Is Britain really marginalising Christianity or, worse still, developing an antagonism towards Christianity? Is this just paranoia on the part of “Disgusted of Tonbridge” who is an avid reader of the Daily Telegraph?  A recent ComRes poll found that 75% of churchgoers believe anti-Christian attitudes are growing and 66% believe there is more discrimination against Christianity than other faiths.

David Suchet said: “Christianity is being marginalised.” Cherie Blair said: “Christians are often being marginalised and faith is something few people like to discuss openly.” Baroness Warsi spoke of “a growing intolerance and illiberal attitude towards those who believe in God.”

What are the facts?

There is no doubt about it that there are a growing number of worrying trends:

1. Christians being disciplined or taken to court for expressing their faith.

  • A Christian nurse suspended for offering to pray for a patient’s recovery.
  • A Christian school receptionist disciplined for emailing church friends about her young daughter being reprimanded for conveying to a fellow-pupil that Christianity is true.
  • A Christian foster carer struck off for allowing a Muslim teenager in her care to convert to Christianity.
  • A Christian British Airways worker, disciplined for not hiding a cross she had on her necklace.
  • Christian hoteliers charged with a public order offence for criticising Islam.
  • And so on …. Although it took place in America, it is likely to happen here: a young single Christian woman advertised in her church for a Christian roommate and was taken to court for expressing “an illegal preference for a Christian roommate, thus excluding people of other faiths”.

2. Local councils preventing Christians advertising Christian events.

  • Brighton Christian prevented from advertising a Christian event in her local library because the council does “not accept any material promoting a particular religious view point.”
  • Sunderland church prevented from putting up a church poster because it may offend other faiths.
  • Sunderland church banned from advertising the Women’s World Day of Prayer in libraries. (Local Sunderland Muslims and Sikhs criticised both these bans).
  • Churches in two areas prevented from advertising a meeting about Religion and Climate Change in libraries unless they removed the words “Christian” and “God.”

3. Minimising major Christian festivals

  • For some time certain councils have tried to ban the use of the term “Christmas” and to replace it with some rather silly secular term. Communities Minister Eric Pickles commented:  “Can you honestly tell me someone has ever said to you ‘Merry Winter-ice’? No they have not. Winter festivals exist only in the minds of beanbag-sitting weirdos.”
  • A survey discovered that a third of schools were moving to a fixed Spring break, many of them not coinciding with Easter.
  • The C of E has recently launched The Real Easter Egg which bears a hill with three crosses and has an explanation that Jesus was crucified on Good Friday and resurrected on Easter Day. But they have discovered that supermarkets are reluctant to sell them.

It may be thought that these three examples are relatively superficial but I’ll return to this later.

4. The failure of schools to teach the Christian Faith

  • OFSTED has reported recently that schools are failing in RE. The teaching is superficial: “In many cases, the study of Jesus focused on an unsystematic collection of information about his life, with limited reference to his theological significance within the faith”.  The report was based on a study of  some 200 schools in 70 local authorities, which included attendance at over 600 RE lessons between 2006 and 2009.

  • The 2009 National Biblical Literacy Survey 2009 polled more than 900 people and found 60 per cent knew nothing about the Good Samaritan, and 57 per cent were ignorant of Joseph and his brothers.
  • Another survey, discovered that the Lord’s Prayer was no longer being taught in many primary schools.

Educationally, this does not make sense. A person cannot claim to be educated if s/he does not understand the major role Christianity played in the history and developing culture of this nation, quite apart from the fact that a person who does not have good grasp of religion cannot claim to be properly educated. Even to reject religion intelligently requires a good knowledge of what one is rejecting. Otherwise it is merely anti-religious prejudice or unthinking apathy.

5. The decline of religion on television

The General Synod of the Church of England recently expressed deep concern about this. It resulted from a private member’s motion from Nigel Holmes, an ex-BBC radio producer. He said that “in television, lack of innovation combined with marginalised scheduling” suggests TV controllers had largely “shunned” spiritual subjects. He added that over the past decade ITV had “virtually withdrawn” from religion whilst televised worship was “seldom” shown on the BBC.

