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8 July 2008

Ending women free zones

Priest and academic Giles Fraser hails the progress towards consecrating women as bishops in the Chu

By Giles Fraser

And about time too. Of course, we won’t have women bishops in the C of E for several years yet. But the momentum of the Synodical process is now decisively in the direction of consecrating women and the whole idea of women free zones for traditionalists has gone down in smoke. Those of us who had fought hard for this, quietly celebrated with a few beers in the student bar at York University, where the debate took place.

Though the final vote was clear, there had been some choppy moments.

Towards the end of a long debate, a number of Bishops, fearing the direction things seemed to be going, rose to scupper the result. The Bishop of Durham tired to get us to put off a vote, arguing that with the Lambeth conference about to take place, and with all our rowing about gay bishops, we didn’t need any more division. The Bishop of Dover said he was “ashamed” that the Synod wasn’t prepared to create greater safeguards for those who don’t think women can be made priests of bishops – just as they don’t think a pork pie can be made a priest or bishop.

Yes, that is an example that has been used. It’s quite extraordinary that he can be ashamed of our church when we fail to give the anti-women bishops brigade their own women free enclave, but not ashamed that we have been complicit in centuries of misogyny. The so-called traditionalists speak a lot about ‘deeply held theological conviction’ and many bishops want to veto the use of words like discrimination by progressives.
But it is what it is.

The debate threw up some unlikely heroes. Foremost among them the Bishop of Liverpool, who has had his troubles of late, chiefly as chair of governors of the Oxford college, Wycliffe Hall that has made the news for sacking most of its staff and going so right wing it has been nicknamed an Anglican madrasa. But his speech steered the women bishops debate to its conclusion. The job description of bishops, he argued, was to feed the body of Christ. And yet, before the body of Christ became a metaphor for the people of God, it was a women that feed Christ’s physical body and looked after him. Here was the Biblical argument for women bishops. Indeed – on this argument – the very first bishop was a woman. It proved the vital speech.

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The traditionalists speak a lot about being pushed out. Actually, no one is pushing them out. All sides of the church want them to stay. Which is why the church will draw of a code of practice so that their views – weird as they are – can be accommodated. Some may leave – though far far less than say they might.

But the House of Bishops can stay a boys’ club no longer. It’s this boys’ club mentality that is creating so much hand-wringing: “Fr. so-and-so, we went to college together, great priest, such a shame he is thinking of leaving, having to brush up on his Italian etc”. All of which is piled on with a dollop of sentimental tosh dressed up as pastoral care. Synod saw through all this and voted for what is right and just. Alleluia.

Giles Fraser is the vicar of Putney and a lecturer in philosophy at Wadham College, Oxford

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