Why can’t a woman be a bishop like a man?

The Church of England is making heavy weather of women bishops. Of course they had to approve women bishops. They made the crucial decision when they voted for women priests. It makes no sense to say that women can hold any pastoral position up to bishop, but to prevent them from being bishops.

Those who disagree with women bishops do so for two main reasons . They claim the Bible shows the apostolic succession was an all male affair, based on the fact that all twelve apostles were men. They go on to argue that it is reasonable that some male priests insist on not working for women bosses in view of this.

It is true all 12 apostles were men, at a time when most of the jobs outside the house were handled by men as part of the then social practise. To many earlier societies a more active role for women outside the home would have seemed strange. The world for women has changed dramatically in recent decades in a way which makes this all seem very dated. It is also true that in the Bible women were very involved in the creation of the new movement and in the formation of the early Church. Mary the mother of Jesus plays a central role, as do the women followers who are a feature of the gospels. Jesus never taught that women had to be left out of the great movement he initiated.

It is strange for Anglican clergymen to say they will not work for women bishops, when the Church voted for women priests, and when already many male clergy do work for female bosses in senior roles below the rank of bishop. In practise all current Anglican priests have accepted the presence of women in the priesthood – preventing them from getting the top jobs is a backward looking hangover from their defeat on the central issue.

In my view it would be quite wrong for the Church to carry on living in the nineteenth century as if the emancipation of women from the home had not taken place. The Anglican Church needs all the support and talent it can muster. Cutting itself off from half the human race in its search for suitable people for its ministry would be odd indeed.

Will this split the Church? It’s one of many issues which could lead to further rows and some departing. The Reformation is not yet over – there are still important differences between the Anglican settlement and the Roman one. A minority of the dissenters may prefer the authority of the “Bishop of Rome”. Catholics will I am sure will welcome them.


  1. Alan Douglas
    July 13, 2008

    Dear John,

    From admittedly a not religious viewpoint, I have to ask, does it really matter ? The one Christianity has already become an endless number of minor divisions, and even in the UK there are several "established" churches and many quite large splinters, such as Methodists.

    As far as I can tell, church is a place for social and a few remaining "official" duties, though even these are now available almost anywhere, such as weddings in castles and up Blackpool Tower, for all I know. Of course secular marriage in the Registry Office is quite long-established too.

    Does it really matter ?

    Alan Douglas

  2. Cranmer
    July 13, 2008

    It is a little odd, as you state, that the majority of Anglo-Catholics were prepared to countenance women priests but draw the line at women bishops. It is arbitrary to permit women to be ordained priest, but to prevent their promotion. Women most certainly played a part in church leadership from the earliest years of inception, particularly as deacons, and there is no record of some formula to cater for the 'traditionalists' who dissented. Throughout the Old Testament, when the men failed, God raised women to be prophets and to proclaim the mind of God.

    The Church of England is a curious creature, hanging between its Catholic and Reformed roots, but this via media has served us well for five centuries. It is prepared to assert that it is part of the One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church, even if that view is not shared by Rome. The decision to consecrate women to the episcopate simply serves to emphasise its Protestant capacity for renewal and adaptation to a changing society.

    If there is neither Jew nor Greek, nor male nor female, then there must be equality. And one might find, as one did with Margaret Thatcher, that when England has its first female bishop, she will eclipse a hundred men.

  3. Rose
    July 13, 2008

    It seems irrational not to allow women into the episcopacy since the biblical prohibition was against Gentiles – the Old Testament specifically excludes "men with flat noses" from being admitted into the priesthood, and the twelve apostles were indeed all Jews. But once this had been overcome to allow in Greeks and Romans there should not have remained this difficulty about women, and as you say there probably wasn't.

