Before I start reading, three immediate historical thoughts come to mind, process markers rather than conclusions:
- In the OT God appointed an order among his people; but its expression, including its gender makeup was variable. The order of judges, with occasional female supremacy, gave way to male kings, tradition says, because the people wanted to be like the others round about them. God, in his providence, said “yes.” In the New Covenant, the Church’s highest calling is to be a delivery system for the kingdom, and, as body of Christ, what Maximus the Confessor called an “enfleshing of the incarnation.” Therefore the practical sociology of Christian ministry has always been contextual, not absolute, reflecting the reality of the social structures around it. Thus Early Church practice within which 30-40% of the leadership was female gave way to a medieval order where imperialistic institutionalism was the order of the day, and it was inconceivable that anyone but celibate males should exercise authority. All this by divine permission. Absolutising 12th century cultural assumptions, whilst cutting free from the (frankly ludicrous) anthropology of female subordination that validated them at the time, seems to me historicist weirdness, ignoring truths recovered by the sixteenth century Reformation.
- When we turn from fading Roman Imperialism to its British counterpart, 20th century bureaucrats, with their instinct for steering round difficulties rather than facing them, loved partition solutions. They were the centrepiece of British Imperial policy in Ireland (1922), Palestine (1948), India (1947) and Cyprus (1955). They seemed rather noble means for giving incompatible populations long term peace. However those colonial governors wore ostrich feathers for a reason. What they actually did, long term, was institutionalise schism. Their product in Ireland was almost a hundred years of violence, in Palestine sixty years of strife, in India (Kashmir and Pakistan) a war in which a million people died, in Cyprus the green line. The man at the FO could sign the problem off and bring the troops home, but, long term, I can’t think of a single partition solution that was a long term winner. We are still struggling with deadly institutionalised schism in the Middle East and India. Of course in Church everything is entirely different, but history is reality written for our learning, and I can’t get enthusiastic about elegant churchy versions of the kind of statesmanship that so delighted 20th Century Sir Humphreys. They got their knighthoods but they also got the big picture dangerously wrong.
- To return to Church history, formative Anglican theologians did not attempt to build the church by cobbling together some kind of synthetic panjandrum out of the most extreme positions, to keep everyone on board politically. Instead, they centred everything back on the Scriptures and the Creeds. This method worked for them, anyway. Perhaps we should try it. Too much Ecclesiastical Heath Robinson Engineering and you'll end up with a bunch of grinning politicians and no real bishops anyway, male or female.