6. The widespread apathy about Christianity

  • Christians frequently claim that the majority of the country, especially the young, are apathetic about Christianity. A recent book The Faith of Generation Y, a sociological study of 300 youngsters born after 1982 states that this age group are “benignly indiffer­ent to religion.”
  • · Claire Rayner once summed up this apathy to the British Humanist Association: “We don’t have to bother ourselves too much about what lies behind it all. It’s there. We are here. What is is. Our job is to get on with things, trying to make life better as we go.” She died recently, so no doubt she takes a different line now.

7. The views of political leaders

Our political leaders, like everyone else, have the freedom to choose their own religious views. Ed Miliband, although he comes from a Jewish background, has said: “I don’t believe in God personally but I have great respect for those people who do.”  Nick Clegg has said the same thing, but added: “I’m married to a Catholic and am committed to bringing my children up as Catholics. However, I myself am not an active believer, but the last thing I would do when talking or thinking about religion is approach it with a closed heart or a closed mind.”  David Cameron said in an interview: “I believe in God and I’m a Christian and I worship – not as regularly as I should – but I go to church. Do I drop to my knees and ask for guidance whenever an issue comes up? No, I don’t. But it’s part of who I am.”  However, their views will influence their opinions and actions in certain ways, try as they may to be objective. So, for example, Ed Miliband is against the free speech law which allows Christians and others to express the opinion that homosexual practice is wrong. Were the law to be changed, that could create real difficulties for many Christians.

On the other hand, Baroness Warsi, Conservative Party Chair, has criticised the previous Labour Government for marginalising faith and encouraging intellectuals who sustain “a vocabulary of secularist intolerance.”  She also criticised “secular fundamentalists” who claimed faith communities were intolerant and exclusive in their welfare provision.  She referred to recent research by York University which showed they were more open and inclusive than other agencies.

Labour leaders such as Andy Burnham have acknowledged that the previous government marginalized Christianity.

Other politicians take the view summed up by the Lord Mayor of Leicester who has written: “I am delighted to confirm that I …. will be exercising my discretion as Lord Mayor to abolish the outdated, unnecessary and intrusive practice [of prayers before the Council meetings]. I personally consider that religion, in whatever shape or form, has no role to play at all in the conduct of council business.”  The Lord Mayor is to be congratulated on showing his ignorance of what religion is and his total disregard for the historic culture of this country in such a succinct way.

GOOD NEWS

However, there is some good news to balance the negatives:

1. The majority of Britons consider themselves Christian

A 2010 survey found that 65% of the population consider themselves Christians. Nevertheless average weekly attendance in the Church of England fell from 1,160,000 in 2007 to 1,145,000 now.  However the average number of children and young people in services each week rose from 219,000 in 2007 to 225,000 now. Overall 10% of the UK population attend church regularly and a further 15% attend occasionally.

The Church’s head of Research and Sta­tistics, the Rev Lynda Barley, said: “We live in a society where people are reluctant to belong or become members of anything. Political parties have seen their membership fall by around 40 per cent in recent years. You could say that that phenomenon is true in all sorts of areas. I think the only member­ship organisation we found that was grow­ing was the National Trust.”

2. Record numbers choose to do RE

The number taking GCSE RE has increased for the 12th year running, with a 3.5 per cent growth from last year to 188,704 students. RE has entered the top 10 league table of subjects in terms of the number of candi­dates, and remains in the top five of grow­ing subjects.

For the last seven years the number of students taking Religious Studies A-level, has increased by 47.3%  overall.

In another survey 75% of respondents said they owned a Bible and 31% said the Bible was significant in their lives.

CONCLUSION

It is easy for Christians to become paranoid and imagine that things are worse than they are. If two thirds of the population claim to be Christians (whether or not they understand what that entails), three quarters own a Bible with a third saying it is significant in their lives, it is difficult to conclude that the whole country is deliberately marginalizing Christianity or even antagonistic towards it.

However, there are powerful anti-Christian forces at work.  I have long maintained that in the church there are liberal liberals (people who have liberal views but respect and tolerate conservatives) and illiberal liberals (those who are intolerant and antagonistic towards conservatives). Doubtless there is the same distinction in society with secularists. Liberal secularists are genuinely atheistic or agnostic but show respect and tolerance towards religious people. But there are also some very influential illiberal secularists – “secular fundamentalists” – who are antagonistic towards religion and are seeking to marginalize and exclude Christians. Some politicians, educationalists, journalists and other media people and even judges are secular fundamentalists, and they are have enormous and increasing influence in our nation which, although nominally Christian is in many ways post-Christian.

