At the consecration of the new Bishop of Sherborne in Westminster Abbey this week there was an unscripted intervention.
At the point in the service where the Archbishop asks the congregation if it is their will for the new bishops to be ordained – and after the congregation had replied with an emphatic ‘It is!’ – a lone voice shouted ‘No!’
Such interventions are sadly not uncommon in the Church of England when a woman is being ordained bishop. The new bishop of Sherborne is Bishop Karen and it was her gender which prompted the outburst. The reasons for the objection are well rehearsed – the Bible does not permit women to be bishops – this is going against the word of God – and numerous variations on this theme.
But what was striking at this consecration was the personal and abusive nature of the objection. He went on,
‘You Karen, are an imposter and a usurper!’
Now just a minute… she is what?!
The Archbishop of Canterbury actually dealt with this very well. In response to the well rehearsed objections, he reminded the person behind the lone voice that then Church of England has spent a great deal of time in study of Scripture, prayer, discussion and reflection on whether women can be bishops and decided that women can and should be called by God to such a role in the church. He reminded him that the Queen had given her consent, and that the congregation had done so too before asking the question again – to which the congregation responded with double vigour in support of Karen’s ordination.
But what of the personal accusations he brought? It is one thing to object on theological grounds to women bishops as a whole but to make it personal takes it to a whole new level.
Bishop Karen is not an imposter. She is not pretending to be a man. She has not disguised herself to become a bishop. She is simply the person God made her to be – nothing more nothing less.
Neither is she a usurper. Usurpers steal the place of another to get power, but the position of Bishop of Sherborne was offered to Karen, not anyone else. She is the person who was chosen by the church after careful and prayerful reflection. She was the person welcomed by the diocese and others into this new role. She is simply answering God’s call and vocation in her life and ministry. None of these things make her a usurper.
In actual fact, it was the lone voice of objection which was the usurper. He was trying to steal the power of that moment, trying to take what should have been a time of rejoicing and leave a bitter taste in the mouth, trying to undermine her ministry as a bishop before it had even begun.
And the imposter?
The Gospel reading for the day was from John 15 which includes Jesus’ famous words on the night before he died on the cross.
“This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.”
Was the objector expressing love in the things that he said? Even on a human level his words were hurtful and abusive so how can they have a hope of measuring up to the love of Christ.
There is nothing worse than taking the word of God and using it to hurt or injure someone. That is the way of the extremist – the fundamentalist – the religious terrorist.
Jesus also said, almost immediately after,
“You are my friends if you do what I command you… I am giving you these commands so that you will love one another.”
Imposters pretend to be something they are not.
Who is the imposter now?