The Church of England: What is a Woman?

Oh dear. Gabriella Swerling writing in the Daily Telegraph this week reports:

Church of England: There is ‘no official definition’ of a woman

A lay member of the Synod asked “What is the Church of England’s definition of a woman?” In response, Dr Robert Innes, the Bishop in Europe, said that

“there is no official definition”.

Even Rev Angela Berners-Wilson, the Church of England’s first priestess, questioned the helpfulness of the good prelate’s spluttering, mealy-mouthed ambiguity.

Theological conservatives like me, or even biologists, once again roll our eyes at the state church’s endless game of catch-up with the secular culture (a game which it continually loses, never successfully keeping pace, much less overtaking and setting agenda). In fact, a number of obscure and baffling terms have eluded Anglican bishops’ abilities to comprehend and define; ‘woman’ is just the latest to be added to the long list. For example, ‘resurrection of Christ’. A number of bishops and swathes of clergy struggle to come to terms with what happened at Jesus’ tomb that first Easter Sunday. One mid-ranking cleric who operates in the Ribble Valley, our chapel’s very own district, struggled to believe and accept Christ’s Virgin Birth and even the Trinity. He wrote a book, all but denying both, which Dr Mark Smith, in the Church Times, summed up:

Christ becomes a mere projection of idealised human potentiality, soteriology becomes defunct, the Trinity becomes a Monad (for there is no eternal “Second Person”, just a man to whom the one God briefly shows favour), and God himself becomes a mutable and hapless figure, who does not know the future.

This Canon Doctor may deny the trinity and virgin birth, but what does the Church of England do? Have a quiet word? Defrock? Pension off? No, they make him the person in charge of training new clergy in Blackburn Diocese- ‘teaching Doctrine and Liturgy to ordinands and reader candidates’.

Back to the latest complex terminological inexactitude. Bishop Innes attempted to offer a degree of assurance:

“The LLF [Living in Love and Faith] project however has begun to explore the marriage complexities associated with gender identity and points to the need for additional care and thought to be given in understanding our commonalities and differences as people made in the image of God.”

Doubtless, when political parties like the Greens and their zany consideration of three-way marriages return to the fore, dear Bishop Innes’ LLF brigade will dutifully consider how the Church of England can accommodate, doubtless explaining that no-one ever defined the number of parties within a marriage, and that, as we are all made in the image of God, it doesn’t really matter anyway.

Image by Ryan McGuire from Pixabay