Few people are unlikely to overrate the significance of the process and outcome of the debate about women bishops in the Synod in the next month of November. It will not fail to shape the character and sense of the Church in England for perhaps generations, and I mean not just the resulting decision as the outcome but the actuality of the manner in which we undergo the discussion leading to the decision.
There are people like me who wish to see a positive vote for a range of reasons, by which I mean a 'yes', rather than those who seek a positive vote for a range of reasons by which they mean 'no'. For me, it means the not inessential healthiness of the Church and its credibility amongst the public at large, whereas for those who positively say 'no' it means the healthiness of the Church and its not insubstantial credibility among themselves instead of a position of incredibility which they fear.
So to tackle this let me see if I am correct in my interpretation of how we as Anglicans might understand our priesthood.
There is I think only one view of one priesthood, that provided in the story of the Christ figure: in his eternal self-offering of being crucified, risen and ascended to the Father and thus offering a covenanted peace from there into here as undivided metaphorical space, that 'here' being the Church. Now it may be that none of us know what these words mean any more, beyond telling a good story, as in say how Hans Christian Andersen might, and whether such words do any actual meaningful 'work' in our day and age; but we are rather stuck with them as our one running narrative. After all, we remain as Anglicans.
If I am correct about this, then we live in Christ's body and alive with his Spirit and thus part of his self-offering. Again, it may be that none of us can say what these words mean any more and if they do any 'work'. But we are committed to them also, like the islanders who said keep the Easter Island statues upright and facing out to sea rather than knock them down as exhausted and redundant after conflict.
Thus there is a priestly calling of all who are in Christ: God calling individuals to be in community, worship and part of the Church's sacramental acts, and therefore there seems to be no reason to have an ordained ministry at all. We are all its priestly people. Hang on, of course: for that cannot be right.
If I am correct about this, we therefore have perhaps an optional ordained priestly ministry and follow later New Testament practice. That's where the priest is a bishop as indeed the bishop is a priest, gathering the deacons and people. Well that is very Protestant of me, but then I do think the bishop is actually ordained sacramentally, I think. I'm not sure how I argue that from here.
The assumed commitment of perhaps most Anglicans (in the West?) to the ordained ministry of women rests on the conviction of that which I have just summarised.
What I am trying to suggest is that if we believe in ordaining people then we don't have different classes of baptised people and thus exclusions from priestly ministry. And it really is in oddity of we have women as priests but not women as bishops. This is an organically unified task to put right rather than an example of diversification, though of course this can be argued the other way.
Such an oddity of sexual difference in leadership might be in the New Testament but then we look where we will when referring to that set of books.
Using this method, that there is a class of presbyters (or indeed deacons) who cannot be bishops is an odd one in this context and difficult to exclude on biblical grounds, although many do by referring to passages on headship.
If that is correct, a Church that ordains women as priests but not as bishops, develops an unclarity through the anomaly and appears a bit roly poly or perhaps rowanny tree-ey.
It's not just about appearances and feminism, though I acknowledge that secular ethics has once again beaten us to this place. We must give this motivation its place, for after all this is how the general public views us and does motivate many of us inside the Christ body.
So before the impact of feminism we didn't care two hoots for the inequality of priestly ministry as being for men only. No one in particular made the theological argument for the inclusion of women. The Gnostics, who presumably had women higher up the ladder, were the baddies. But now, motivated by feminism, we can use a whole barrage of internal theological arguments to argue for the inclusion of women, and convince ourselves that this goes right back to the origins of our faith and has nothing to do with feminism.
I am not as such personally convinced by this, but my method is always to reduce the position of secular ethics and try to argue from within the Church as the received body of Christ in his dying, rising and ascending - well at least we understand what dying means as my argument follows a particular trajectory.
I do this with the gay debate, for example: having argued for a Covenant and a Church-first approach over the secular ethics of gay inclusion. But eventually I will use theological arguments for gay inclusion.
After all, I used to do this before I got the present job, and I might do it again once I go on to my new job of being an adult education Painting for Leisure tutor. What I argue for depends on where I am culturally and conditionally, and I simply look for the right kind of internal theological argument.
But before I retire, or is it resign, I rather would like this legislation to pass, for it would at least be one achievement to put under my belt whereas of course the whole Covenant push turned out to be a disaster and an unstated reason for my early retirement or resignation.
Now, what I want to say is: "Respect!" There is a lot of power in that word, that may not be any longer evident in old-cultural words like resurrect and ascend. Respect does not just mean 'respect' in a 'respect' sense, but rather means 'respect' in a stronger 'respect' sense in the actuality. So it is not a case of horse-trading in the amendment we have returned as bishops but rather word-trading. If I am correct about this, we can now proceed and positively, meaning a 'yes' vote.
After all, if we don't, we will have people wanting a purer passage for those against, and those against getting stronger for those who want a purer passage. Or we might just leak a lot of people in not an insubstantial display of incredulity and incredibility in the actuality of drift. Nothing is perfect but I can think of worse.
So, instead, let's have some good news for women and men and me, and get on with it. Let's have some fresh gifts lib if not exactly women's lib.
Pass the legislation. Look, I am going abroad and cannot campaign further on this. Some of you supporters will say this is no bad thing. So I will let some other supporters make some internet videos rather in the manner that my approach to the Covenant was one-sided as well. But this time my supporters are different.
Let's trust one another, and, although I usually argue for patience, this time I'm reasoning for the opposite because it would have my name on the plaque on the wall. God speed to you all in voting in the body that serves the Kingdom of God, whatever that means.
© Rowan Tree 2012