The Common Good

A Woman's Place is in the House ... of Bishops

Sojomail - July 10, 2008


I would characterize this outcome as ‘talking the talk’ rather then ‘walking the walk’ on climate change policy.

- Michael E. Schlesinger, a climatologist at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, commenting on the recent G8 agreement to cut greenhouse gas emissions in half by 2050, which is full of nuances, caveats, and loopholes. (Source: The New York Times )

+ Sign up to receive "Verse and Voice" - our daily quote and Bible verse e-mail


A Woman's Place is in the House ... of Bishops

by Joy Carroll Wallis

It was almost 16 years ago that I sat in the debating chamber of Church House in Westminster and voted as a member of the House of Clergy to ordain women to the priesthood in the Church of England. At the time I was one of the youngest members of the House of Clergy, and I was in the first group of women ordained to the priesthood.

On Monday, July 7, the general synod meeting in York, England finished the job. At long last they have approved that women may also be consecrated as bishops--jettisoning the custom of a male-only episcopacy.

When women were first admitted to the priesthood in 1994, the synod passed various "safeguards" and "provisions" that included "flying [male] bishops" to serve those opposed to ordaining women. That year, I made an impassioned speech against those "provisions." This time, the women clergy made it clear to the House of Bishops that they wanted women to be bishops, but not at any cost. In a statement issued in May 2008, the women clergy said:

The price of legal "safeguards" for those opposed is simply too high, diminishing not just the women concerned, but the catholicity, integrity and mission of the episcopate and of the Church as a whole. We cannot countenance any proposal that would, once again, enshrine and formalize discrimination against women in legislation. With great regret, we would be prepared to wait longer, rather than see further damage done to the Church of England by passing discriminatory laws. ... If it is to be episcopacy for women qualified by legal arrangements to "protect" others from our oversight, then our answer, respectfully, is thank you, but no.

This incredible and historic decision that the synod has made is all the more wonderful to me because the legislation contains no "safeguards." It has simply a compassionate "code of practice" to be worked out over the next few years. No women will be consecrated as a bishop until the year 2014 and in the meantime, "arrangements" will be embodied in the code of practice for those who feel bereaved and betrayed by the raising of women to the episcopacy.

It is finally done! And this time I trust that the legislation will pass the test of theological integrity. I doubt that the fallout will be as bad as some have predicted. Many who threatened to leave the Church of England if this legislation passed have already decided to reconsider. Over the past 14 years of women in priesthood, many gracious and wise women priests have gained a lot of experience in building trusting relationships with those unable to accept their priestly ministry. I have no doubt that those eventually appointed will take this experience into the episcopate. They will do their jobs as shepherds, teachers, and unifiers with prayerful compassion and generosity.

On a more personal note: Whoo hoo!

Joy Carroll Wallis was among the first women to be ordained to the priesthood in England in 1994. She's the author of The Woman Behind the Collar: The Pioneering Journey of an Episcopal Priest. Carroll Wallis lives in Washington, D.C., with her husband (Sojourners editor-in-chief Jim Wallis) and their two sons, Luke and Jack.

+ Respond to this article on the God's Politics Blog


+ See what's new on the blog of Jim Wallis and friends

The View from 1908 (by Tony Jones)

In our show, we each play our fictional great-grandfathers, two-bit revivalists from 1908. Honestly, we stumbled on 1908 because it's 100 years ago, but then we started doing research and discovered what an incredible year it really was. At the dawn of 1908 almost no one had heard of the Wright Brothers; by the end of the year theirs were household names. The race to the North Pole was on, and an automobile race from New York City to Paris (via the Bering Straight!) had captured the American imagination. But while most Americans were extremely optimistic about the technological advances of the telephone, the automobile, and the airplane, all was not well. That winter, President Teddy Roosevelt (whom many in the country consider deranged for his fluctuations of temper) sent the U.S. Navy's Great White Fleet around the world, most probably to intimidate Japan. And that spring, New York and Chicago experienced frequent terrorist bombings by anarchist groups.

Washing Down the Food Crisis with Corporate-Trade Kool-Aid (by Elizabeth Palmberg)

It's clear that one cause of the current food crisis is that, for the last few decades, poorer countries have been pressured into dismantling their food policies, leaving peasant farmers and eaters alike to bear all the risks of the extremely volatile world market. This has left corporations are free to ship factory-farmed food to those countries, peasants free to migrate to urban slums, and corporately-dominated economic markets free to ignore the starving. And we should blame ourselves, not corporations. Expecting a corporation to give affordable loans to farmers, look out for the urban poor, or cut carbon emissions - unless those are the most profitable things it can do, which they aren't - is like expecting your kitchen stove to go out and join the Missionaries of Charity.

Hancock: Promising Premise, Great Talent, but ... (by Gareth Higgins)

"Hancock" (the current vehicle for the biggest star in the world, Will Smith) is a superhero story that, on the surface, seems to offer something different to the super-spider-xmen films of the recent past. "Hancock's" protagonist is a drink-sodden flying strongman with amnesia. So far, so not your average underwear-on-the-outside embodiment of truth, justice, etc. Sadly, beneath the surface of this blockbuster beats a hollow heart, that not only adds little or nothing to our vision of what a hero can be, but reinforces the notion that more often than not, popular cinema's vision of heroism begins and ends with whoever can overwhelm the bad guy with the most spectacular force.

What Do 'Patriotic Dissenters' Appreciate About the USA? (by Eugene Cho)

As we recently marked the "birth" and independence of the United States, I'd like to ask you to consider a very simple question: What do you appreciate about the United States? I often find myself in the company of women and men who are more inclined towards the art of deconstruction and cynicism. We tend to criticize and often harp on the negatives. The government can do no right. We're often called "enlightened evangelicals"--people who have seen the light, and are thus capable and enlightened to be self-proclaimed prophets against the horrible, evil, corrupt, and hypocritical regime of the United States. And I think it's safe to say that many of the contributors and constituency of Sojourners and the God's Politics Blog can be lumped into that group. I certainly can be.

Pro-Life Democrats Call for an Abortion Reduction Plank (by Tony Campolo)

As a pro-life Democrat, and a member of the party's platform committee I will be pressing for the inclusion of an abortion reduction plank in this year's platform. Kristen Day, executive director of Democrats for Life, recently unveiled the organization's "95-10 Initiative," which she believes could reduce abortions by 95 percent over the next 10 years. While I am not that optimistic I do believe that abortions could be reduced significantly if we would address the economic issues that are driving women into having abortions.

A Responsible Withdrawal From Iraq (by Andrew Wilkes)

I understood that the report would be the what, or the content of our conversation, but I also wondered: Why is yet another foreign policy discussion about Iraq important? During the call, Congressman James McGovern, a Democrat representative from Massachusetts and influential voice in the discussion, provided a response. He stated, "people who have been consistently anti-war have a responsibility to lead the conversation on how to get out of Iraq." Although he did not direct his comments specifically to the faith community, his words nonetheless extend an urgent challenge to those who prophesy for peace.

An Alternative July Fourth Celebration (by Shane Claiborne)

We, as a Church, have a new calendar with new holidays, not just the festivals of the Caesars. Our social body was born, not on July 4, but on Pentecost. Our heroes are not just kings and presidents and war heroes ... but they are the heroes of the Church--the martyrs, the saints, all those women and men who have embodied love, grace, and the goodness of God in this world.

Brain Surgery with a Switch-blade (by Melvin Bray)

The Fourth of July is always a weird holiday for me. It's not that I don't enjoy the nostalgia, picnics, barbeque, fireworks, and romanticizing of history--I do--yet as a student of history I can't help but be reminded of the July 5, 1852, speech of Frederick Douglass, given at Corinthian Hall in Rochester, NY. If you haven't, you should read it: "This Fourth of July is yours, not mine. You may rejoice, I must mourn." This was a full 10 years and then some before Emancipation. Though I do not mourn in the same way or for the same reasons, I feel I owe Douglass's proud patriotism some homage. So I remember in (mostly) quiet yet hopeful ambivalence. January 1, (1863) is much more straightforward for me.

Jesse Helms' Passing -- the End of an Era? (by Becky Garrison)

I didn't realize the full extent of Helms' impact until I moved to New York City after graduating from college. As soon as people found out I was a North Carolinian, I would brace myself for the inevitable barrage of questions as though I was somehow responsible personally for Helms' hooey. At the time, I was a member of the New York Young Republicans, so everyone thought that meant I supported all Republicans, including Jesse. No way. No how. Even when he would make a valid point, his vitriol and venom made me cringe. No wonder New Yorkers thought we were all hicks and hillbillies. My embarrassment that my home state continued to support Helms culminated in '90 when the Harvey Gantt v. Jesse Helms campaign as managed by Dick Morris set a new low in racist campaign ads.

Preachers, Poets, and Storytellers (by Phyllis Tickle)

July 4 weekend! Now this is a holiday! We won't have another one until Labor Day, but that doesn't even matter right now. What matters is that this is the last day of a glorious three days of blessed interruption. Thank goodness for all such favors. I preach today -- four times, in fact -- at an Episcopal church in Ponte Vedra, Florida, where Sam and I are taking a few days of extended vacation. I use the word "preach" loosely, for I am not, and never shall be, a preacher. I'm a storyteller, which is a much humbler occupation ... not to mention a much more pleasant thing to be, but that's another issue entirely.

Good News from Colombia: Rescue of FARC Hostages (by Janna Hunter-Bowman)

Its been months since I´ve written anything about the current events in Colombia. But I can't let "the hug the country has been waiting for" slip by without comment. My infant daughter Amara and I were at the deli counter when the news broke. A current ran through the grocery store causing eruptions of joy. Ingrid Betancourt, former Presidential candidate, the three U.S. contractors and 11 others kidnapped by the FARC guerrilla group were freed this afternoon.

Use Your Freedom to Defend Others' (Unveiling India's Apartheid, Part 4, by Benjamin Marsh)

Slavery in the United States did not end in a night or even a year or decade. Even now, long past slavery's demise, the twin poisons of racism and class oppression echo as terrible reverberations from our forefathers' horrific acceptance and perpetuation of brutal violence against their fellow humans. The whips and chains are gone, but the hatred and violence too often well up while inequitable social policies ensure the longevity of poverty for certain classes of people. Even after 150 years, we in the U.S. have a long road ahead in the abolition of racism and class oppression. I begin with the U.S. because the timeline of our own struggle means everything when examining the hopes of India's Dalits. Yes, India is changing, but how quickly can a nation change social mindsets that have endured for well over 2,500 years, longer than any known form of human oppression?

Serve Your Country: Teach (by Nicole Baker Fulgham)

Teach For America alumni become lifelong advocates for education and justice -- many of them stay in teaching, but they've also gone on to start charter schools, run urban school districts, fight for educational and economic equity through law and public policy, and start health care clinics to provide better health care options to people in low-income communities. While Teach For America is a secular organization, people of faith have been critical in the Teach For America movement. In fact, nearly 50 percent of our current teachers self-identify as people of faith -- and more than 80 percent say their faith was a primary reason they chose to join Teach For America.

Dalit Converts to Christianity Face Persecution and Violence (Unveiling India's Apartheid, Part 3, by Adam Taylor)

As you were singing carols, placing the last presents under the tree, and worshiping at a Christmas Eve service this past year, Indian Christians halfway across the world were being victimized by the largest attack on the Christian community in India's democratic history. The complex and combustible layers of caste-based oppression and religious persecution came to a head on Dec. 24, 2007, through a spate of violence in the Kandhamal District of Orissa state. During the course of a four-day campaign of terror, more than 100 churches were damaged, at least 700 homes were destroyed, and thousands of Dalit and tribal Christians were forced from their homes.


+ Sign up to receive our "Daily Digest" e-mail - the latest headlines on critical issues

Top Stories:

American Evangelicals: They may surprise you
Turkish Daily News
The popular Evangelical leader Jim Wallis and his large Sojourners parachurch organization represent a more theologically inclusive and socially progressive wing. +read more

True or False: Evangelicals Are Crucial to Winning the 2008 Election

May the Wilberforce be with you
The Times (UK)

Obama Advised to Avoid 'Failure' of Past Faith-Based Program
Christian Post

"Sojourners in the news" articles are the most recent news clippings that mention Sojourners in any way - whether favorably or unfavorably. Though we provide the text on our site for your convenience, we do not necessarily endorse the views of these articles or their source publications.


NEW Adult Study Featuring: Jim Wallis, Marcus Borg, and Scott Peck! Faith and American Politics: Liberty & Justice For All.
Helping congregations learn to talk about faith and politics…without judgment.
**Visit for details.

Mennonite Central Committee is seeking qualified applicants for a Human Resources Director to lead a 16-member department and facilitate a network of practitioners across the agency. A job description is available at

Sojourners Job Openings Sojourners seeks qualified applicants for a variety of positions in our growing work to articulate the biblical call for social justice. Click here to learn more.

Subscribe to Sojourners and save! Order now and save $10 off the regular subscription price. Sojourners offers award-winning commentary on faith, politics, and culture - plus Bible study, humor, and more! Click here to subscribe!

God's Politics Blog facebook
MySpace YouTube

GIVE TO SOJOURNERS: Donate now to support this voice for justice and peace.

GET THE MAGAZINE: Subscribe today

CONTACT US: General inquiries: | Advertising: | About Us

PRIVACY NOTICE: Sojourners won't trade, sell, or give away your e-mail address. Read our privacy policy.