Lurking behind some of the commentary following Tuesday’s rejection of the Measure allowing women to become bishops is a piece of linkage that needs examining. Some of the resistance to women in the episcopate was coloured (to put it no more strongly than that) by a fear that admitting that the people who hold up half the sky are equal to the others (the ones who think they hold the whole thing up) might just change the way we think about other people who we think are less equal than ourselves.
Gay and lesbians, in other words. Admit that God can use women and their gifts anywhere and in any way in the life of the church, and you have gone more than halfway to shooting yourself in the foot when you want to discriminate against other gifted groups.
The tone of the debate was shocking to many because the opposition to the Measure time and again used weasel words to claim that people wanted women bishops but that the provision was not sufficient for those conscientiously opposed to them. But as the time limit on speeches got shorter and shorter the mask slipped, and what came over was the truth that too many people who had the vote that day simply do not believe that women are the equal of men.
[Note of astonishment here: how could all these women have voted against the motion? And for the conservative evangelical ones, what on earth were they doing voting in the first place? Isn’t that exercising an authority over men? Should they not have been at home baking scones? Or why did they not listen to the men set in authority over them, namely the Archbishops?]
This deeply unnattractive motif will be more easily visible when the transcript of the debate is published. But I dare to hope that it will , when made plain, invite us as a church to reflect on what kind of a theological anthropology we truly do hold. And what the consequences of that are. If women and men truly are made in the image of God, then the particular inadequacy of all gendered descriptions of God become more apparent, especially when they drive us to make assumptions about some priority or privilege given to one gender over another. There was too much casual subordinationism in the language used of the Trinity to support male headship on Tuesday – why were there not howls of protest there and then about the use of an ancient heresy to prop up a modern one?
I think that the fruit of this reflection may very well be to bring us to a much more robust determination to see equality in our treatment of men and women as a real theological virtue. And if we do that, then I think it is not unreasonable to expect the same method will help us see that understanding the meaning of baptism, the foundation of our equality in Christ, and the ground of all vocations, will always lead us to the same result. It tears down the walls that divide, it forces us to recognise – but only in the end, always being dragged kicking and screaming to face it – that all God’s children are equally able to be called and used and gifted and deployed.
That means that our attitude to LGBT Christians is next up for revision – that soon, maybe very soon, we will have to stop treating them as “other” and will have to recognise that they are us, and that their lives are not so different from our own, and that their gifts are not to be refused because of who they love.
If the lost vote on Tuesday moves us towards full inclusion for all – then some good will have come out of evil.