Women Bishops – to adjourn?

July 8, 2012 § 6 Comments

I’m away from Synod until Monday morning, so can’t indicate an intention to speak. Here’s a thought or two.

My first reaction to the House of Bishops’ amendments was that they seemed to have listened carefully to what was said in February. Those who are protesting that they made amendments at all forget that we spent three hours at the last Synod telling them that they could and might. We didn’t vote to tell them to leave absolutely alone, but invited some changes, as long as they weren’t ‘substantial’.

I didn’t respond badly to the inclusion of the phrase ‘theological convictions’ in the Measure, and didn’t think this was a ‘substantial’ change. Since 2009 we’ve been working on the second of the clauses in the Measure, which is there precisely because of these ‘convictions’. It seemed to me to be helpful to make it clear that the Code of Practice in each diocese would have to deal with this. After all, for eighteen years parishes have been asking, and for eighteen years Diocesan Bishops have had to make arrangements for them. I didn’t think that this amendment changed anything.

I still think the same. Some of the reaction seemed to imply that the Bishops had invented a whole new way for people to object, as if they had put in the whole of the two clause measure at the last minute. I think they made explicit what we all knew it was about anyway. Why else would parishes want to request a different bishop if not because of this difference of theological and ecclesiological view?

It’s not enough to say that 42 of 44 dioceses approved the measure ‘as it was’. Yes, they did, but the vote in the dioceses was really a simple ‘yes’ or ‘no’ to women Bishops, and it’s hard to extrapolate from that a clear view that every diocese was happy with every aspect of the measure – indeed, the fact that there were ‘following’ motions from a good number would indicate that a good number of people believed that some changes could still be made.

However, I understand that the unintended consequence was that by putting ‘theological convictions’ in the Measure, rather than leaving them to the Code of Practice a degree of legitimacy and possible permanency would be given to views which are held by a (diminishing?) minority of members of the Church of England. I understand the view that keeping such language out of the ‘law’ and reserving it for conversations about the application of the law in local cases might enable the majority view to prevail all the more quickly.

I dislike and disagree with the belief held by some that women are not priests. I dislike the fact that some people can agree that women are priests but would still rather not receive their ministry. I am offended beyond belief by crudely (and even nuanced) assertions about ‘taint’ and ‘sacramental assurance’. I have three licensed clergy colleagues, all of whom are women. I long for the day when their gender is not an issue.

Nevertheless, we are not there yet, and I don’t think that we will be there in five years time either. We will be living with differences of theological conviction for longer than that. I don’t think the inclusion of ‘theological convictions’ in the measure will change things unduly. It will be the experience of grace which will change things in the longer term.

So I think we have all we need to vote now. But…the clear objections voiced by people in recent weeks, not least some very senior and wise women, have completely changed the tone of the debate. I might think that it will be worth living with the two clauses, and worth living with ‘theological convictions’ being part of the Measure, but lots of people I care about do not think it’s worth it. They think there’s a serious principle at stake here, and I understand where that comes from and what it means. Janet henderson has put it brilliantly in a comment to my previous post.

The consequence is that, if we do not adjourn to ask the House of Bishops to look again at their wording, and we do vote about the whole thing, people against Women Bishops will vote against, and people who are for Women Bishops will also vote against, and it will fail. This will not be good. So…tomorrow I hope to hear what the Bishops think about the reaction to their amendment. I hope to hear whether those who have made the most serious objections to the amendments have changed their view, and whether they have spoken to the Bishops about it, and whether they can live with the Measure as it is. In the event that an adjournment looks the most likely option I hope to hear whether there is a steer as to an amendment to the Measure that all ‘sides’ can live with.

In the end I’ll vote for something which hastens the day when women can exercise Episcopal ministry, and will listen carefully to those who have pronounced a well-meant amendment as a step too far. But Bishops will be living in a divided world for years to come, and we’ll all have to cope with that somehow, and work out what we can live with and what we can’t.

My hope: that minds have been changed so that we can vote on the Measure on Monday.  My nightmare: a vote to adjourn is just lost, no assurances are given or received, and the whole thing is lost. My best guess: adjournment, as long as there is a clear steer from the debate as to what might succeed in November. The atmosphere will be fizzing tomorrow.

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§ 6 Responses to Women Bishops – to adjourn?

