A mugwump is someone who sits on the fence with his mug on one side and his ‘wump’ on the other. There has been a good deal of criticism of my Church in the press and elsewhere for its refusal to come down on the side of women bishops. I’d like to mount a defence of what to me sees a necessary Calvary.
Anyone who supposes that in any church the cry for the ordination of women is going away is, I suspect, doomed to disappointment. It does not matter how many times even a Pope says it cannot happen, there will continue to be pressure for it. For Christians to dismiss those who think different from themselves on this is to act without the love we are told to show each to the other. I have been saddened at the defeated majority sounding as though it would like to impose its will on the minority; I am equally sad when I hear those with authority on their side dismiss those who do not as being in some way disobedient. This sort of language and these attitudes are of this world, not of Christians in perplexity.
If, even for a moment, there is the possibility that the Spirit is leading us to acknowledging a role for women in ministry, are we wise to rule out such a possibility because, for us, it is inconceivable? We can tell others they are ‘wrong’, but have we truly considered the possibility that they might be right?
For me, and I am not a supporter of the ordination of women as priests, let alone Bishops, the argument from Tradition is the strongest one. But the Church of England has departed from that Tradition with women priests. There are two sorts of reaction to this which are common, and then a third which seems sensible but uncommon: one is to celebrate and act as though those who opposed it are bigots who have been defeated; the other is to condemn it out of hand and take yourself off elsewhere.
The first of these is one of the things which has stirred up the feelings of some laity about women bishops; people whom you dismiss as bigots and misogynists don’t like it, and will at some point return your contempt. The second simply makes the case against women bishops the more difficult to mount, as some of its ablest proponents have scarpered. The third is to do what the C of E is doing, which is to work out a way forward in fear, trembling and prayer.
We have acknowledged that a simple majority is not how Christians should proceed. Some now resent that and threaten us with a Parliamentary vote. Well, as our Parliament is held in such low esteem, that is not really going to help anyone. When a Church Commissioner who belongs to a Male-Only club tells the Church off for not having women bishops, it is him, not the Church, who looks foolish.
My Church is testing the proposition that the Holy Spirit is guiding us towards a recognition that women may have a call to Ministry. If it is not so, it will fail, but what if it is so? Well, then, perhaps other churches will have to reconsider their views on who can and cannot represent Our Lord at the Eucharistic sacrifice. If bread and wine can be the body and blood of Our Lord, perhaps women can stand in persona Christi? I reiterate, I do not think so, but I do think this should be tested, and I admire my poor beleaguered Church for having the courage to risk being called all sorts of things in order to persevere in that test.