Glory be to God for dappled things—
For skies of couple-colour as a brinded cow;
For rose-moles all in stipple upon trout that swim;
Fresh-firecoal chestnut-falls; finches' wings;
Landscape plotted and pieced—fold, fallow, and plough;
And áll trades, their gear and tackle and trim.
All things counter, original, spáre, strange;
Whatever is fickle, frecklèd (who knows how?)
With swíft, slów; sweet, sóur; adázzle, dím;
He fathers-forth whose beauty is pást change:
Gerard Manley Hopkins
The rejection of women bishops by the Church of England is of much broader significance than a single issue, raising huge issues of political as well as religious significance.
The common criticism, both inside and outside the church, is that it shows the church to be out of touch with society at large.
But what values are the critics applying in pronouncing their judgement. Two are prominent I think. The first is a concern for equality and the second is a culture of success, neither of which are Christian.
For in our secular liberal society, equality means sameness and an end to diversity. The culture of success is all about winning and getting to the top. In business, sport and now the church, striving to get to the top is seen as a virtue, whilst lack of organisational ambition or failure diminish the individual.
The values held by a Christian could not be more opposite. St Paul made it very clear that, rather than simply reflect the world in which we live, we should oppose it. ‘Do not conform to the pattern of this world’, he said. (Rom 12.2)
Christians offer both the unity and multiplicity, which is proper to the Church, and not liberal equality and sameness. ‘For as in one body we have many parts, and all the parts do not have the same function, so we, though many, are one body in Christ and individually parts of one another’ (Rom 12:4-5). ‘Indeed, the parts of the body that seem to be weaker are all the more necessary’ (1 Cor 12:22).
The multiplicity of the members and the variety of their functions cannot damage this unity, just as this unity cannot cancel or destroy the multiplicity and variety of the members and their functions.
Far from promoting a doctrine of sameness, diversity is recognised as necessary in the Church, with often the weakest contributors being most necessary.Success is nothing to do with climbing a hierarchy and position is unrelated to importance.
Any talk about female inferiority and inequality is really irrelevant and un-Christian, for the basic fact about the sexes is not that they are inferior or superior to each other but that they are different.
One of the results of secular liberalism’s tendency to emphasise the idea of equality, rather than that of differentiation, is the type of feminism which, by demanding the same functions for women as for men, implicitly assumes the superiority of male status. If women want to be as like men as possible, this can only mean that manhood is essentially superior to womanhood, a tenet which, we have noted above, the church flatly rejects.
Jesus founded the Church’s ministry by giving it a purely male apostolate. He did so regardless of his sympathy for women as exemplified, for example, by his condemnation of the Jewish attitude to divorce. No-one could accuse Christ of depriving women of their legitimate rights, or misleading his followers as to their true status, as a concession to the conventions and prejudices of the time. Even his enemies never accused him of conventionality and cowardice and it would be a distortion to do so in the twenty first century.
To disregard what we have received from the apostles, and the inheritance of Catholic Christendom, would be wrong for a Church for which the authority of Scripture and tradition stands high. To do so on the secular liberal basis of equality would be a huge error.
Only a secular liberal would welcome women bishops, because it is on the basis of equality as sameness.
If God created men and women, who are we to cancel the difference? God created a ragged, uneven, colourful and dappled world. He did not make a flat, smooth, featureless and regulated environment, peopled by androgynous lookalikes; those are the design principles of corporate HR, not God.
The destruction of difference is all part of secular liberalism’s self-styled march-of-progress. The Church should offer an escape route from the global corporate enterprise, not strengthen it with women bishops.
There’s a new profundity for me now in Hopkins’s poem. It is so radical and Christian in the face of secular liberal equality.