Belfast Telegraph

Gender equality has long way to go, despite women bishops

By Alf McCreary

This week the Church of England agreed to ordain women bishops, and the world is asking: Why did it take you so long?

You can take a harsh view and conclude that this drawn-out process underlines why the Church of England is so out of touch with modern society.

However, you could also take the kindly view and give them a pat on the back because, at last, they have taken a step forward.

However understandable were the scenes of jubilation among women Anglicans after the results of the votes were announced, the whole process made me wonder how such decisions are taken.

There was praise for the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Justin Selby , a former oil executive who apparently used his management skills to secure a positive outcome.

This included the use of 'conflict resolution' professionals and 'arbitrators', all of which seem a long way away from divine inspiration.

In the New Testament there is no record of Christ Jesus having to use such management techniques, but in metaphysical terms he was, of course, the ultimate expert on all conflict resolution and arbitration issues.

Nevertheless, many people will still wonder how the churches in general make their decisions on crucial subjects like women bishops or women Presbyterian moderators, for that matter.

The Church of Ireland was the first in these islands to appoint a woman bishop recently, though the BBC national news this week failed to mention the appointment of Bishop Pat Storey.

The Methodist Church in Ireland has already appointed its first female president, and this year the Presbyterian General Assembly very nearly appointed its first woman moderator.

The Rev Liz Hughes, from Whitehouse, failed by just one vote to be elected and, while I have a high regard for the new moderator, the Rt Rev Dr Michael Barry who has started his year of office so well, I wonder what will happen when the next moderatorial election takes place.

I believe that the best person should be elected, irrespective of gender, but I ask myself if the Presbyterians in Ireland will ever have the courage and vision to choose a woman moderator?

I know a number of Presbyterian women ministers, and I have a great respect for their commitment and ability. It takes real dedication to become a female minister, and I think that many women deserve a better deal in the churches they represent.

Quite frankly I cannot understand why so many men – both clergy and laity – in all the Churches have such a hang-up about females as elders, ministers or bishops. These women are the backbone of the churches, and without their dedication and service, we would be all be the poorer.

The Very Rev. Dr Trevor Morrow, a respected former Presbyterian Moderator, has written a helpful book titled Equal To Rule, which convincingly argues the theological and Biblical case for gender equality in the church.

It should be required reading for office-holders in all the churches, and I cannot do better than outline Dr Morrow's final conclusions;

"In the Church, men and women should be free to lead, but never to the detriment of their manhood or womanhood. Instead, they will rule together in collegiality, because men need women and women need men.

"This is how we truly express the image of God, and say to the world – a new day is coming, and that is how it's going to be."


Equal To Rule is published in hardback by The Columba Press

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