It does not help that many of those calling themselves Christians do not appreciate the essential corporate nature of Christianity which makes the church crucial. Without perhaps meaning to, these people can contribute to the marginalization of the church and of organized religion.

Is Britain anti-Christian? Most British people are not but the overall trend is increasing antagonism towards Christianity and Christians need to be aware of it. The church should not seek political power or to coerce individuals. Such power-seeking is alien to Christianity and has led to various evils in the past. But, Christians should take a stand to preserve freedom of religion and freedom to evangelize (respectfully and without pressure). However much we should respect other faiths, we must work to preserve the right to say (again respectfully and sensitively) that Jesus is the only Saviour.

Julian Baggini, editor of ‘The Philosophers’ Magazine’ claims that “If science has not actually killed God, it has rendered Him unrecognisable.”  He refers to the Chief Rabbis opinion that science is about the how and religion the why of the universe. But he says that it is not as simple as that.

He accepts that science leaves room for a God who “kick-started the whole universe off in the first place.” But he adds that science “does leave presumed dead in the water anything like the God most people over history have believed in: one who is closely involved in his creation, who intervenes in our lives, and with whom we can have a personal relationship. In short, there is no room in the universe of Hawking or most other scientists for the activist God of the Bible.

He points out that Stephen Hawking said in Channel 4 “You can call the laws of science ‘God’ if you like,” he told Channel 4 earlier this year, “but it wouldn’t be a personal God that you could meet, and ask questions.” Also Antony Flew, a famous, life-long atheist who came to believe in God in his eighties, believed in a Deist God, i.e. one who started the universe then left it, and us, to get on with it without him.

Baggini concludes: “In the scientific universe, God is squeezed until his pips squeak. If he survives, then he can’t do so without changing his form. Only faith makes it possible to look at such a distorted, scientifically respectable deity and claim to recognise the same chap depicted on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. For those without faith, that God is clearly dead, and, yes, science helped to kill him.”

Well, I’m not going to defend the Sistine Chapel ceiling as literal! It illustrates the problem of Christians projecting caricatures of God, including the implication that God is some elderly Santa Claus figure sitting on a literal throne somewhere in a vertical direction from earth. Then there are creationists who claim God created the universe in six days 6000 years ago.  Some Christians have projected a “God of the gaps,” claiming God as the explanation for anything science can’t explain. This god retreats as science fills the gaps in its knowledge.

But I don’t believe for a moment that Baggini has proved his point. He is attacking a caricature of the God of the Bible. He accepts the idea of God initiating the universe. But he then bases his comments on a crude view of God’s sovereignty over and relationship with the world. God’s sovereignty is not human dictatorship and control writ large. It is much more sophisticated and subtle than that.

The New Testament states that the Son of God, incarnate as Jesus, was the one “through whom also he made the universe” (Heb 1:2).  Elsewhere Jesus is called the Word. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made.” (John 1:1-3).

The universe was created by God’s command – he spoke it into being through his infinite majesty and sovereignty. Scientifically, that involved the Big Bang and development over the last 13.7 billion years.

It adds: “The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word” (Heb 1:3). St Paul said: “The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by human hands. And he is not served by human hands, as if he needed anything. Rather, he himself gives everyone life and breath and everything else. ….. he is not far from any one of us. ‘For in him we live and move and have our being.’ (Acts 17:24-28).  Similarly Paul writes: “The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible …. all things have been created through him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together” (Col 1:15-17).

God sustains all things in existence by his word, otherwise they would be annihilated. He holds everything together in mutually beneficial relationship, otherwise the created order would fall apart.

However, God’s sovereignty is exercised subtly. He works through what we see as natural processes, just as he works out his purposes through the free choices of human beings. Paul writes to the Philippians: “Continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfil his good purpose” (Php 2:12-13). In other words, God acts as people work on the process of “being saved.”

So the God of the Bible is not the caricature god of Baggini. He is not only the God who initiated the universe, but the one who subtly, but with infinite power, sustains everything in existence and holds everything together in mutually beneficial relationship. In addition, as the huge amount of evidence of religious experience indicates, he is a God who is love and who reaches out to individuals in that love, inviting a loving response.