  4. Matthew Reynolds
    July 13, 2008

    Why be so silly John ? You know darn well why woman Priests are a bad idea in terms of theology and yes what you call the ‘ Roman Settlement ‘ is different in the sense that we stick to timeless truths decreed by God as expressed in scripture & tradition rather than just doing what the secular world dictates . Men & Women have different ways of serving God and why do you have such contempt for Anglicans who oppose women Bishops in a Chucrh that is supposed to be broad & tolerant ? Priests are supposed to be Christ like & he was a celebate man who was financially poor – is that really such a tough concept to grasp ? I welcome those who walk the way of John Henry Newman and embrace Christ rather than a false heresy that cost loads of lives in the Reformation and the Thirty Years War that followed . Protestants in the Reformation just wanted to get their hands on Church lands as much as the Nazi’s wanted to obtain Jewish property in 1930’s Germany – both sets of people were Middle Class types who hated the Catholic Church . It was insane to say that anyone tempted by sin is doomed to Hell fire and then a few hundred years later say that what ever for you is fine as far as getting to Heaven is concerned . Meanwhile the Catholic Church just gets on with telling people the truth about Christ as The Way The Truth and The Life rather than just changing their minds to appease the secularists . Why do Anglicans believe in everything & nothing ? Any High Anglicans reading this – welcome to the true Church !

  5. Cliff
    July 13, 2008

    You seem to be unable to separate equality and theology.

    Male priests are an icon of Christ when they serve. Wopmen can never be Icons of Christ as they are of the wrong gender.
    Women have a different role to play to males; It could be argued that, The Holy Mother's role as the mother of God is the ultimate high that anyone, male of female, could achieve.

    Whether jobs outside of the home were mainly confined to males at the time is a red herring.
    It is arrogant for man to second guess God…….It is true that male and female, in the eyes of God are equal, however, God appointed ONLY males to serve as priests in the old testament and this was confirmed by Jesus Christ in the new testament.

    You seem to fall for the mantra that the so called femminist movement use…..Most femminists appear not to be in favour of equality but anti men. They seem to want to eliminate the role of males altogether. We see them dress like males, drink like males and now act like males, well all the behaviours and traits the femminists were so opposed to anyway!!

    The type of "equality" that femminists seek, which is not true equality anyway, is more about their egos rather than any theological or pastoral concerns. I would suggest that, these egotistical thoughts may well in themselves be a sin, namely pride.

    Whilst the two sexes can be equal under the law and before God, it does not follow that we all have the same role. If, for example, I wanted to give birth to a child, I could not because I am of the male gender!! Members of the male gender have different traits and abilities to those of the female…That is a fact of life….no amount of PC laws will change that. It seems to me that many femminists have personal issues around self esteem rather than anything else. We should celebrate our differences.

    This idea is just the thin end of the wedge, femminist Christians(sic) have started to call God she and are replacing all references to the male Godhead with female ones….This shows their true agenda in my opinion.

    The Anglican church seems to mirror our current government, both have weak leadership that seem to be influenced by PC thought rather than common sense and what's right and wrong. Both organisations seem to give too much of a voice and power to minority single issue groups, for example, I have not found a single Christian that feels comfortable about actively gay priests.

    In general terms, if you join a club you accept the rules, if you do not, then you join another group or form your own. Perhaps these militant femminists that promote this agenda should form their own church and set up their own doctrines.

    I am not surprised that the C of E went down this route because, after all, it was founded by Henry VIII because he did not personally like the Catholic teachings on divorce and remarriage. Once you abandon one doctrine, another is bound to be abandoned later and then another and so on until you have nothing.

    If anyone feels they need to research further about the case against the ordination of women, may I suggest a search on the ewtn.com website.

    John, if you feel you need to edit any part of this, may I ask you to bin the whole thing as in the past, some of your PC edits have completely altered the meaning and tone of the piece…..Thanks in anticipation.

  6. [[NAME EDITED]]
    July 13, 2008

    One important reason for not accepting woman bishops or priests is that the Anglican Church, driven principally by trends in the USA, made this innovation in the face of appeals by the Roman Catholics and Orthodox not to do so. The people at present in charge of the C of E are treating it as their own property (much as Labour treats our national institutions as their own property) to do as they like with. It is the same with moral teaching as with sacramental ordinances; they make it up as they go along.
    You ask, Why split the Church? Why indeed! This insistence on importing equal opportunities into the theological realm is profoundly unecumenical, and it happened just when convergence of traditions seemed to be gathering force. Reunion of Anglicans with the Eastern and Latin churches is a dead duck.

