The Bad News about Bishops
For almost two thousand years bishops have been a symbol of unity in the church. They have been our living connection to the apostles and to the Church Universal. They have been guardians of the faith. They have been pastors--"shepherds," we call them--"a wholesome example for the entire flock of Christ" (BAS, p. 636). We have invested them with almost limitless authority to play this role for us. Now, it is time to take it back.
Last Friday evening, at the meeting of General Synod in Vancouver, two bishops abstained and fourteen bishops voted against a motion that widened the scope of the marriage canon to include same-sex couples. Their vote trumped that of 73% of the laity present and 81% of the clergy, representing 149 delegates, who voted in favour of the motion. When the vote was announced, off camera, wailing could be heard in the assembly. An Indigenous delegate rose to the microphone to ask if we must make our children cry again.
Online, supporters of the motion expressed their sorrow and outrage at the vote, and their disgust with a system that yields so much power to a handful of elites who feel no accountability to the people who elected them. As one bishop confided to his executive officer, "It's not like I need to get elected again!"
I have known many good bishops, men (in the days before women bishops) who were wise, fatherly, and true servants of the church. They rarely used the full range of power given to them and, when they did, they paid for it in the broken trust of their people.
The church is one of the last democratic dictatorships in the Western world. In service to our elected potentates, we have lost the freedom to discern the movement of God's Spirit in our midst, for ourselves, overridden by the political and theological agenda of our ecclesiastical masters.
It is time to remove from bishops the power we gave them. They have proved unworthy of their office. They have harmed rather than healed. They have "quenched the Spirit." They have "done those things which they ought not to have done; and there is no health in them." It is time for the Body of Christ to reclaim, for ourselves, the Spirit of God that indwells us, and that makes us whole.
If, that is, it is not too late.