Wednesday, May 18, 2011


On May 9th St. Andrew's Church hosted a meeting of the Havering Deanery Synod who were considering the provision of Episcopal oversight consequent to the Ordination of Women to the Episcopate. One speaker put forward the reasons that this should be delegated by the Ordinary (i.e. Diocesan Bishop) and provided by a Code of Practise the other (a woman deacon) argued for ‘co-ordinate jurisdiction’ with the diocesan bishop (jurisdiction conferred directly by the Measure rather than by way of delegation from the diocesan bishop.) The Synod was only asked to indicate which of the two methods it would support and at the end of the meeting, on a show of hands, rejected a Code of Practice by a majority of 2 to 1.

Whatever the theological or ecclesiological reasonings behind these two proposals I found myself deeply disturbed by a particular line of argument from many of those who wished for alternative jurisdiction. After the two speakers had presented their views (and it was interesting that the woman who spoke against the Code of Practise spent most of her time explaining why she could not support the ordination of women as either priests or bishops) members of Synod were invited to express their views. Of the app. 12 people who came forward, only two were women. All representatives of the leading ‘Reform’ (i.e. conservative evangelical) parish spoke and it was what they said which cause me such unease.

The main argument they put forward concerned their inability to recognise the authority of women in the church. As conservative evangelicals they frequently referred to S. Paul’s injunction ‘wives, be subject to your husbands … For the husband is head of the wife just as Christ is the head of the church…’ (Eph. 5:21) Most of those who spoke were young (men) with a “passion for mission” who believed themselves called to ‘ministry’ and stated that unless their needs were provided for by the Measure, they did not feel they would have a place in the church. As they spoke I sensed a deep split in them whereby the feminine has to be subservient to the masculine. This matter of male-headship is so fundamental that it must emanate from a deep part of their psyche which is fed by such arguments proposed by St. Paul. Yes, they said that women and men are equal, but could not exercise the same functions. Many of their arguments, from a conservative point of view, seemed reasonable. But there was a sense of an iron fist in the velvet glove: a ‘passive-aggressive’ tone to their argument. What might happen to them if they allowed themselves to live under the authority of a woman? What would happen to their sense of power if they had to assume the feminine? 

I was saddened by the lack of women who spoke (those who did strongly supported the Code of Practice). Subsequently, talking with a woman priest she described the way that women, when faced with aggression, will become silent and retreat. And that is what I felt was happening at the Synod. What I sensed was an aggressive masculinity (cloaked in ‘reason’) that rejected the feminine. I also sense that many women seem to collude with this – after all, they have had to be subservient to men.

Beyond this what also concerns me is that the wider church seems unable – or unwilling – to confront this argument that men must have the power over women. There is no doubt that, whilst the number of churches that teach this principle is small, it is also flourishing and many of those being recommend and selected for ordination come from such backgrounds.

There is an elephant in the room, and it needs to be named – or does silence indicate our acceptance?

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