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Last Updated: Thursday, 9 February 2006, 01:07 GMT
A stained glass ceiling?
Two women clergy at the Synod on Monday
The church has said the first women bishops could be ordained by 2012
It seems that women will - eventually - become bishops in the Church of England. But the debate over their consecration still rages.

The Church of England ordained its first woman priest in 1994 and they now comprise 16% of full-time clergy.

In July last year, the General Synod voted to remove legal obstacles to making women bishops.

But there is still unhappiness about that move. The minority that opposes the creation of women bishops is centred on traditionalist Anglo-Catholics, but also includes evangelicals.

They say that if the Church of England allows women to become bishops, it would alienate many in the wider Anglican Communion and strain relations with the Roman Catholic Church.

Christina Rees, chair of the Women and the Church group, campaigns for the appointment of women bishops. She argues there are strong reasons why women can and should become bishops.

"People say it's something put together quickly, following the secular fashion for women being in positions of power," she says.

"The Church of England has been considering this for 30 years."

Male representation

She says the argument that the church would put off those with whom they should be in alliance is "another false lead" and that many other provinces have women bishops.

"The case is: 'We are alienating the rest of the Communion'. That's not the case at all. Africa, South America and India have seen women bishops," she says.

Christina Rees from Women and the Church
Campaigners say those who oppose the consecration of women are a minority

Theologically there is no reason why women should not be ordained as bishops, she says.

"They think that there is something essentially male about the Christian deity and there's something about the male human being that's more able to represent Christ to people and to be a priest and a bishop," she explains.

But she points out that St Paul, in his letters, referred to centres founded in the houses of wealthy women, and where they are referred to very much as co-workers. In addition, she says, there were women leaders in the early church.

They will bring a wholeness of humanity to the House of Bishops
Christina Rees
Women and the Church

"The 12 [apostles] may have come and gone but the women were there. There was a corps of women who were as constant as the 12 men that we know of as the apostles," she says.

In addition, she says she cannot understand why the Church of England should not have women bishops when other denominations accept them.

Above all, she says, women priests bring to their ministry distinctive experience which, she says, current bishops do not have.

"They will bring a wholeness of humanity to the House of Bishops.

Prejudice

"And they will bring what women bring in any sphere: women... are less stuffy, they tend to be better listeners."

She adds: "They are particularly needed in the church, it would free up so much, a huge asset. It will give a message to the country that women are equal to men and fully 'human'.

"Right now the implicit message is there is something wrong, a problem about being female. There's so much prejudice against women our society carries out."

General Synod of the Church of England
The issue will be tackled once again at a synod debate on Thursday

But opponents say there is no justification in scripture or tradition for ordaining women, starting with Jesus' own apostles.

"The truth is there are a number of places in scripture that suggest that women should not be ordained," says Stephen Parkinson, from Forward In Faith, which campaigns against women bishops.

"The obvious first point would be that Christ deliberately chose 12 men.

"The other side would say that he was bound by the conventions of his time but he was not bound by convention with anything else he did. He constantly flouted convention."

Shaky evidence

His group, he points out, has 7,500 subscribing members and the majority of those are women. "Women are, generally speaking, more opposed than men," he says.

He rejects his opponents' view that women were prominent in the early church - supporting scholars say there is shaky evidence for such a claim.

And he asks, if that was the case, why did the church not continue that tradition. Could it be, he asks, that it was an experiment that failed?

Christ was a man - the person standing in his place should be a man
Stephen Parkinson
Forward In Faith

Of those wings of the church that object to the ordination of women, he points to the fact that those are the churches attracting new communicants.

Ultimately, traditionalists believe Christ revealed himself as a man and God - as the Father - related himself to his creation through his son.

"If you were talking about secular careers yes, of course women should rise to every height. And you've had women prime ministers, high court judges - I can't think of a job a woman can't do.

"If it's competence or ability, of course a woman could be a priest or a bishop.

"But the question is 'Could a woman be the icon of Christ at the altar?'. At the crudest level, Christ was a man - the person standing in his place should be a man."




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