Church led from soap box or Synod?
WALKING through Plymouth City Centre last Wednesday afternoon I could not help but notice that outside Tesco's there was a guy stood on a box, with a book in hand, haranguing the passers-by and shoppers.
A small crowed had gathered around him, and it was obvious they were giving him as good as he was giving them. It was, for all intents and purposes, a classic example of a Speakers Corner slanging match.
The argument was developing in quite a passionate manner as these kinds of ad hock discussions do. The subject of god and religion was chipped away at with the kind of quick-tempered fervid emotions, which this kind of debate always has the nack of generating.
This on the face of it was nothing new. Religion has always had the habit of evoking controversial reactions from most people, believers and non-believers alike.
Business Cards From Only £10.95 Delivered www.myprint-247.co.ukView details
Contact: 01858 468192
Valid until: Friday, May 31 2013
At the root, belief is a very personal property, and when these core values are attacked people have the tendency to defend themselves and their values in a most obsessive manner. And it was this which was happening between those gathered outside Tesco.
I didn't really have the time to remain, and take in the details of the argument between this very public preacher man and his growing group of interlocutors.
However, as I walked off down the street, the thought did enter my head that it was only the day before that the General Synod of the Church of England had voted on the issue of whether or not women could be ordained as bishops (pictured).
Now, as we know by now, the vote was lost, and women will not be ordained as bishops, even though they have been allowed to operate as priests for the past twenty years. There will probably not be another vote on this issue for another four years.
Yet at the heart of this vote it was not really the clergy or the bishops which are stopping women advancing in the church, but rather the laity from the congregations who seem to be far more hide bound and conservative than those who serve their metaphysical and theological needs.
Of course non-believers and feminists have waded into this argument claming that the church needs to give people equal opportunities. Without really understanding that this is not an issue with civil law, or equal rights, but rather one of theological values which those in the laity and the Anglo-Catholic section of the church are hanging on to like grim death.
It is one of those cases of being that the idea of a male led church is enshrined, at least from the point of view of the conservative laity, in scripture, then there can be no movement from this point of argument. Therefore the Anglo-Catholic section and conservative laity are hardly going to compromise on this point.
On the other side of this argument the outgoing Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams has given his whole, albeit weak, support to get the synod to pass this issue. The argument must have fallen on deaf ears.
Which only leaves a question to be asked: maybe if the Church of England had stronger leadership it would not be in the position it is in. Williams has hardly been a strong leader of a church which seems to be falling apart under his administration. In this sense then he has only himself to blame for letting the more conservative elements of the church from taking over.
And it does not look like there will be any change when the Bishop of Durham, Justin Welby, takes over from Williams. Again Welby is a supporter of women bishops, but there does not seem to be anything which can be offered to the conservative laity and the Anglo-Catholic section. Other than maybe a quick excommunication and a return to the Catholic Church and its incumbent orthodoxies. A place where they may well be theologically happier.
Can there ever be a solution to this problem? There is an argument of the old puritan kind which would abolish Bishops, both male and female, all together.
This would take us all back to the point where belief would be a very personal thing rather than a mass organised religion. It would take the church back to the point of the guy stood on a box out front of Tesco's arguing with the crowed gathered around him, and the purity of the emotions expressed between all of them.
Christianity was always meant to be for the many and not just the few who believe they can control it with a vote.