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The C of E: Are All Her Ways Of Gentleness?

And another thing…

The archbishops and bishops of the Church of England are holy men. They have to be holy in order to make the grade. Their eyes have to be fixed on ‘another country, [whose] ways are ways of gentleness and all her paths are peace‘. This makes them qualified to run the Kingdom of Heaven. It does not, unfortunately, make them necessarily fit to run the very human institution of the Church of England. The reason that all those jokes about the bishop and the actress are funny is because of the unworldliness of the archetypal bishop.

Here is the statement of an apparently very holy, but very unworldly bishop. In his diocesan letter for June, the Bishop of Ely writes:

I was party to the decision of the House of Bishops to make two amendments to the draft legislation to enable women to be ordained as bishops in the Church of God. I wholly supported the clarification about the derivation of episcopal authority from ordination. I am sure that the intention of the other amendment was to provide more secure clarification of the terms on which a male bishop would be chosen by a diocesan bishop to serve parishes asking for such extended care. This may now make it possible for some more conservative members of the General Synod to vote for the legislation if it advances that far.

I fully appreciate, however, that there is a difference between intention and effect. The draft legislation was already a compromise and enshrined further discrimination against women. The amendment has created great hurt among many [although it has given hope to others].

Any army officer, politician, teacher or manager would throw up their hands in horror at this naïvety. If you hope to ‘manage’ measures through General Synod and eventually Parliament, it simply will not do to say that you did not take the likely effects of your action into account. If I have not been offensive enough already, let me put it even more simply: those amending the measure, drafted with exquisite care to enable as many as possible to sign up to it, without properly considering whether their intervention was likely to be helpful, must be stupid, wicked or intent or destroying the measure. One bishop may be wicked, but I cannot believe that they could have taken a collectively wicked decision. So the unanswered question is whether they are stupid (unworldly, if you prefer the more polite term) or bent on destroying the measure. Every member of the Church of England will have to decide the answer to this for him- or herself.

In the face of this ‘unworldliness’, a measure of worldly wisdom would seem to be the only chance of escape from perdition. Let us look back to classical times for our inspiration. What we need is Ulysses, a master of strategy, and his Trojan Horse, defined neatly in Wikipedia as  “any trick or stratagem that causes a target to invite a foe into a securely protected bastion or space.” It is interesting to me that Tiepolo must have had the present situation in mind when he painted my illustration: the men are all pushing the horse into Troy for all they are worth, pulled by the few women bishops that have already been appointed. Every school boy and girl knows what happens next – under cover of dark, swarms of women bishops emerge from the belly of the beast to ensconce themselves in the citadel.

What worries me is that women already in leadership positions in the Church are showing signs, not just of holiness, but also of unworldliness. Principled, noble, high-minded, yes. Prepared to sully their hands and stoop to low cunning to win the day? Possibly not.

“Say not the struggle naught availeth, the labour and the wounds are vain, 
The enemy faints not, nor faileth, and as things have been they remain.
If hopes were dupes, fears may be liars; it may be, in yon smoke conceal’d, 
Your comrades chase e’en now the fliers, and, but for you, possess the field.
For while the tired waves, vainly breaking, seem here no painful inch to gain,
Far back, through creeks and inlets making, comes silent, flooding in, the main.
And not by eastern windows only, when daylight comes, comes in the light; 
In front the sun climbs slow, how slowly! But westward, look, the land is bright!”
‘The Procession of the Trojan Horse’  (1773) by Giovanni Tiepolo (1727-1804) via Wikimedia under CCL

8 comments on this post:

Lindsay said...

Trojan Horse has possibilities – or perhaps we could take a leaf out of Lysistrata. Oh the wisdom of the Greeks…

Lay Anglicana said...

Thank-you Lindsay. We have spoken elsewhere about the Lysistrata possibility.
Like any ‘strike’, it needs 100% participation to be effective. In the film version, it worked for a while because no woman dared tell Melina Mercouri that she was not taking part.
And the other, delicate issue is that it depends on 100% heterosexuality for its effectiveness. This might prove a more serious problem 🙂

01 June 2012 10:45
31 May 2012 12:23
Charley Farns-Barns said...

It’d been a fine dinner but with the port biscuits and cheese the bishops knew it hadn’t been a success.

