I read with sadness the news today that Philip North has withdrawn from accepting a post as Bishop of Sheffield. It is always a sad day when someone makes a decision of this kind that affects them personally, and also I believe North is very highly thought of and clearly has many gifts to offer which will now not be exercised in this capacity.
At the same time, it is true that women priests in the diocese of Sheffield- over 30% of its clergy- would have been faced with the prospect of being led by someone who could not accept their ministry as possible or in any way valid. I read that one of the organisations North belongs to issues "passports" to guarantee priests are of a "pure blood" lineage, in other words they have not only not been ordained by a woman, they have not been ordained by someone who has been ordained by a woman, or by someone ordained by a man ordained by a woman... (continue ad infinitum)
When I volunteered with WATCH and with Changing Attitude at Synod, it opened my eyes to the bitterness and "at all costs" mentality with which some held to enshrined positions and ideologies. I reflected on the sheer impracticality of the "good disagreement" that the Church speaks of and of finding a place for all around the table. Surely everyone knew this would happen? Surely everyone realised that it is unacceptable and untenable to have a bishop would doesn't recognise the calling of those he leads? Surely at the same time it is equally unacceptable to promise "good disagreement" and an honoring of those who hold a traditionalist line only to see someone of high standing step down in the face of opposition? This is not to say that I do not think North's views of male headship or the male apostolic succession or whatever he holds to frankly ludicrous, but let's be honest, lots of Christians hold beliefs that might be seen this way and the point is that a gracious place for all was promised.
And what of those outside the Church- an organisation which it is still sometimes mooted "exists for the benefit of its non-members" (really? excuse me while I laugh.) Once again the Church looks downright dodgy and rather nasty, filled with what I believe are termed "weirdos" and "haters".
It rather brings to mind the words of Ghandi- "I like your Christ. I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ."