Dr David Jenkins, the Bishop of Durham, reflects on the role of the modern church, and asks is Britain still a Christian society?
Bishop David Jenkins I have been in favour (of women priests) for years and I have just got more and more keen on it as the argument has gone on. I think it is very important for two reasons.
One is to do with the wholeness of the priesthood. It must be about humanity and therefore it must be about men and women. And the other, and this is why it's causing such a fuss, is that it raises the question of where the Church gets its authority from. Is it fixed by the past or are we really going to use what we get from the past for broadening out in the time.
I mean it goes much deeper than what are called "theological reasons". Obviously there are almost atavistic reasons in men about it and in women too because we've all been conditioned so I don't see there's any way forward except by means of a really decisive step which tries to keep in touch with people on both sides of the row.
It's an important issue because it's symptomatic. It's symptomatic of how long we've really taken for granted that it was a man's world. How long we've really taken for granted that God was male although everybody knows he isn't and so on.
There is always a price to pay for saying controversial things I have found. People will read things in different ways. The point is the direction of your risks, and I feel that with regard to the Church having got shut in on itself and being cut off from many young people and so on, it is now important to take risks in the direction of open honesty, embracing conflict rather than simply trying to keep things under wraps.
It all boils down to how the Church is going to comfort people. Not by kidding them. I think people have got it quite wrong about comfort. They think religion is to shut them off from reality whereas religion, if it's to do with God, is to take them further into reality, namely into the suffering of God and the suffering of the world as well as the excitements.
And therefore if you're going to comfort people realistically you may well have to disturb them.
Being a questioning Church is not compatible with being the established Church. In the long run it is quite clear that as we have now stopped being a Christian country and as indeed the notion of Christianity being the opposite side of being a
citizen is now finished and we're in a much more pluralistic world and not the world of the Roman Empire or Christendom, it is clear that the establishment will eventually need distentangling.
Because Christians of various sorts will get together more, there will be the question of why should a Christian element in the country and the Christian element in the Constitution, be confined to the Church of England.
Only as a united Christian body can we re-work how we put the value element, the worship element, the God element into our country's constitution.
The Church has a role to play also in the socio-political sphere. My own political convictions are very strong in the direction of having to take as much account of the social and the collective as of the individualistic and so on, so I suppose I would always be in the middle and tending to the left.
But I am quite clear as a Bishop that what I am concerned about is Kingdom of God and people.
The Church can play a direct role in the socio-economic fields. It works concretely in the Inner Cities and elsewhere but in such little groups that it's only really connected with keeping morale and hope alive rather than making a direct contribution to the great economic re-thinking that I think we've got to do.
The setting up of the Urban Fund which needs Parliamentary Licence is designed to put a substantial sum into something that won't have to be directed to stipends and so on, so we've made a beginning.
I would hope in the future that the Church Commissioners would be ready to fund things on a much more intermediate stage where we're not so set on consumerism but are set rather on reviving local economies in deprived areas.
The Church in general must stand in contrast with society. Being an Institution it's bound to reflect the values for society and be very much conditioned by the way people are thinking. But it has this special calling to believe that God is more than everything else.
Secondly God is forgiving more than everything else so you've got this disturbing element. And one of the reasons why I think I am justified in stressing the disturbing element is that I think the other element of conformity has been over stressed.
People who go to Church don't want to be disturbed. The church's job is helping people to see that there's something much more exciting which may be disturbing to start with. Or something that goes much deeper at first by troubling them, but will actually help them get over real problems when they come up.
My job as Bishop has been swamped by expectations. I've got 380 Ministerial people on my list and 240 parishes. I'm supposed to be a sort of Managing Director. I am supposed to be a sort of prophet and a sort of pastor and so on. And there are just too many things to do.
I think I made lots of mistakes. But where I think I have been right is to try and get people to face the fact that the Bishop is a human being like anyone else and so he makes mistakes.
Dr Jenkins' text is taken from an interview with Tyne Tees Television's Face The Press.