“Well” said Bath & Wells as he coughed and blew crumbs over his neighbours, “I think it’s time to call for Machiavelli”. The Archbishop nodded and someone rose and went out. Sir Humphrey Appleby entered and slumped into a chair.
“I think you know our problem” said the Archbishop, “What is your advice?”

“Well, it’s very difficult. You’ve allowed women parish priests and they’re now bumping up against the glass ceiling and you’ve chosen the time of the Queen’s Jubilee which has demonstrated sixty years of benign and clever female rule. Not to mention the Thatcher Years of forthright and determined leadership. I don’t think it could be much worse.”

“So you mean to tell us that nothing can be done” declared Bath & Wells.

“Ah, I’m sure if I meant that, I’d have found the form of words to say so” said Sir Humphrey smoothly. “Women bishops are inevitable of course, but I suspect you might be content if you never yourselves have to meet any.” The bishops looked at one another and thought of what they had said about them in past. Sir Humphrey could see they’d got the point. “No, what you need is a form of words that will incense the Sisterhood so much that they will strike down this measure themselves. You need to suggest they have some rottenness, something bad – no that’s too strong – some slight but fundamental unsoundness”.

“A taint?” someone said.

“Ah! That’s just the word!”

It had been a long time coming thought Sir Humphrey but they’d got there in the end. If they got it themselves they’d be pleased and feel a sort of ownership.
“Yes that will upset them nicely, enough to make them force the measure down. And it shouldn’t come back until after you’re all retired. It’s about the best you’ll get”.

Sir Humphrey pocketed the cheque and left amidst profuse thanks. He was always surprised and pleased how profitable retirement was. He thought he’d make his way to his club and then to Paddington for the country. Once again he reflected that the essence of acceptable advice was to tease out what the customer had in his mind and then just polish it up a bit.

Lay Anglicana said...

Thank-you very much for this, Charley. And thank-you also very much for the earlier suggestion of a Trojan horse, which has really set the cat among the pigeons! My oh-so-innocent post above has been taken seriously by the opposition and they are now citing it as evidence of the wicked cunning of the women and their supporters. (See The Ugley Vicar’s blog posts at

I may have to use this comment of yours to prove that it was the reactionaries who started it!

01 June 2012 10:52
31 May 2012 12:34
Erika Baker said...

I don’t think this bishop is necessarily naive. He may well have known that this would happen. He does not say whether he supported the Amendments. They were not passed unanimously and this could be a subtle way of telling the world that he voted against them, which he might not be able to say openly.

Lay Anglicana said...

What would I do without you Erika? Looking at it again, I agree that the letter may be more subtly worded than I had realised. He is pretty clear that he supported the first (relatively innocuous) amendment. On the second, I now – thanks to you – see that it is ambiguous. It is like the image of a candle or two faces (or my duck/rabbit if you saw my earlier post). Poor man, he may well be trying to tell us that he was unhappy with it!

01 June 2012 15:35
31 May 2012 12:52
UKViewer said...

I remain unconvinced, but the Bishop as a Pastor has a responsibility to lead, to teach and ultimately to persuade.

It seems to me that the Bishop of Ely has striven to do this, whether the words achieve his wish is anyone’s guess.

I’m fast coming to the conclusion that strategy and politics have no place in the church, because we don’t have professional soldiers or politicians in leadership positions. What we have is Holy Men (emphasise Men!!) who are struggling against, not with the Holy Spirit. They are weakening, not just enough yet.

Going back to the game of marbles, trying to even the score for all players, knowing that there will be winners and losers, but only by a tiny amount. Unfortunately, in this game, we will all be losers if the measure doesn’t go through and be administered in grace and love, rather than the worldly concerns of those who are agin anything, especially change for the better.

31 May 2012 14:22
Lindsay said...

Oh I did so enjoy Yes (Prime) Minister, I have the episode where he has to appoint a Bishop permenantly kept on Sky, Will watch it again for well needed laugh

01 June 2012 11:07

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