Apparently, Richard Dawkins would like to start an atheist school which would teach children “to ask for evidence, to be sceptical, critical, open-minded”.  He adds: “If children understand that beliefs should be substantiated with evidence, as opposed to tradition, authority, revelation or faith, they will automatically work out for themselves that they are atheists.”  His school would teach about ancient Greek religions and Norse gods. Also he said: “The Bible should be taught, but emphatically not as reality. It is fiction, myth, poetry, anything but reality. As such it needs to be taught because it underlies so much of our literature and our culture.” I have no problem with children being critical and open-minded, but if they are not taught about the awesome concept of God described in the New Testament, the God constantly behind the existence and development of the universe, they will be impoverished, as, sadly, Dawkins is himself.

I fell in love with my wife almost 50 years ago. I remember it well.

I knew something odd was going on. According to recent research, within a fifth of a second, 12 areas of my brain, including the dorsolateral middle frontal gyrus, the anterior cingulate, the caudate nucleus, the putamen and the posterior hippocampus began working together producing an increase in dopamine, oxytocin, adrenaline, vasopressin, and a decrease of serotonin. No wonder it was romantic!

I assume that, logically, the atheist who claims that religious experience is purely subjective, should say that this description fully explains the experience I had when I met my wife and so we do not require the metaphysical concept of “love.”

Other research has shown that love is a painkiller, because it affects the same areas of the brain that are used by drugs to overcome pain.

Scientists also say that love is “an emotional state of intense longing for union with another, involving chemical, cognitive, and goal-directed behavioural components.”  It includes “complex emotions, goal-directed motivations, body image, appraisal and cognition.”

Love is far more than emotion and sexual feelings. According to the New Testament, love is primarily an act of the will. It is following the Man for Others – Jesus. It is about deciding to put the welfare of other people before one’s own welfare and concerns. It involves sacrifice. Love is cross-shaped.

However, because human beings are created to love by a God who is love, human fulfilment comes through being truly loving. It is interesting that a recent survey showed that 75% of Britons believe helping people is the key to happiness.

So, although love is primarily for the benefit of others, it is also good for you. It brings happiness and kills pain.  Christianity is loving God and loving your neighbour. It brings eternal happiness.

When we lived and ministered in Jerusalem we met many wonderful Christians of many different denominations both living in the land and from many other nations. There is a rich Christian kaleidoscope in the Old City of Jerusalem, where we lived, and in places like Bethlehem and Nazareth. It was a wonderful experience to go round to a different church every evening for two weeks for united prayers for peace, mainly with Palestinian and other Arab Christians.  It was moving to meet with the same people for a Unity Week service on the site of the Upper Room.

But there are real problems facing Middle East Christians. Almost half of Iraqi Christians have fled the country since the first Gulf War, most of them since the invasion in 2004. It is almost unbelievable that the Bush-Blair coalition was ignorant of the crucial role of religion in Iraq. Now, partly because of the highly publicised threats to burn the Koran on the part of the foolish American pastor, there is even more persecution of Christians.  Half of Lebanese Christians have left the country. Coptic Christians in Egypt now form less than 10% of the population. Jordan has a record of protecting Christians but they are only 6% of the population. Then, of course, Christianity is banned in Saudi Arabia.

In Israel many of the local Christians are Palestinian and so experience the pain and fears of the Palestinian people.  One piece of good news is the remarkable growth of Jewish Christians in Israel, who normally call themselves Messianic Believers.

Although there are many supporters of both Israeli and Palestinian Christians in the Holy Land – I am one of them – there are those who have polarised. Some, fired up by a legitimate concern for justice, fall into the injustice of being pro-Palestinian and anti-Israel. Such people need to be careful of unconscious anti-Semitism. They harm the Christian cause in Israel.

Others are Christian Zionists, people who believe God hasn’t finished with the Jewish people and has brought them back to a safe homeland after the centuries of anti-Semitism and the horrors of the Holocaust. I accept a moderate form of Christian Zionism myself, alongside a passionate concern for justice for the Palestinians and peace in the Holy Land.  However, some Christian Zionists are a pain. We ourselves suffered from some of them – expatriates – who made trouble because they wanted us to soft-pedal evangelism lest it upset the Israelis. Mind you, some of them were more concerned that they didn’t lose their visas than they were that Israelis should be won for Christ. I was well aware we were walking on egg shells, but there didn’t seem to me to be much point in being there if we weren’t doing sensitive evangelism, especially as I was General Director of a 200 year old evangelistic ministry in Israel.  There was also trouble because we stressed reconciliation (which, of course, is at the heart of Christianity). These folk – again expatriates – were afraid we’d become anti-Israeli and pro-Palestinian.

