The matter of male-headship has just re-emerged with the announcement that the Rev. Rod Thomas, chairman (sic) of the fundamentalist group, Reform, has been chosen to be ordained as a bishop Reform is a network of 'individuals and churches within the Church of England (who are) committed to reforming the Church of England from within according to the Holy Scriptures.' In particular they believe that ‘the Bible clearly teaches that …. men (should) take self-sacrificial responsibility for the spiritual oversight of the domestic and church family.’
This is such a fundamental tenant of belief for some evangelicals that it must emanate from a deep part of the psyche fed by such arguments proposed by St. Paul in 1 Corinthians and 1 Timothy. Yes, they say that women and men are equal, but cannot exercise the same functions. Many of their arguments, from a conservative point of view, seem reasonable. But there is a sense of an iron fist in a 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? This is the same line of reasoning that leads to women having to be veiled in some Islamic countries. I realise that some speak of the way it affirms their religious convictions, yet it seems an extreme way of doing so when compared to men and requires the complete hiding of identity. I also note the way in which those cultures which assert such norms (i.e. male supremacy) also persecute homosexuals and much of the argument for doing so is based on the way the feminine is ‘confused’ with the masculine.
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 going into training for ordination come from such backgrounds. It is not only conservative Islam that seeks to deny women an equal place with men and support a masculine power and authority that is unable to be open to the feminine.
In light of this I have written the following letter to Archbishop Justin:
‘I am aware that Mr. Thomas is chairman of Reform, an organisation which states that its members ‘are working to identify practical ways of reforming the Church of England’. Two of the more objectionable aims of this ‘reform’ concern its approach to gay people and women. I assume you are aware that it publically states: ‘Gay male love flourishes with ‘variety’, and lasts longest with non-monogamy. Monogamy tends to lengthen heterosexual relationships but shorten homosexual ones’ and am surprised, to say the least, you are prepared to ordain someone who supports this outrageous statement. Just how does this accord with being a person of ‘sound learning’ which the Ordinal requires? And will Mr. Thomas be expected to take part in the ‘shared conversations’ on sexuality that are currently taking place or will he be excused from this process?
Reform’s promotion of ‘male headship’ and the consequential subjection of women is another deeply divisive and aggressive belief. In my ministry I have sat listening to the stories of many women who have been deeply hurt and damaged by those who promote this view, just as I have sat with gay men and lesbians who have been subjected to emotional, spiritual and psychological violence by their treatment from ‘biblical’ Christians. How does the requirement for a bishop to agree to promote peace and reconciliation in the Church and in the world; and … strive for the visible unity of Christ’s Church (Ordinal) accord with someone whose views are a cause of division and are unacceptable to the majority of people?
In 2011 I resigned my Living having reached the age of 65 but retain a passion to see the Church of England able to attract people of this generation to the gospel. If Mr. Thomas is ordained bishop this can only show that someone who promotes bigotry in the name of Christianity can be a leader of the Church. Whilst this may appeal to extremists, what message does it send out to most people who no longer are prejudiced against gays and lesbians and are seeking to be inclusive of women?
Whilst the Church of England may be a broad church, I would like to know if you really want these - extremist - views to “flourish” when they are contrary to the declared beliefs of the Church of England?’
* Gal. 3: 28