After the Dark Fairy Fury comes the distress felt by christian and friend Helen – think my trip to Durham, trip to Siwa back in the days at the Med- after the outpour of criticism on the rejection of the ordination of female bishops as she feels her family is in crisis.
I am what’s known as a “cradle christian”. I grew up on the outskirts of a large town in the home counties attending the local Anglican parish church with my mother (my father is not a christian, so there was always a choice to stay at home with Dad). I have always felt a commitment to my faith and can’t remember a time when God wasn’t a part of my life. I’ve had my struggles and my questions and I am very thankful for the opportunity these have given me to understand and develop my faith. Although I ended up at an Anglican church when I went to university, I had never identified myself as particularly “Anglican”.
The female- leadership debate in the church is one I’ve been aware of since I went to university. In my local church we’ve had a female curate for a very long time so I was naive enough to think that female authority in church was not really a topic of great debate. I was wrong, and quickly learnt to fight my corner against my more conservative brothers and sisters. Therefore, as you might guess, my initial reaction to the “no” vote was one of general guttedness.
Less than a week since, I’ve read countless news reports, articles, blog posts, social media comments and have heard politicians more or less slating my church for its misogyny and irrelevance and that’s making me quite upset. This might seem odd, because, as far as the concept of female bishops go, I’m in agreement with general public opinion, and I am aware that the “no” vote is more or less shooting ourselves in the foot. I too am of the opinion that sexism has no place in the Church and that those who disagree with female bishops are wrong. And still, I’m upset. Because my church is my family. Not my institution of choice, not a comfortable social circle of my choosing, but a family. Now, who can honestly say they have the same opinions as their whole family (I’m talking all the relatives you can think of here)? Do you have the same political affiliations? The same taste in music? Would you even be friends with everyone in your family if there wasn’t another way? Maybe it’s just me. Maybe I’m a particularly disagreeable individual (or my family are), but I’ll bet there’s at least one family member that you… tolerate. Casually racist grandparents anyone?
Families aren’t about democracy, they’re about compromise and accommodation. The “no” vote on female bishops, despite the overwhelming majority of those in favour, is most definitely disappointing. I found it painful. For all the wonderful, strong and inspiring women I know in the Church, both clergy and laity and for the Church as a whole. It does not fit with the conclusions I have reached looking into the theology and through debate regarding the role of women in the Church. The God who doesn’t allow women as bishops doesn’t sound like the God I know. Yet, I understand why the majority needs to be so great for something to go through the Synod. My family does not want to exclude those who don’t agree with the majority. We don’t want to break the family up. Everyone’s invited. And although we are in no way perfect (or, dare I say, functional) and we might disagree and argue, we are still family.
I do not want to be part of a church that has a glass ceiling. I want to hear the courageous and faith-filled women in Anglicanism leading from the front. Neither do I want my family to ignore or exclude members when we are in disagreement, no matter how ridiculous I find their opinion, no matter how much they piss me off. It might not be good enough for some, but please wider world, understand we are trying -and it is questionable whether we are succeeding- to be a family first and an institution second. It’s at times like these when those clichés about blood being thicker than water and being able to chose your friends but not your family, begin to ring oh so true.