Women Bishops – After the Adjournment

July 10, 2012 § 9 Comments

So…we adjourned. I voted to do so, because the antis would vote against final approval anyway, and many of those for women bishops would have done so as well. There were some powerful speeches about how the Bishops’ amendment was perceived, and about its unintended consequences.

I’ve said before that I don’t think the amendment in itself deserved all the opprobrium it received (because the ‘theological convictions’ it speaks of are referred to elsewhere in the measure – Paras 2 (4) and 3 (1) and (3), and are there on the ground – that’s why there’s a second clause at all); but the wording, and the manner of its communication (remember the press release?) unleashed all sorts of pent up anger. Best then to release the steam, and, after it’s gone, see how the landscape has changed.

So, what now? The House of Bishops will meet again in September. Anyone with an interest will be letting their Bishop know what they think. Some Bishops will be convening groups to get their views. The key players in the process should be the Steering Committee – the General Synod appointed group who have been doing the ‘hard yards’ with the detail of the legislation. All the way along the Steering Committee has subjected the wording of the legislation to a kind of ‘destruction testing’ – like those machines in IKEA which mimic someone sitting on a chair 50,000 times. If a wording was not tested successfully it didn’t get in.

This is crucial. The things which have caused bother are those proposals which haven’t been properly tested. ‘Coordinate Jurisdiction’ was suggested by the Archbishops, and (just) failed. I’m glad it did – if the ‘theological objections’ clause caused such a bother, what would people have done with a law which allowed a women bishop to be by-passed all together? The Steering Committee could not recommend it, and that convinced me to vote against in 2010. Similarly the ‘theological convictions’ wording came at a late stage (four days before the House of Bishops Meeting, I think), without time for it to be tested out. The Steering Committee could not recommend it, but the House (we gather narrowly) passed it.

[The same was true, of course, about the other amendment made by the Bishops, the one about ‘delegation’. But this had been aired pretty well in February, and was not found wanting.  There is a view that if the Bishops had voted on this one before the amendment about ‘theological conviction’ then many would have felt that enough had been done to help opponents. But ‘delegation’ was in Clause 8, and ‘theological conviction’ in clause 5. Numeracy is our enemy.]

Lots of people will now be suggesting wordings which might work. Simple withdrawal probably won’t do. The antis saw the wording as a help to them, and would regard its complete removal as a snub. Those who hated the inclusion of ‘theological objections’ were gracious in saying that they could see what the Bishops were trying to do, and will presumably want to help the Bishops to offer enough to the antis without enshrining what is perceived as a kind of theological misogyny in the law of the land.

There is no statutory process for how to do this. The Archbishop of York referred to ‘the usual channels’. I’m not one for prescribing – but here goes. The Steering Committee must be allowed to be proactive in seeking and generating forms of words for a revised Clause 5 (1) (c). The Steering Committee must then be allowed to test these out with properly representative groupings. I, for one, was affected by the letter from ‘Senior Women’, and the views of this group, as well as the Catholic Group, FiF, WATCH and the others must be sought before the Bishops meet, not after. The Steering Committee will be there when the Bishops meet. With the widest range of evidence at its disposal it should be a key resource as the Bishops deliberate. We have had one experience of an unexpected reaction to a well meant form of words.  There is no time for another.

PS: the ‘variable’ in all this is how the antis will vote at Final Approval. If you cannot accept women bishops then even adequate provision for you to remain in the C of E could not enable you to vote for the Measure. But, with adequate provision generously offered, could you abstain?

§ 9 Responses to Women Bishops – After the Adjournment

  • Maggie Swinson says:

    Excellent analysis as usual.

    Destruction testing is planned…. Steering Committee, Standing Committee of House of Bishops and others have a busy summer ahead.

  • Rachel Nicholls says:

    Thank you for a much more detailed analysis than most have been able to give.

