‘Are you the Judean People's Front?’
I’m sure I don’t need to supply the follow-up lines from one of the stand-out moments of Monty Python’s The Life of Brian. Like so much Python it is part of our comedy DNA. Like so much of their work, this scene – in which the ingénue Brian tries to get into Roman-occupation revolutionary politics – has bite because it captures a truth about human nature and organizations: we are a) almost instinctively fissiparous and b) often struggle most with those we are closest too. The gang Brian tries to join is most definitely not ‘The Judean People's Front’ – they are ‘The People's Front of Judea’ and are horrified that anyone should think otherwise.
Those two points – fissiparousness & ‘family’ mistrust - have been played out painfully and embarrassingly as the Church of England wrings its hands and often argues indecorously over whether half the human race is permitted to carry crosiers and wear pointy hats and purple shirts. Frankly – even if one accepts that the C of E is an institution gloriously based on compromise, as I do – in our handling of the so-called ‘women bishops issue’ we have been making pillocks of ourselves in public for far too long.
It will come as little surprise that I am passionately committed to women being able to be bishops in the church without let or hindrance. My sense is that this is also the will of the church – as expressed through the dioceses - almost unanimously. Furthermore, I cannot – intellectually, emotionally or instinctively – comprehend sensible grounds for preventing women from being bishops on an equal footing with men. And I do not base this, thankfully, on some frankly self-centred ambition to wear purple. There is simply no way that someone like me will ever be a bishop. I am an ambitious person, but the things that get me dribbling lie some distance outside the church. (In truth, I rather pity the first woman to be made a bishop in the C of E. The scrutiny and tabloid tittle tattle will be unbearable.)
Some months ago I planned to go up to York for the final Synod vote on whether or not to have women bishops. I shall now be doing other things. Weather permitting I shall be at what cricket pundit David ‘Bumble’ Lloyd dubbed ‘The Ey-Up Cup’ at Old Trafford – Lancashire vs Yorkshire. I shall be with friends who care about as much for the C of E’s internal wranglings as an 11th century English peasant cared for church disputes over the Filioque Clause. Perhaps this is classic ostrich behaviour. However I simply cannot face what we – the church – are doing to ourselves. Perhaps I am part of the problem. I remain unhappy with and unconvinced by the bishops’ proposed amendments to the Synod Measure. I believe that the church – through the dioceses – has spoken to indicate its support of women bishops without let or hindrance. I am therefore hopeful that there will be an adjournment (hopeful? Not the correct word) and the bishops will rethink. Equally, I do not want to exclude a minority of folk who cannot accept women as bishops, but the time has come for the church to accept women as bishops. Not at any price, but simply as what we are: human beings, no better and no worse than men.
Most of my friends are not churchy people. I have no idea if this is a good or bad thing. It probably doesn’t much matter. But what it does mean is that I regularly have to field the bewilderment of those who cannot comprehend our institutionalized inequalities and our theologically justified discriminations. I am challenged on an exceptionally regular basis as to why I remain within a sexist, homophobic, screwed up outfit like the C of E. I have – of course – many well-rehearsed responses to that, many aimed at undermining the claim that any of our institutions are anything other than compromised. To be human is to be a creature of unclean hands and lips. But tempted as I often am to leave, I stay. Not because the C of E is cosy and is full of folk like me, but because not only do I have hope and a vision of the space we might be, but I see the Living God at work within her, despite us. We will have women bishops one day. I hope that those who can’t handle that will stay within the C of E, as we who have been hungry for equality have stayed and will stay.