“All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out.” – John 6:37
This week, history was made when the Church of England finally welcomed women bishops into the clergy. Despite a failed attempt 18 months ago the vote was passed with an overwhelming majority and with the full support of Justin Welby, the current Archbishop of Canterbury. The vote not only marks a monumental point in the history of the church but also in the history of women’s rights. But, it also raises the question of what it is women are actually looking for when talking about gender equality or women’s rights. The Church is one of the most diverse organisations in the world, accepting people from all nationalities, ethnicities, abilities, ages and walks of life. But for many it seems like it is only now that it has truly begun to practice what it preaches in terms of acceptance and equality. Does this mean that gender specific roles no longer apply now? I am not convinced it does. In fact for a long time I believe the church, and potentially society in general, has restricted itself in combining ideas between equal rights and gender specific roles.
Throughout history it has always been assumed that gender specific roles come hand in hand with the rights that are held by that particular gender, many seemingly in favour of the male sex. But when equal rights are given to both genders, the atomic make up of a man and a woman does not change. There will always be jobs and activities that are more suited to each gender whether they have the “right” to do it or not. So when speaking about equal rights, in many situations we may be found to be striving for something that is physiologically not possible. Even if further laws are passed which make society view male and female as completely equal human beings, it will be seemingly impossible to ensure that every single job is carried out to the best of its ability by both men and women. In terms of bishops, there does not seem to be any situation in which a man would be better at performing said role than a woman (even if some female bishops aren’t mentioned in ancient texts). As a result, now both genders have the right to hold this position, their focus should be on doing their job to the best of their ability and following God’s guidance in all circumstances. Biblical teachings of gender specific roles are not made with the intention of demeaning one sex or the other, as they are sometimes criticised for doing. Rather, they are written with an understanding of natural law, taking into consideration the strengths and weaknesses of both male and female. As it were both arguments for and against women bishops, and women holding roles of leadership within the church, can be argued from a biblical perspective. Ultimately, the vote shows that the Church of England is finally embracing modern times, it’s shown restraint enough to respect the ancient traditions of the Church, but still proven that it can be relevant. In many was, it would be wise to simply accept the chosen path the church has decided to take, forget about the debate and focus now upon more important matters the church is really here for.