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Episcopal Ministry: the effect of the amendments on the Church of England as a whole

A woman parish priest has kindly allowed me to turn her comment into a ‘right to reply’ blog post. Her concerns, as you will see, are with the episcopate as a whole, not just the position of women in the Church, so I have chosen this mural of an Umbrian bishop to illustrate some thoughts about the overall effects that these two amendments would have:

I fear I disagree with your conclusion about this sorry mess. And this is not from a petulant impulse to “show the bishops and make them sorry” because we shall (nearly) all be sorry if we do not have women bishops some time after 2014. The Church will be the loser for so many gifts are not currently available to the bishops. Listen to experienced women clergy speaking and preaching.
But we need to take the views of people like Janet Henderson very seriously because she is a senior ordained woman who works as part of a diocesan senior staff and so knows what is possible in that context, and what passing this apparently innocuous amendment would do to the ministry of bishops from now on – not just women either. Some have argued that this is “just about women” – take care with this argument as it is then clear discrimination which Parliament has also said that it is very concerned about if it is in the measure (the law of the land) itself. But experience from 1993 has taught that what may have been granted through generosity for the sake of the unity of the church will be taken and used to set up ever more separate groupings within the church which share none of the characteristics of church: recognition of each other’s ministry and ordination, one bishop for one diocese and the eucharist.
It may be possible (and is) for a woman parish priest to have a fulfilled ministry in her parish and win over those who at first were concerned about a woman. It’s different on a national level where your ministry takes you into all the parishes of a diocese (and worth noting that, after a comment on another blog, there have been women archdeacons in the C of E for over 10 years now and the (female) Archdeacon of Canterbury deputises for the Archbishop when installing new diocesans in their cathedrals!!)

But there are two real issues: one is how we live with difference –the same sort of issue that was underneath all those covenant debates. Women wanted a single clause measure – one that just said women can be bishops – and then leave sorting out how to include those who found this hard or impossible to local solutions – which would include extended Episcopal oversight and everything that is in the legislation and probably more besides. This is the way of trust,. reconciliation and relationships which is at the heart of Christianity. It is exactly why a lot of people were so concerned with the 4th section of the covenant. It became clear in the debates 2 years ago that the C of E was not ready for this sort of trust ( sad, but realistic) and so WATCH and others accepted the legislation that has now been debated through the diocese – but key to this acceptance and compromise was that there would be nothing in the measure itself that implied that a woman was not a bishop on the same terms as men, nor the theology of taint. The amendment about requesting a bishop on grounds of theological conviction once more opens the door to this sort of discrimination being in the legislation and it matters because we know from experience that it will be used to undermine the ministry of women bishops (in other workplaces this would probably be called bullying) . That there would be no discrimination in the measure itself was also one of the criteria of General Synod when it asked for legislation to be prepared.

Which is the second issue – the way that over the last two year the House of Bishops has continually tried to get this sort of ambiguity into the primary legislation (ie the law of the Church and the land) undermining the processes of Synod and the votes of the dioceses. Two years ago Synod debated the legislation which was sent to the dioceses. The legislation had bee prepared by a revision committee which had spent more than their allotted time on it because it was so difficult, but finally produced legislation which the majority supported (not all, but then all views were represented on the Committee–and both sexes and laity as well as clergy) Any law which has not been subject to this sort of revision potentially contains unforeseen outcomes because it has not been subject to scrutiny. The assumption is that all possible amendments wil be scrutinised by this committee. But after this report was published, the 2 archbishops produced their notorious “Archbishops’ amendment” which failed in the House of Clergy (and was voted against by nearly all the women clergy). When the legislation went round the dioceses many dioceses debated a “following amendment” which requested something like the Archbishop’s amendment – 30 of the dioceses rejected this. General Synod again debated whether this should go back into the legislation in February – again, rejected, this time in all houses. And always for the same reason – that this would introduce discrimination into the Measure itself. So this time the House of Bishops used the loophole that allows some very minor amendments (not of substance) to be made to a measure after Final Drafting – the time when all amendments are finally debated – to bring back something that once again brings ambiguity over the validity of women’s of orders into the legislation itself.

Is it surprising that women do not trust the bishops to fully support any woman who might be made a bishop if she is treated in a discriminatory way by some of the parishes in her diocese – let alone her colleagues? And that women clergy are not willing to vote for a law with even a whiff of the theology of taint?

10 comments on this post:

Erika Baker said...

What I don’t understand is that the “conviction” clause was already part of the agreed measure. The Amendment did not introduce it as a new concept of taint.

I agree that it’s an absolutely ridiculous concept that should have no place in the Measure. But why did people agree to it in the first place and whey are the now all up in arms about it?

Lay Anglicana said...

Thank-you for commenting Erika. Shall we wait and see if someone who knows the answer to this offers a reply?

30 May 2012 17:18
30 May 2012 16:50
UKViewer said...

This seems to reinforce my comment on your previous blog post. The comment that Women don’t trust the Bishops should be Many people, don’t trust the HoB to allow the recognition of Women in the Episcopate without some form of qualification.

The HoB might believe that the amendment was just tweaking, but I think that it was sabotage.

We’ll see what happens, but I can see a fractious synod session coming up.

Lay Anglicana said...

I agree that the next session of General Synod is likely to be ‘interesting’, to say the least.
One of the reasons that I would like the measure to be passed is that I can imagine debate in the House of Commons would be livelier still!

UKViewer said...

My question is can the Commons actually put their own amendments to the measure or is it a straight YES/NO on it?

Lay Anglicana said...

Tinnles (from Twitter) has very kindly given us chapter and verse from

Measures (a form of ‘primary’ legislation) are passed by the General Synod. If approved by both Houses of Parliament they then receive the Royal Assent and – by virtue of the Church of England Assembly (Powers) Act 1919 (see below) – have the same force and effect as Acts of Parliament;

In short, “Parliaments can only approve or reject. Cannot amend”

I do not see how Parliament can do other than reject it, in view of the ‘taint’ etc. And I suppose they could make it clear in debate that they would accept it if the offending clause were removed. But then we are back to square one.

31 May 2012 07:39
30 May 2012 20:01
30 May 2012 19:42
30 May 2012 18:08
Jana said...

As a non-Anglican, I hadn’t managed to get to grips with the ‘theology of taint’: but then found this excellent article by Christina Rees, which illuminated not just that, but many of the consequences of the special measures.

Erika Baker said...

Thank you Jana.
That highlights my problem very well. The appalling taint idea has been around for a long time and it has been enshrined in law.

And WATCH have clearly accepted it as part of the compromise for getting women bishops too.

So why is everyone now shouting at the bishops for introducing a concept of “conviction”, which is nothing but the official term for “taint”?

Jana said...

Thanks – any idea what a genuinely theological basis might be? Or where I might find a paper that justifies it?

31 May 2012 06:06
31 May 2012 05:33
30 May 2012 21:30

My understanding is that the ‘conviction’ idea was in the Code rather than the Measure, so that it is something that is going to be written and enshrined in Law. As someone said, rather than drawing a line in the sand, they’ve erected the Berlin Wall!

Jody Stowell

31 May 2012 08:38

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