I’m an Atheist: Why do I care? (I do) #synod #womenbishops

No women bishops in the Church of England: that was the outcome of yesterday’s General Synod vote at Church House. Why should I give a damn? I’m an atheist. An atheist of Sephardic Jewish heritage, no less.

And yet I do give a damn. Deeply. I have a number of female friends who are active in the C of E. They are some of the most humanitarian, inclusive, non-judgemental, engaged people I know. I don’t believe what they believe, but I do admire and respect their beliefs and, more to the point, I admire the way they allow those beliefs to empower them to do good things in this world. They minister in prisons, they stand up for political refugees, they feed the homeless, they offer shelter. They don’t just talk the talk – they walk the walk – and not for people of their own faith, but anyone.

In the last 100 years, the C of E has had a tradition of progressiveness. That sounds like a contradiction, but it’s not. More than many other branches of Christianity and most other religions, they have understood that if a church is to be engaged in the world, it needs to embrace the cultural now and not be nostalgically blinkered to an imaginary earlier, ‘simpler’ or more ‘godly’ time.

It is important to note that it wasn’t anywhere near a majority of representatives at the synod who rejected the ordination of female bishops. Both the House of Bishops and the House of Clergy voted overwhelmingly in favour of women bishops. It was a minority in the House of Laity – primarily Christian Evangelicals.

This small minority is not simply opposed to female bishops. They are opposed to female clergy, even though it has been a reality for twenty years (and more than half of all clergy ordained in the last twenty years have been women). They don’t think the Queen should be the head of the church either. Of all the things that upset them, women bishops is a minor one.

Their vote was a symptom of the reality that they wish the C of E was an entirely different institution. One without a female head, one without female clergy, one without gays or lesbians.

I realize I’m a complete outsider in this whole affair, but as an outsider, I would like to ask my friends in the C of E to consider something: be careful that your patience, your forbearance, and desire to make everyone feel welcome in your House doesn’t result in you allowing a few fundamentalists to destroy the structure of the very inclusive, humanitarian and liberal edifice you’ve built over the last hundred years.

Someone likened to ‘No’ voting Evangelicals to the US Tea Party. Its not a bad analogy at all. And what you need to know about these people is that they are a fairly destabilizing, acrimonious and parasitic social force. They have virtually destroyed a credible, rational opposition party in American politics.  And they will gleefully erode the foundations of your Church as well, liberally quoting scripture all the way down.

Your weakness and your strength is your willingness to listen with an open heart and to seek accord. There are those among you who have no problem with taking advantage of that, of preying on your ‘reasonableness’ and using it to pull down the admirable structure of progressive spirituality you have built and put a ‘shining house of the Lord’ on this hill in its place.

The problem is that the vast majority of people in England live down in the valley. In reality. In a multi-cultural, multi-faith, multi-gendered, gay, lesbian, trans world. I think your ministry is here, down in the valley, not on the hill.