Friday, 23 November 2012

Sarah Coakley on women bishops and the collapse of Anglican theology

Sarah Coakley has a terrific piece on the ABC site about the Church of England's vote this week – a vote against women bishops and for theological incoherency:

So what we have created in the past twenty years is a theological anomaly which has insidiously been made to seem normal: a whole cadre of priests – a third of our priesthood now – who are supposedly intrinsically disabled from exercising the charisms of spiritual unity and authority historically associated with the episcopate. It is here that the main theological scandal still lies: the implicit creation and normalization of second-class priesthood. The terrible danger is that this may now be extended into second-class episcopacy.
Coakley situates this theological disaster within the wider story of the church's growing bureaucratisation in recent years, and the evacuation of theological seriousness from church polity:
In our supposedly "secular" culture, the Church of England seems to have succumbed to the idea that theological ideas do not matter very much, and this may bespeak a deeper malaise even than the current crisis itself. Young people are turning back to the Church, longing for spiritual and intellectual bread; by and large stones await them, even despite a most promising new generation of young priest-scholars (women and men) who are beginning to rise through the ecclesial ranks. Perhaps in a generation things will be different. But for the moment the Church has in effect signed its own theological death warrant.
And she points out that our bureaucratic ecclesial culture comes with a cost. It displaces the culture of prayer that is indigenous to the church's life, and on which the church's spiritual vitality will always ultimately depend:
Along with the notable turn in priestly life in general to the secular bureaucratic models of "leadership," "efficiency" and "mission-efficacy" has gone an almost unnoticed capitulation – as I see it – to the idolatry of busyness.... The costliness of this pressure merely to "cope" in a whirlwind of ever-consuming administrative demands and inevitably eroded prayer is a problem that goes well beyond the particular matter of women bishops. But I dare to raise it because it says something about the culture in which a merely pragmatic or political, rather than a truly theological, solution to an ecclesiastical impasse [is sought]. Is our creeping ecclesial bureaucratization indeed the way forward for the Church in all its ministries? Is it here – rather than in any inappropriate commitment to worldly feminism and egalitarianism, as is often claimed – that the issue of women bishops is stalled and hiddenly entangled with secular mores?
 This is an excellent piece of public theology: a serious-minded, prophetic call for a recovery of Anglican faithfulness.

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