Comment

 

The Bishop of Durham, the Rt Revd Tom Wright, is a respected theologian, one of the heavy-weights on an otherwise often light-weight bench of bishops. It was therefore genuinely shocking to listen to his cavalier speech at the July Synod.

The debate itself was poorly prepared, inadequately chaired and easily forgettable. Except for the five-minute intervention of the Bishop of Durham. It would be fair to say that he is the principal biblical scholar of the House of Bishops of the Church of England, writing both serious and popular works while ministering as a bishop. And there he was, ‘proving’ to the gathered representatives that the Church of England must have women bishops, because (a) Mary Magdalene was one of the original witnesses and apostles, and (b) Junia was one of the apostles appointed in the early Church.

We had been presuming it was a piece of midsummer grandstanding, an attempt at informal light-heartedness – that fell flat. This is not how others see it. We have been inundated with responses to what he said, with reasoned refutations of his critical judgements.

Most of these have been sound, solid pieces of work, and yet we have not published them. The rebuttal of silliness finds it hard not to look silly itself. The ping-pong blur of references and counter-references cannot help being wrong for being right.

The arguments for and against women bishops, as the Bishop of Durham would surely acknowledge, must be of more substance than the textual critical judgements of the Greek text of a single New Testament verse (Romans 16.7).

There has to be more to it all than these throw-away suggestions. Perhaps now is the time to discover whether this is true. Are there solid and substantial reasons for ordaining women to the episcopate? We are grateful for the responses we have had to our requests (and turn over the page for the latest and longest one), but there must still be more. For this is what the church has asked for.

In July 2005, General Synod defeated the Bishop of Gibraltar’s motion asking for further consideration of the theological issues involved. Exactly a year later, General Synod passed a motion which, by its rejection of the TEA proposals, had the effect of asking for exactly that. It invited ‘dioceses, deaneries and parishes to continue serious debate and reflection on the theological, practical, ecumenical and missiological aspects of

the issue.’

We remain unconvinced. No one has yet managed to tell us of any positive arguments from Scripture why this innovation should be introduced. We still believe they do not exist.

n the middle of his summer break, Pope Benedict warned us that working too hard is never a good thing. Speaking at a noon blessing at Castel Gandolfo, the Pope reflected on the writings of Bernard of Clairvaux, and his admonition against ‘the dangers of excessive activity, whatever the condition or office held, because many occupations lead to a hardening of the heart and suffering of the spirit.’

‘This warning is valid for every kind of occupation, even those involving the governance of the church,’ Benedict said. It would be hard not to agree; but it is harder still to respond to his exhortation. Tasks multiply in the modern world, and the Church is not immune. Furthermore, if clergy are more thinly spread on the ground and must take on more churches, parishes or services, this passes extra work onto the faithful laity who must take up what the clergy no longer have time for.

In the Christian life, much depends upon expectation. Living up to our calling can be a true source of strength; knowing that others share this vocation of service can be a powerful encouragement. We may be less able to curb our own activity than we are able to ease the pressure and expectation on others. As we return to work, let us be gentle in our implicit demands of others.

ssisted-suicide may have suffered a parliamentary defeat in this country last July, but the summer holidays have not lessened pressure for a change in the law, and for the enshrining of new ‘rights’ to die when one chooses. If this debate has also moved from a time of political activity to one of discussion, argument and a battle over words, the Church is still deeply involved.

The Christian imperative is to teach about the nature of a Person. We are called to share an understanding of what it means to be human, of why being created in the image of God is our greatest source of freedom, of why life is more fully ours when it is received as a gift from God… There is nothing new in what we are called upon to teach, but the teaching of it must be fresh. There is work to be done, and most of it is by prayer and reflection.

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