  • Tony Whatmough says:

    If we’re going to have to live with this tension for years to come, would it not be better to adopt the advice of the senior women clergy and ignore or overturn the Bishop’s clause? If GS goes for the interim measure, it will be so much more difficult to change it in the future as inevitably the good will end up being the enemy of the best. It will be one more example of the CoE putting its hand to the plough and looking back. I really hope the GS will settle this once and for all, now, and not leave it grumbling on. That would not be fair to anyone, and it will once again diminish the role of the CoE in society as a whole. And if Parliament refuses to endorse it, as it is quite right that they should, our missions will once more be impoverished.

  • Edward says:

    I too sympathise Jeremy but I do think that you need to untangle ‘sacramental assurance’ from the notion of ‘taint’ (something that those who would seek to disenfranchise traditionalists seem to put great stock in). In the first instance, sacramental assurance is perfectly logical (if you cannot accept the ministry of ordained women). The introduction of uncomfortable and yet sincerely held ‘doubt’ into the transmission of sacramental grace has to be taken seriously or else you end up in the situation where the presence and action of women bishops is either disregarded or even countered by the ratio of men and women taking part (a traditonalist priest in the US accepted conscecration at the hands of the Presiding Bishop arguing that there were at least three male Bishops taking part and that, as a consequence, he could disgregard her actions and claim an almost ‘alternative’ or contrary ‘legitimacy’ than what was intended). No one, I’m sure, wants to see a situation like that but would rather that ordinations and consecrations take place in an environment where all taking part can accept the integrity of what is happening otherwise you invite different ‘perceptions’ and ‘takes’ on what happens. The question of theological conviction really comes into play when you consider the attitude of many who have sought to persuade people and parishes out of once firmly held convictions (something I’ve witnessed first-hand). Sometimes it feels as if there is just too much at stake and the constant appeal to ‘grace’ has little of real substance (or experience) to recommend it. So many of those who are favour of little or no provision use the phrase “I long to see the day when…” without fully appreciating that it suggests a time when traditionalists will no longer have a place within the Church. The traditionalist position on orders (and marriage) won’t suddenly go away or simply cave in. It will remain until it is entirely lost (something that take generations) and will legitimately claim proper provision until that moment. After that, well, who knows? Anglicanism will have at the very least lost a position win itself that it appeared at pains to acknowledge as ‘loyal’.

    • Thanks – this gets to the heart of the ‘theological conviction’ bit. One person’s honestly felt doubt about the validity or regularity of orders is another person’s accusation of taint. I think we have the capability of working this out in practice, but whether we can word a law/Measure to get there is now in doubt.
      The Steering Committee will be asking for an adjournment tomorrow, so we’ll see.

  • Surely, in a world where the lack of a binding promise in law has led to various promises being broken (you only have to look as far as Labour promising that civil partnerships would not lead to same sex marriage and then the Coalition going for SSM without debate), we can see that humans mess up. The worry for those against women bishops must surely be that without something set in law they can lose their provision at the drop of a hat, by someone who may be acting in good faith FOR women’s ministry but who has completely forgotten to care for those against.

  • I return to my analogy with racism. Imagine a headteacher has some pupils she knows to be racist. She might choose not to put them in the same class as some black pupils (while continuing to talk to them about their views). However, if those pupils or their parents tried to exact an agreement from them that she would always keep them separate, she would rightly refuse.

    I can see how an all-male house of bishops (with little time, according to Affirming Catholicism) could propose the offending amendment, imagining it was simply a logical solution to a logistical problem. I am genuinely surprised that so many male Anglicans fail to see the problem with it, now that has been so eloquently explained.

    Will there be a place in the Church of England for those who believe that this represents codified discrimination against women? For those who believe that such discrimination is against the mind of Christ? That it forms no part of Tradition properly understood? That from giving sacramental assurance, the exclusion of women from the full life of the church undermines the validity of the sacraments by a failure to discern the Body of Christ, in whom there is neither male nor female?

    Until the last century, most people accepted the oppression of women as normal. This is not a matter of keeping up with fashion. It is a matter of hearing God’s voice calling us back to the good news of Jesus Christ, the includer, wherever the voice sounds. When we hear this call we need to ask God’s forgiveness and change the way we do things as quickly as we can. To imagine freedom from oppression should be enacted everywhere except in our own family, or to build a separate house for members of our family who don’t agree, would seem to me to be special pleading of an extraordinary kind.

    • But the Bible does not say anything that could be seen to support the idea of racial segregation in the light of the resurrection. However, Paul’s writings can be interpreted in such a way (although I would not do so). Racism is a false argument that does nothing for the debate.

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