  • As I read them, your blog posts on this issue consistently imply that the WATCH reaction to the amendment was emotive rather than reasoned. Personally I find the reasoning employed by many male Anglican clergy on this subject, including the I-fully-support-women-bishops-but clergy, “is captiv’d, and proves weak or untrue” – too logical by half. I don’t doubt your sincerity, and I don’t want to pick a fight with anyone. I simply marvel at the puzzlement many men have shown at women’s reaction to the amendment. I can only assume that a kind of logistical logic is operating, a reasoning so caught up in church mechanics that it has become temporarily divorced from ordinary human mutual respect, which is the body of Christ.

    But I’m here to learn.

    • The confusion that I have had with the reaction to the proposed amendment is that it did not do anything new to the measure, other than saying what the measure already inferred, and yet we might as well have had all hell break lose, such was the reaction from some.
      In addition, rather than asking if those against women bishops would at least abstain, if not support the measure if amended they came out all guns blazing to stop it getting any further.

      For me, a supporter of women bishops so long as those against are also given provision to stay within the CofE, I find the reaction very frustrating. If we had seen the amendment accepted we would have been looking forwards to the measure being put before Parliament and, if all went well, we would be looking forward to the first ever bishops in the Church of England!

    • Thanks Chris. I do think that the reaction was a reasoned one, but based on reasoned objections to the need for a two clause measure at all. What surprised me was that, after three years on the second clause, which is there to manage the theological convictions of opponents, the inclusion of that phrase unleashed a stronger reaction than I was expecting.
      The views expressed by Rachel Treweek in the debate yesterday were, in my view, spot on, but seem to me to apply to the whole of Clause 2 (and following), and not just to the amendment in question. And it was then important to hear how that felt – and Rosie Harper did that very well also.
      The reason to refer to emotion was that it is present in large measure at the moment, and allowing it to find its place will allow a better Measure to result. And our reasoning must be informed by the perception and the emotion as well as the logic. I was just surprised that it was this amendment which unleashed all that had been held in check, with great grace, by proponents of women’s ministry, me included.

  • Just a thought, but could the Bishops’ amendment not work in the reverse? For example, if a Conservative Evangelical or traditional Anglo-Catholic we’re to be appointed as a diocesan bishop, would it not be fair for those churches who are very much in favour of women in leadership to reject their ministry on theological grounds?
    I know that this could make things very complicated and would potentially start to look like a third province exists in all but name (but given that PEVs will be likely required for most A-C and CE on ecclesiology grounds this would be the case anyway) but it would show that male bishops were as open as women bishops would beto the rejection that has been claimed to be the issue.

  • In “Leadership without easy answers” Ronald Heifetz and Marty Linsky talk about a central role of leaders as disappointing people at a level that they can live with – reflecting the human reality that there is rarely a way to please all of the people all of the time, and that complex issues are not susceptible to simple solutions.

    The unmodified measure was pretty successful in doing that. The clause 5 amendment crossed the line. It was a failure of leadership by a majority in the House of Bishops.

    It was also grossly arrogant and paternalistic. In the Episcopal Church we see part of episcopal ministry as guarding the unity of the Church. Offering an amendment that was so clearly intended to benefit men without consulting women was staggeringly inappropriate and insensitive, and hardly reflects that inclusive concern – it looks like the head saying to the hand “I have no need of you” (1 Cor 12:21).

    And it makes the House of Bishops look completely out of touch with the culture in which the Church of England has to operate. While, in the short term, I suspect this clanger will be picked up, the long-term damage to the House’s credibility – and that of the CofE as a whole – in England is likely to be significant.

    For my own part it is exactly the sort of thing that caused me to leave the Church of England more than 3 decades aga.

  • But Nigel, the amendment merely stated the logical outcome of following the measure unamended. If a parish has an issue with their bishop on theological grounds then it is the obvious move to provide them with someone they agree with. To not do so would be sinful, in my book.
    And I hardly think that referring to The Episcopal Church (assuming you mean ECUSA) as a paragon of unity given some of it’s actions in recent years. But then that’s another matter altogether!

  • […] PS: back at  home now. A very sensible assessment of the situation from Jeremy Fletcher here […]

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