In an attempt to support the ordination of women bishops in The Church of England, a British historian is emphasizing the importance of women in religion and posing the idea that God could be female.
Bettany Hughes, a specialist in ancient history, asserted in the U.K. publication Radio Times that Christianity "was originally a faith where the female of the species held sway" and to deny this connection would be to deny the central role of women in the church.
She also wrote, "Who knows whether God is a girl, but mankind has turned to the female of the species for good ideas. Our own monotheistic institutions might do well to take a leaf out of the book of human experience and build on this consensus when it comes to reaping the benefits of a close relationship between women and the divine."
Hughes, who will explore the role of women in the early church in a new BBC2 series called "Divine Women" this month, noted that in the early church women were allowed to preside as deaconesses, priestesses and bishops.
But Jeff Walton, spokesperson for the Institute on Religion & Democracy and a staffer on IRD's Anglican Action program, told The Christian Post that while women did play a prominent role in the early Roman church and there is scriptural evidence of women as deacons, there is no "evidence of female bishops."
He explained that in Anglican theology, bishops are connected to Jesus Christ in what's called apostolic succession. "When a new bishop is consecrated, other bishops lay hands on that bishop and the Holy Spirit comes through them into the new bishop." He said this tradition goes back to the apostles, and there is no evidence of women being a part of that.
Hughes statements and upcoming show come in the midst of a heated battle within The Church of England on whether or not to allow women to become bishops.
She noted that in the current make-up of the Anglican church, at least 65 percent of the population is women and that they play a special role in the church.
Regardless of the debate, women clergy are still relatively new to The Church of England. It wasn't until the late 80s when any women were ordained in the church. In the U.S., women were ordained in the Episcopal Church in 1974, almost 10 years earlier.
According to The Church of England website, in 2006 The Rt. Revd. Nigel McCulloch, Bishop of Manchester, was appointed by the Archbishops' Council to lead a legislative drafting group to consider a proposal for allowing women to be consecrated as bishops. The following year the report was published, and in February 2012, of the 44 dioceses within the Church of England, 42 approved the legislation by a simple majority.
But the more conservative diocese, what Walton refers to as "Anglo-Catholics," say they do not want to be under the authority of a woman bishop. So there has been a proposal to make accommodations.
Walton explained that if these dioceses did not want to be under a female bishop's authority they could opt to be under a male bishop from another diocese. This is known as "flying bishops."
But, he said, the majority in the Church of England is in favor of allowing women to be consecrated as bishops. Walton predicts that that decision will be made by the church this summer. It will either be an all or nothing policy, rather than with any accommodations being made for more conservative dioceses.