Perhaps, therefore, you can understand my negative reaction to a recent news story. Christian pilgrims from the US, Canada and Finland joined with right wing Israeli settlers to celebrate the resumption of settlement building on the West Bank (which threatens the peace process).  They rattled tambourines and released thousands of blue and white balloons, the colours of Israel’s flag, into the sky. They also waved banners reading: “We love Israel.” One young Canadian Christian said in an interview: “We knew this was happening today, and we wanted to stand in support for all of Israel and God’s land. We love the Israelites, we love God’s way.”  When asked if she supported a land for the Palestinians, she admitted she was “not familiar” with the politics.

This sort of misplaced Christian fervour confirms the idea widespread in the Middle East that Christianity is a western religion, when, of course, it originated in the Middle East. It adds to the burden of our Christian brothers and sisters there.

Researchers at the US National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke in Bethesda, Maryland used a medical scanner to investigate the brain activity of 22 boys aged between 14 and 17 while they viewed four-second video clips of violent scenes taken from 60 different videos.

They found that the more the boys were exposed to violent videos, the less emotionally sensitive they became to the violence. Dr Jordan Grafman said that the study suggests that exposure to violent videos will make an adolescent more accepting of violence, and more likely to commit aggressive acts.

I wonder how much the research cost. I’m not saying it has no relevance. But since it is blindingly obvious to anyone with common sense that watching violent videos encourages violence in some people, I do wonder if the money (and the time and energy) could have been better spent.

I mention elsewhere that I once read about research which showed that people tend to fall asleep when they are bored. They could have saved a lot of time, money and energy by interviewing some preachers!

Many people have rejected the Exodus story of the miraculous crossing of the Red Sea by the Israelites as a myth. But recent scientific research has shown that the story does have a basis in physical laws.

The National Center for Atmospheric Research and the University of Colorado said that computer simulations show the wind could push water back at a point where a river bent to merge with a coastal lagoon. The leader of the research said: “The simulations match fairly closely with the account in Exodus.  The parting of the waters can be understood through fluid dynamics. The wind moves the water in a way that’s in accordance with physical laws, creating a safe passage with water on two sides and then abruptly allowing the water to rush back in.”

The research showed that a 63 mph wind, blowing for 12 hours, could have pushed back waters 6 feet deep. “This land bridge is 3-4 km (2 to 2.5 miles) long and 5 km (3 miles) wide, and it remains open for 4 hours.”

If this did in fact happen it was a miracle of timing, rather than an event transcending physical laws. At least it should make people think twice before they dismiss these old stories in the Bible.

Round about the time the very foolish and offensive American pastor was planning to burn the Koran I was involved with a dialogue with the Muslims at the local University. As always, we were given a warm, friendly welcome and treated with courtesy.

We observed the men having their prayers. I always find it quite moving to experience the reverence of their bodily actions and silences and the sense of the greatness of God, even though I don’t understand many of the words. There is more of a sense of the greatness of God in their worship than in many churches. Nevertheless I also feel a great desire for them to know and trust Jesus, not just as a prophet but as Saviour.

I am under no illusion about the major, even fundamental theological differences between Christianity and Islam on vital issues. But there is no justification for treating Muslims with antagonism and contempt. Jesus calls us to love our Muslim neighbour.

We sat on the floor for the meal which began with milk and various kinds of sweet dates. They also served very tasty savoury cakes. Then the full meal was served: curried chicken, rice, vegetables, potatoes, salad and other tasty but indefinable foods.

We chatted happily both with students and with older men (we only meet the “brothers”; the “sisters” are accommodated in a separate room). I have talked with people from Libya, Saudi Arabia, Palestine, Egypt and Pakistan. On this occasion I spoke at length with an older man who is an Iraqi Sunni Muslim and a diplomat in Saddam’s time. He is now exiled to Britain. He was not very positive about the aftermath of the war for ordinary Iraqis, including the Christians.

How sad that some Christians express contempt for Muslims and even threaten to burn their sacred book publicly. How sad that my friend Canon Andrew White, Vicar of St George’s, Baghdad reports planned attacks on his already vulnerable church because of the American pastor’s threat to burn the Koran. (Yes, Islam has its extremists as well as Christianity).

