Thoughts on the Church of England’s Vote on Women Bishops
The Church of England has failed to muster enough synod votes to allow for the appointment of women bishops. Of course, the pundits and media types are all in a tizzy over how backwards, sexist, chauvinist, and out-of-touch this old institution of the church must be.
Just minutes after the news broke, I visited the church’s Wikipedia page where the first line said:
The Church of England is the officially established sexist Christian church in England…
There was a footnote to a BBC news story after the word “sexist.” Someone upset over the synod’s vote must have gone online to express their disapproval by adding a negative label on Wikipedia. Within minutes, the word was taken down and the page was restored.
As a Baptist, I reject the hierarchy of the Anglican church. Since I don’t happen to believe in a bishop-like position for church leaders in the first place, I feel somewhat detached from the proceedings in England.
Still, it’s instructive to watch how people have responded online to this decision. The hypocrisy of many who desired the change is so evident that I wonder if they simply can’t see it for themselves.
(To be clear, I am not referring to Justin Welby and other Anglican leaders who expressed support for women bishops and yet have graciously responded to the decision of the synod. I am referring to the online reaction to the vote.)
Here are two places I see contradictory, hypocritical values at work:
1. Pushing “tolerance” that welcomes other viewpoints (before rejecting them!).
Not long ago, leaders in the Episcopal Church were complaining about backwards, traditionalist Christian teaching while simultaneously chiding their Church for being too provincial. They weren’t globally minded enough. They didn’t have enough minorities and representation from others in leadership positions.
So what happens when Africans and Asians and people from cultures outside the West rise to prominence?
What happens when the progressives are joined by men from other parts of the world who don’t feel the unique pressures of the West to revise historic Christian teaching?
Well, quite frankly, the Africans get thrown under the bus. The leaders on the Left wind up distancing themselves from the very people they said ought to have a place at the table.
In other words, everyone seems to be for multiculturalism and tolerance except when it doesn’t suit the progressive side. You can go on and on about the beauty of “primitive” civilizations and the horrors of Western imperialism. But when articulate leaders from those civilizations challenge your devotion to pluralistic relativism, or your radical embrace of all kinds of sexual expression, or your egalitarian reworking of the Bible… well, now they’re part of the problem.
Multiculturalism only goes so far. Once it calls into question the shibboleths of the Left, it must be abandoned. The distinctively Western progressive perspective must be upheld!
2. Recommending grace and patience as a proper response to controversy (unless the progressive side is defeated!).
Leading up to this week’s vote, I noticed many church leaders advocating patience and good will, a spirit graciousness no matter the outcome. Several leaders on both sides have indeed modeled this since the vote. Perhaps more will do so.
Unfortunately, others have not demonstrated this spirit. Through online tweets, articles, and soundbites, most media types and several church leaders have expressed their dismay at the outcome. Apparently, those who called for the losing side to be conciliatory never expected to be on the losing side.
This seems to be a common occurrence that transcends denominational lines. Traditionalists and conservatives are told to be gracious and patient whenever they face defeat, lose their property, or fail to muster enough support for a vote. But rarely is the same good will expected from those on the “progressive” side.
No, when a vote goes against the Left’s eschatological vision of “progress,” the cannons must come out. It’s about regrouping, reloading, and charging the gates again!
If the traditionalists were to act this way, they’d be labeled divisive and warmongering. But when the “progressives” do this, they are extolled as heroes standing on their convictions and refusing to give up.
The hallmark of many of these denominational debates is narrow-minded thinking that masquerades as openness and tolerance. It is the “chronological snobbery” referred to by a famous Anglican from the last century – C.S. Lewis. It is the failure of many to give tradition and history the weight it deserves, as another Anglican (G.K. Chesterton) once wrote:
Tradition means giving votes to the most obscure of all classes, our ancestors. It is the democracy of the dead. Tradition refuses to submit to the small and arrogant oligarchy of those who merely happen to be walking about. All democrats object to men being disqualified by the accident of birth; tradition objects to their being disqualified by the accident of death. Democracy tells us not to neglect a good man’s opinion, even if he is our groom; tradition asks us not to neglect a good man’s opinion, even if he is our father. I, at any rate, cannot separate the two ideas of democracy and tradition; it seems evident to me that they are the same idea. We will have the dead at our councils. The ancient Greeks voted by stones; these shall vote by tombstones. It is all quite regular and official, for most tombstones, like most ballot papers, are marked with a cross.