“Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.”
Yes, there is widespread condemnation in the press this morning about the decision made by the Synod yesterday, and yes, feelings run high on all sides, but just as Jesus faced trials and difficulties for being different, so too should the church, as expressed in the book of James, “consider it pure joy” whenever it faces “trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance”.
Out of the ashes of a difficult day yesterday should come a stronger church, one that is prepared to make a stand for the gospel, one that stays true to biblical teaching and one that is prepared to act and sound differently to society just as Jesus did.
And whilst the prospects of female bishops remains off the agenda now for at least five years, in many respects, whatever the results, nothing would have changed since for Christians our status should come not from the positions we hold but our very identity as Christians.
Galatians 3 verse 28 reads:
“There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”
It is this, rather than who should or should not be a bishop, that should be the riposte to those who now accuse the church of not being committed to true equality.