Why men should head the Church
Former deacon Caroline Sandon puts the case against female bishops
AFTER the Synod’s vote on Monday to remove the legal blocks to women becoming bishops, a quiet celebration is taking place among the Church’s female ranks. But, as a former deacon of St Andrew’s Church in Cambridge, I feel that the ordination of female bishops will destroy values that the institution to which I belong has spent 2,000 years establishing. The point about the Church is that it is like the family: it has a hierarchy — and women should not be at the head.
I have enjoyed a quiet faith all of my life. One of my first memories is of my grandfather sitting beside my bed and reading a bedtime story from the Bible — not a task he took lightly. He would smooth out the pages so that they were flat and speak slowly and clearly, evidently lost in the words and stories that were so alive to him. I recall wanting whatever it was that he had.
Unlike many of my peers, I took my confirmation, at the age of 13, very seriously. I was conscious that being a Christian was about more than going to church and I promised myself then that I would seek to live in accordance with what the Bible taught. But it never entered my head to become ordained. When I left school, I decided to become a teacher. Like my friends, I believed in and applauded female leadership in the workplace. I moved to Cambridge, where I taught as a secondary school teacher, and I planned to climb up the educational ladder.
There was no defining moment at which I felt called to the Church, but when the Bible Club that I ran during lunch break was closed down by my teachers’ union, I realised that I far preferred teaching the Bible to algebra. After four years of contemplation and talking to friends, I applied for theological training at Wycliffe Hall in Oxford, aged 27. I was somewhat surprised to be accepted.
When I started the three-year course in 1990, the only opportunity open to women was to be ordained as a deacon. Two years later, in November 1992, that all changed: the General Synod accepted the measure to ordain women as priests. I remember the day very clearly. A good friend said to me: “Carrie, I’ll be a bishop within 20 years.” She, like the majority of women in my year, saw the ordination of women priests as a stepping stone to something far greater.
For me, the decision was very simple — I was as much opposed to the ordination of women priests then as I am opposed to the possibility of women bishops now.
Old-fashioned as it may sound, it is my theological conviction that the ordination of women to the priesthood is wrong. There are various biblical passages that dictate my belief, the most significant of which is St Paul’s teachings in I Timothy where he does not allow women to teach or to have authority over men within the context of the Church.
My critics argue that St Paul’s words, along with much of the Bible, should be reinterpreted according to our culture — women in his day were not as educated as they are today, for example — but I am as unconvinced by their argument as they are by mine. St Paul’s teachings are not based on the prevailing culture of his time but on the pattern of human relationships established at the Creation. Adam was formed first and then Eve.
Just as the pattern of the Creation produced mother, father and child, so it should be echoed in the family of the Church. The father figure stands for leadership, the mother figure for nurture.
In the Church, there is a variety of different roles that a woman can take on within the nurturing realm — as deacons, pastoral workers, youth or child workers — but by ordaining them to the role of the man, we are denying God’s children of the clear roles that the two sexes play in the developing process.
Many see my views as a promotion of inequality, which I vehemently deny. Society seems determined to define equality by eradicating differences; the challenge for the Church is to model equality and diversity at the same time. It is perfectly possible to be equal but to have different functions. You do not say of a man, for example, that because he didn’t bear the child he is not equal to his wife. I have worked alongside men for 11 years and I do not see myself as “below” them or inferior to them — we both serve God in our different ways. Nor do I apply my belief to the private sector — I am in full support of female leaders outside the Church and the family.
It is inevitable that, at some stage in the future, we will have a female Archbishop of Canterbury. It grieves me that women see serving the Church as a career with a glass ceiling. I see it differently…
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