Next time we meet with our Muslim friends it is planned that we have a dinner and discuss “Jesus in the Bible and the Koran.”  What could be more important than that discussion?

I am fascinated by cosmology and astronomy. They can be awesome subjects and sometimes provide real challenges to religious thinking. I also really enjoy dialoguing with atheists and agnostics.

Professor Stephen Hawking’s previous book “A Brief History of Time” was a best seller. Millions bought it, but I was one of the minority who actually read it! A friend told Hawking that the original draft was too complicated for the intelligent reader and had to be simplified. I read the “simplified” final version and it certainly taxed my brain which is predominantly theological, not scientific.

I’m not naive, I’ve written several books and I know that publishers like publicity. To lift a very controversial quotation – indicating that a very famous scientist disproves God, and to give that to the news-hungry media at the end of the August silly season is good PR. The book may prove to be much more reasonable than the media hype.

The book isn’t published at the time of writing but I’ve read a long extract. Hawking is saying that the universe could have created itself spontaneously out of nothing. But his reason is that he believes in the multiverse theory, namely that there are many universes, so one was bound to develop that suited creatures like us. Maybe so, but there is no proof of the multiverse theory. So Hawking is saying: ‘You don’t need belief in God which is an ‘unproven’ theory because of my unproven theory about the multiverse!’ The question remains: why is there something rather than nothing? As for spontaneous creation of the universe out of absolutely nothing, (without a divine agent) – that seems to me to be dangerously close to “believing what you know ain’t true.” Hawking seems to be saying it happened because there is a law of gravity. But why is there gravity? And so we can go on.

I’ve experienced it all in my time. I’ve been censed as the preacher in an anglo-catholic service and enjoyed a variety of high church services. I’ve been Rector of a largely middle of the way church which had a weekly Sung Eucharist. I’ve experienced various types of evangelical Anglican churches – conservative and solemn, open and relaxed. I’ve also experienced “Fresh Expressions” such as a Cafe Church.

I believe all those types of worship have their place, because different people (even in a single parish) have different tastes, different subcultures. I don’t fondly imagine that everyone living in our parish would enjoy all of our services. We need a variety of worship and we already have that to some extent. There is our formal, traditional 1662 Evensong/Communion, our more informal Morning Worship, our All Age Services and our special services.

A parish church is a church for the whole parish, not just the catholics, middle of the way, evangelical or happy clappy residents.

A few years ago I deliberately chose to a parish which was not evangelical, although I remain a convinced evangelical. The worship centred around the beautiful Sung Eucharist which I thoroughly enjoyed. Although we developed a new more informal morning service in our other church, suitable for newcomers, we made no changes to the Sung Eucharist. That way we catered for people with widely differing tastes.

Sometimes Christians speak disparagingly of “happy clappy” churches. However, whereas there are some superficial and unhelpful examples, nevertheless there are many lively churches which are growing rapidly and drawing in young people (and children). Before we criticise, we ought to ask how well we are doing in terms of church growth and find out why they are growing.

People’s tastes in worship should be respected. No-one should be pressed into expressions of worship with which they are not happy. Whatever their taste they should be loved and accepted. There is a place for more traditional worship alongside more radical expressions of worship (on separate occasions or in separate venues).  The Church of England is a Broad Church and now encourages “Fresh Expressions” of worship.

The best form of worship should be that which best helps us to worship God in spirit and in truth.

I understand the objections to women bishops because, as you know, at one time I held them myself. I have never understood the argument that Jesus chose only male disciples therefore all priests (and bishops) should be male. He only chose Hebrew-speaking Jewish men but the lobby for only appointing Hebrew-speaking Jewish male priests and bishops is not a strong one! But I do understand the problem some people have that the New Testament appears to teach that church leadership should be male. (I have no room here to say why I now believe the New Testament allows female church leadership. See http://www.christianteaching.org.uk/womensministryinthechurch.pdf).

Some of these folk can tolerate women priests in the next parish. But they can’t accept a woman bishop because she would have authority over them. This is not, for many of them, misogyny (hatred of women) but a sincerely held belief. The Church of England will have women bishops but the House of Laity of General Synod were, in my view, wrong to torpedo the archbishops’ proposals for procedures to respect the consciences of those who object. The final decision over women bishops has yet to be made and there is time to rectify the House of laity vote.