ANOTHER VIEW: Women priests: the tide turns

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Bishop Edwin Barnes, one of the so-called "flying bishops", has created a furore by suggesting that the ordination of women as priests was an error. He claims it can and will be reversed, as this new ministry is being resisted in many parishes. Is this the last cry of an obscurantist or is there anything in his suggestion?

Women priests are not an innovation of this age and, contrary to common perception, they existed in the early Church among fringe, and often heretical, Christian groups. Much evidence for this has come from feminist activists who have failed to see the implications. The early Church grappled with the issue and rejected it as contrary to the gospel. The groups that propounded it either died out or discontinued the practice. The present debate has most of its force in a view that our world is in some way different from any other that preceded it. This is held with such force that even the words of holy scripture are no longer perceived as normative for Christians. This view will manifestly not stand the test of time.

Bishop Barnes has to be right in his opinion, though if he believes it will happen in his lifetime he is sadly mistaken. The Church of God moves slowly. When feminism loses its political impetus it will still be fashionable among liberal Protestants. Being quaintly old-fashioned is part of the genre. Feminism is already moving away from the view that men and women are equal and interchangable to a view that they are equal and different. Much is now made of women's special gifts and intuitions. The unpoliticised masses knew this, and it is what the Church has always taught. In time the Anglican churches that ordain women priests will, as in earlier history, either repent or die out.

Other evidence does not augur well for women's ordination. Around the country I hear stories of bishops who only voted for it because they thought it would fail and didn't wish to be part of the acrimony. Many of the supporters of women's ordination are not happy. Likewise there is evidence of disillusion among women priests. In Sweden I have met some who have resigned and joined the opposition, now thinking it a great error. In England one of the first women deacons elected to Synod in a special constituency became a Roman Catholic, as did one of the women ordained priest in the Church of Ireland. Many women priests talk of "pain and rejection" and I genuinely feel sorry for them, believing they are in an impossible position. There is also the fact that many radical feminists have rejected Christianity as contrary to their convictions. Feminist post-Christianity is a real force, and, I believe, the logical end of feminism.

The difficulty for Church of England traditionalists is that we will not have the luxury of seeing history's judgement upon us. Are we simply old-fashioned fools, or prophets? If history repeats itself we are the latter; if not, may God forgive us.

The author is chairman of Forward in Faith.