GBC interviews Sally Barnes of WATCH

GBC interviews Sally Barnes of WATCH

In the aftermath of the ‘No’ vote for female Bishops we interviewed Sally Barnes, from the campaign group Women and the Church (WATCH) to hear her opinions

by Natasha Holder

Bishops were shocked at the reactions to the amendment in May, what was it about the wording that caused the backlash?

The amendment, then, was that those people who were against women bishops could write a letter of request to the newly appointed Bishop, saying what theological objects they had about women. They could ask for a male bishop but not just any old male Bishop, it had to be a male Bishop who hadn’t ordained a women or been ordained by a woman, and that we felt was a form of taint of women, we couldn’t accept that at all because it has implications for how women would be seen.
So we couldn’t accept that, so we delayed the discussion until this this November, which gave everybody time to think of new wording for the amendment. And in the new wording, instead of having that in it, it said newly appointed Bishops must ‘respect’ the views of the people that didn’t want a woman Bishop. Remember it’s only a small group of people at either end. Most people accepted it, they didn’t like it but they accepted it, because it was still discriminatory but we thought possibly we could live with the word ‘respect’. It also allowed the woman to go down to the parish and talk to them about what they wanted, where before they couldn’t.

New wording was given by Janet Appleby. Opponents to women bishops said the wording did not make enough provision for them, while supporters felt they have already made huge concessions…

They had been given a lot of concessions; this has been going on for years this debate. The revision committee went on for two years discussing the possibilities of different concessions for them, and each concession was considered in tremendous depth with those people present, and some of them were turned down as not being appropriate for the CoE, because it’s a very broad church, and we’ve always had lots of different people and viewpoints in it, so they came out with these concessions. And these people only want what they want, they’ve never given anything themselves, they’ve never offered any kind of concessions themselves. They just want two churches within a church, they want a high church traditional Roman Catholic church with their own Bishop, and they want evangelical at the other end with their own Bishop, and their not movable, their pretending, their just telling awful lies really, about their being forced out of the church, they’re not because they’ve been offered so much.

Do you think that allowing opponents to opt of having a women Bishop for theological reasons will make women second class Bishops in those parishes?

Of course, absolutely, that’s one of the reasons we were opposing most of it, but we gave them that much just to be able to get women in the House of Bishops, because we need the talents and the gifts, we have some outstanding women in the church and we thought once we got women in the House of Bishops (HoB), even with this amendment, they would make a difference, and add to the HoBs, because it’s not tenable to have a house of just male Bishops without expressing a view of the women, and having women part of it. But yes of course it does, if you’re saying I want my own Bishop, I don’t want them because they’re a woman and only because they’re a woman, it’s very discriminatory and it’s against the law in any other profession, it’s just that the Church is outside the sex discrimination act so they can get away with that.

Do you think David Cameron was wrong to say he wouldn’t change that?

But you can’t. If it was just a question of, you can say well it’s the CoE we’ll change it, but it actually incorporates all faiths. All faiths are allowed to be outside, so if you’re a Muslim your outside the discrimination act, if you’re a Hindu or if you’re Jewish, so it’s not just the CoE. Although I have great sympathy, I think Muslim women would appreciate it probably more than anybody, but it would be very difficult to change it, I don’t know what he means by that really. Not just Muslim women, any women would be pleased not to be outside the discrimination act, because they have no redress, they can’t do anything about it, if you’re outside the act and something discriminatory happens to you in a church or in a faith group which it wrong.

Rowan Williams said that voting against this landmark legislation could prove “publicly embarrassing and internally draining”, do you agree?

He has only recently come out in support of women bishops, if he said this years ago it would have gotten through.

Rowan Williams campaigning for a yes vote said that “voting against the legislation risks committing us to a period of continued and perhaps intensified internal conflict with no clearly guaranteed outcome,” do you agree with that?
We’ve had it for years and years and years. It’s nonsense for the opposition to say we’re destroying unity, they’re the ones that are destroying it. We’ve never really had unity anyway, no church no faith group has ever had complete unity, people need to know their church history and go right back, there’s never been such a thing as complete unity in the church. There’s always been a huge diversity of views, were all different, but the Church of England keep it together in some way. And yes there’s going to carry on being internal conflict until this is resolved and we shouldn’t be afraid really.

A BBC poll suggests nearly 80% of people support women Bishops; do you think that gender equality is advancing at a slower rate in the church than in society?

Definitely, but we have to deal with it.

What do you think about the arguments that a woman cannot be a valid bishop, and that scripture requires male headship in the Church?

Christ didn’t ordain anyone, there were no bishops, this is something that developed over a period of centuries in the church, in the way it has, in tradition. There’s nothing in scripture that says a woman can’t be a Bishop, what they keep quoting is that bit from Timothy in the New Testament, it’s called Paul’s epistle to Timothy who is a young Christian, but we know and scholars know, and recent research shows that that was not written by Paul, it was written a century later by followers of Paul who were alarmed at the fact women were actually taking the lead, and preaching and running the Church group because that’s how it was in the very early church. And they began not to like this, and so tried to stop it, it’s under the letter of St. Paul’s but it’s actually a century after Paul died when it was written. They don’t want to hear this but scholars know this. And they quote lots of other things as well, but if you follow what Jesus did, which is what the Church is about after all, Jesus treated women completely differently to how it was expected in his day, the way he talked with women when men shouldn’t talk to women in the open place, talked with Samaritan women who was considered unclean, he touched a women with the issue of blood and healed her when blood was considered taboo, and he sent Mary Magdalene to tell the disciples that he’d risen from the dead, well that’s great, the first women who did that, he sent her and didn’t wait for the man. He’s giving out all kinds of messages about the roles of women and their ignoring them. Paul also said that there is no male or female Jew, Greek, slave or free in Christianity we are all one, and they don’t quote that.

If this bill comes again in 2015, what changes do you think will be made to get this through?

I think they’ll try and do something about it before then, but I think attitudes are hardening now. I think that what we will possibly do is say that we’ve just had enough now, we just want a simple clause measure, a single clause measure that says that women will be Bishops and that’s it. Then make allowances out of the law, as a kind of code of practice on how to deal with people that don’t want the woman, which happens in America, Canada everywhere really. So we’ll just have to wait and see.

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