Monday 26th October was a historic date. The Bishop of Gloucester, the Right Reverend Rachel Treweek, was installed as one of the twenty six Lords Spiritual in the House of Lords
She is the first female bishop to hold that office, and sent back a previous version of the writ of summons because it referred to her as ‘a right reverend father in God’. The new version simply describes her as ‘bishop’. She states that she wants to challenge people gently to be more careful of how they talk about God. ‘God should not be seen as a male or female figure, but simply God’. As a former speech and language therapist, she knows ‘that language is very powerful in shaping people’s views and culture.’
We have to have some way of talking about God. The monotheistic religions do not have any graven image of God. No one thinks that we can have a complete understanding of God. All our descriptions will fall short of the reality of God, but we have to have some ways of talking meaningfully about God.
When we talk of God as Father, we do not mean he is a big man in the sky. We know perfectly well that fathers can be abusive, violent and fail to love and care for their children. God is not like that. When the Bible uses the word picture of a mother in describing God, it refers to the loving care of a mother and the comfort she brings to her children. Whether we are talking about ‘father’ or ‘mother’, it is the qualities of love and care which are the point of the titles and the pictures. Some things that fathers and mothers do are very far from how we understand the nature of God and his relationship with humankind. It is no accident that Jesus referred to God as his Father and encouraged us to pray to God saying ‘Our Father’. As the creator, sustainer, and Lord of all, God is not some tyrannical, abstract power, but deeply involved in all that he has made. God is working to bring the world and humanity into a right relationship with himself and one another.
It is no accident either that The House of Lords on defeated the Government plan to end tax credits on Monday night. Instead, the Lords voted to delay the Chancellor’s money saving plan. They suggested further consultation to consider mitigating action. The Bishops were a key voice in the debate. They feared that these changes would leave the poorest in the hands of loan sharks. The Bishop of Portsmouth argued that these proposals were grossly insensitive to working parents and morally indefensible.
The significant thing about Bishop Rachel joining the House of Lords is not that she happens to be a woman, but that she stands firmly and absolutely as part of the moral conscience of our nation. Her role, and that of all the bishops, is to be a voice for the voiceless and to protect the vulnerable. They are to speak as the voice of God to those in political power, reminding them and us that the upside down values of the Kingdom put the needy and the poor first.