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Women Bishops: Just Cut the Gordian Knot!

This is beginning to feel like the most drawn-out decision in history. Will the Church of England finally allow women to become bishops on an equal footing with men? You tell me – after yesterday’s press release, no one has been able to decide what it really means in practice. Nancy Wallace has blogged about it, and recommends Unshaun Sheep’s (very creditable attempt) at translation into plain English.

So far, the inference which I draw (possibly mistakenly of course) is that the obfuscation is deliberate. There is an interesting paper on the use of ambiguity in peace treaties, which perhaps the cogitating bishops are aware of. And there is the image of the duckrabbit, which can be seen either as a rabbit, or as a duck, but not both simultaneously. So is the Church’s new position that of a duck or a rabbit? You decide. But bear in mind that your neighbour may decide it means the opposite, and will have every bit as much justification for his or her point of view as you do yours.

It becomes more important than ever to choose an Archbishop of Canterbury who will give a steer as to how this whole muddle will be interpreted in practice. If the Church has decided (as it seems to have done) that cutting the Gordian knot is likely to ruffle too many feathers, then the raising of women to the episcopate will have to be managed by sleight of hand and fudge. Of course, some delight in these arts, and it is undeniable that the Church has had plenty of practice over the years.

We (ie ‘all right-thinking people’!) desperately need the next Archbishop of Canterbury to be in whole-hearted favour of women bishops. The website of Women And The Church (WATCH)  preserves the anonymity of the bishops who voted against by listing only the numbers of bishops in each diocese and the way they voted, so we cannot simply use their site to eliminate the bishops who voted against. One of those who did, was the Bishop of London, Richard Chartres. However, if the Daily Mail is to be believed, he has removed himself from consideration for the post.

Th website ‘Oddschecker’ has a table of tables, with an average of all the bookmakers’ current odds. According to this, and leaving out +London, the top 10 as of today are:

Christopher Cocksworth (Coventry, open evangelical according to wikipedia)

Graham James (Norwich)

John Sentamu (Archbishop of York)

Nick Baines (Bradford)

Tim Stevens (Leicester)

John Inge (Worcester)

Justin Welby (Durham)

John Packer (Ripon and Leeds)

Stephen Croft (Sheffield, open evangelical according to wikipedia)

Professor N T Wright (open evangelical according to wikipedia)


I am afraid I do not know whether any of these bishops were among the few who voted against the elevation of women to the episcopate but suggest that, considering that 42 out of 44 diocesan synods were in favour, it would be very unfortunate if someone against so doing were to become our next Archbishop of Canterbury.

However, a check against the tables on the Modern Church website suggests that all the named bishops voted in favour of the Covenant. (I sincerely hope that this was out of loyalty to the system and Rowan Williams, rather than any deeply held conviction). Also, from a check of the WATCH tables it seems that the same bishops all voted in favour of women bishops (although I am not sure about the position in York, where the episcopal vote was 3/2)


Illustration:Medieval wall paintings  in Csaroda, Hungary.Attila JANDI /
Postscript: The Bishop of Willesden, Pete Broadbent, has now blogged on the intentions behind the amendments on women bishops here:

6 comments on this post:

UKViewer said...

After finally getting round to read Alan Wilson’s blog
And Pete Broadbent’s blog, it seems clear that:

1. Bishops Ordain from their own authority not from the legal authorisation from the Diocesan.

2. People who don’t wish the oversight or ministry of a Women Bishop or a Bishop who has Ordained Women will be given a real choice in who has oversight of them. Not necessarily the flying bishops.

3. Women Bishops will have full authority, legal and ordained within their diocese of Episcopal Area if a suffragan.

So, having cleared that up, I await with baited breath, the actual measure and code of practice being put before GS in July>

Lay Anglicana said...

‘the actual measure and code of practice’ – puts it in a nutshell I think. It would seem that much will depend on the leadership of the next Archbishop of Canterbury, since it looks as if it will all be in the intepretation?

22 May 2012 19:54
22 May 2012 18:25
Nancy Wallace said...

That image of the duck rabbit is brilliant! I suppose the C of E has plenty of practice at ambiguity as well as ‘being nice’. Wouldn’t it be great if we were known as being salt and light in the world?

22 May 2012 20:55
Nick Morgan said...

Unshaun Sheep (me) agrees with you that the obfuscation may be deliberate. Indeed, it was this suspicion which, at least in part, motivated me to spend a couple of hours last night going over the press release, referring to what online resources I could find on what was under discussion, to at least give others a head start in teasing out what had actually been agreed. The devil really is in the detail in this, though.
Having slept on it, I think the press release was designed to be reassuring and think my assumptions regarding its tone were correct.

However, it glossed over completely the fact that the proposed arrangements will create an effectively separate church within a church which will compound problems over time. This is really the result of the whole Provision C nonsense of 1993 and, indeed, the only logical outcome of allowing Anglicans to pick and choose their episcopal oversight on specific grounds.
The Code of Practice, only mentioned in passing, will be crucial as the scope for schism deferred would appear to be greatest in its terms and conditions. I shall need a stiff whisky before attempting a translation of that document when it appears, I reckon.

Nancy Wallace said...

I agree Nick that the amendments are probably meant to be reassuring, but in this they have failed, at least as far as e.g. REFORM and WATCH are concerned. I am very concerned about enshrining (in law) discrimination against women for the next 100 years or so!

23 May 2012 08:36
22 May 2012 20:59
UKViewer said...

As a Non-Drinker, a stiff whisky is not really on the agenda. Perhaps a Pint of Lucozade to give me the energy needed to fight through much obscure terminology.

I think that the CofE probably gave microsoft tuitition in writing Terms and Conditions, because they are definitely the experts in obscurity.

22 May 2012 21:41

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