Today the General Synod of the Church of England voted Yes to having bishops who are women, as well as bishops who are men. This is an historic moment. It is an event that is located in a process, a process that has brought us to this day and a process that will continue onwards from this day – a process that has had both positive and negative consequences, and will continue to have both positive and negative consequences.
Personally, I am delighted by today’s vote. I believe that men and women have a biblical mandate to share in oversight of the local and trans-local church, and that there is biblical guidance as to how men and women ought to exercise such oversight. For me, today is not so much a departure as a returning to something God-given that we had surrendered: for me, today is a prophetic act of repentance.
And yet it is also a departure. And I recognise that while there are many women within the Church who this night feel that they are no longer second-class citizens within the Church they love, that there are also many other women and men who this night feel that they have become second-class citizens within the Church they love.
These people are my brothers and sisters in Christ.
I might disagree with their position, at times in the strongest of terms. They might on occasion deeply anger and sadden me in equal measure. But together we are part of the Body of Christ, and when one part of the body hurts, the whole body feels pain.
Tonight, I am struck by Romans chapter 12, the whole chapter, and in particular verse 15: ‘Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep.’
Tonight, there are those in my Church who are rejoicing, and those who are weeping. We are called to rejoice with those who rejoice: that is, those who disagree with today’s vote are exhorted to rejoice with those for whom it is a cause of celebration. And we are called to weep with those who weep: that is, those who agree with today’s vote are exhorted to weep with those for whom it is a cause of deep sadness.
We don’t always manage to live out the life to which we are called. We don’t always get that right. But when we do, it is a powerful witness to the reconciliation God is at work to bring about in and through Jesus Christ. When we do, our choosing to rejoice and to weep opens us to a transformative encounter with the life-giving Holy Spirit. When we do, we are at our most counter-cultural in a society that constantly demands that there is a Winner and a Loser, and that we must be(come) the Winner.
So, whatever our view regarding today’s vote, are we willing to rejoice with those who rejoice and to weep with those who weep?