  7. mikestallard
    July 13, 2008

    I am really uncomfortable with this post, John.
    1. No Christian has any "Boss" except for the Holy Trinity. That goes for Catholics too, of course. Bishops are not "Bosses" in any sense. I am not at all sure what Anglican Bishops are for, actually, but Catholic Bishops are the people who are responsible, under God, for seeing that their own diocese is truly Christian. I am very sorry to say that whereas my own (Catholic) Bishop usually appears dressed as a simple priest, and whereas our priest usually appears in an open necked shirt, Anglicans love dressing up and this gives a totally wrong impression of self importance. Add to this the palace and all the other historic accoutrements and you are light years away from the very simple lifestyle of all the Catholic Bishops I have met. Remember, too, that Catholic Bishops (and most priests) are all religious people who live single lives often of very great simplicity. It really is not a very enviable job being a Catholic Bishop. Austere is the word I would choose to describe it.
    2. The Methodists, Baptists and Presbyterians have had women superintendants for years. They are perfectly OK at their job and there has been no complaint at all.
    You are, however, completely right when you say that the women Bishops thinggy ought to have been sorted out in the 1980s when women were admitted to the priesthood.

    Reply: Bishops are the bosses of clergymen in the worldly order of the Church, which is why some traditionalists say they support women priests but not women bishops.
    A lot of the trouble, I think, is confusing politics/business and the Church of God militant here on earth.

  8. Michael Taylor
    July 13, 2008

    What this argument demonstrates is that the Church of England – and I suspect most other churches too – is an organisation fundamentally about power, not about man's relation to God. And at the operating end, we now have church policy determined by . . . voting. As if the Light were apprehended by majority vote. The issues (women bishops, gay marriange) are relatively unimportant – the subjugation of religious devotion to political argument and determination is crucial.

  9. Bazman
    July 13, 2008

    Thought about the question literately, and the answer is obvious. It's because they cannot bash the bishop. Is this answer anymore stupid than no?

  10. Rebel Saint
    July 14, 2008

    I don't have a well thought out theology on this – but suspect that ultimately it won't make a blind bit of difference.

    What I don't understand is how the church hierachrcy seem more concerned about this than they are about having an Archbishop who supports the integration of Sharia law in any way, shape or form.

  11. Stuart Fairney
    July 14, 2008

    The joy of aetheism is that you can think for yourself rather than relying upon archaic texts and getting in an awful mess. However, it seems to me that attempts to update the biblical canon in this regard rather fall foul of 1 Corinthians 14:34-35, which reads

    "Let your women keep silent in the churches: For it is not permitted unto them to speak; but they are commanded to be under obedience, as also says the law. And if they will learn anything, let them ask their husband at home: For it is a shame for a woman to speak in the church."

    As a simple aetheist, the contortions that religous modernisers go through on female ordination and gay priests and the like seem like an exercise in intellectual self-deception. it is also further evidence (as if any more were needed!) of the non-divine authorship of the bible.

  12. APL
    July 14, 2008

    JR: "Why can’t a woman be a bishop like a man?"

    That question, like the Church of England is, sadly irrevelant.

  13. Simon_C
    July 14, 2008

    Are people really arguing about religious issues on the basis of rationality. I mean come on. Religion is about "Faith", not rationality. The rise in rationality in the general population is why Religion is going backwards.

    (Words left out)

  14. Suresh Chithung
    August 30, 2012

    I have some question regarding the Women Bishop.

    1. Is it a sin if a woman become a bishop?
    2. Is God love only men to be Overseers for Christ?
    3. Can I say, ” God hates woman to be a bishop?

    I would love your kind answers to the above questions.

Comments are closed.