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The Two Integrities: Andrew Phair


These notes, or reflections, come with a massive health warning. I am not a member of Synod; I don’t follow this argument closely in the press and I am quite sure I have got my wires crossed on many issues. But the nature of this web site speaks of securing the views of lay people from the pews of Anglican churches. Well, that sums me up. A very ordinary person sitting in a pew, mystified by what I recently saw at the altar; and the subsequent processes I then went through to make sense of it and to achieve some sort of peace within myself. I feel I can now cope with the behaviour of the traditionalists such that it does not rankle so much and disturb my prayerful approach to the Sacraments.

The Two Integrities

In 1992 an accord was made concerning the ordination of women that those traditionalists who could not accept the decision could remain in the Anglican Church,  would still be valued and would have their own Bishops.

Like many, I applauded the decision to ordain women and could not even conceive of anyone objecting to the change. How naive I was! After that, women became a quite normal presence at the altar. It was one of those moments that sort of passes, an important watershed moment, but nevertheless a passing one. I did not notice the silent, quiet unrest among the traditionalists. I never noticed their refusal to accept consecrated bread and wine from a woman Celebrant. But, when I did notice it (only a few weeks ago) I was incensed. All the usual objections were made (to my wife): how dare they; society has moved on; Jesus welcomed women as much as men; their behaviour is an example of all that is wrong with religion (but not with believing); what about equality between the sexes and so on. I railed against the issue; raised it at a PCC meeting; tweeted on the subject (and got back some helpful, reassuring responses); searched the web and quietly fumed.

With nothing to lose, I tackled one of the said traditional priests and he patiently walked me through the issues and the arguments as he saw it. It was a Damascene moment for me. It certainly reminded me of the merits of listening to all sides of an argument before fulminating in my armchair. Whilst acknowledging his position, I also have to firmly state I am still wholly of a mind that women priests bring many benefits to ministry and I welcome them as Bishops (in other words as equal to men in every regard) within the Anglican church.

But my kindly traditionalist priest-friend helped me to see the importance of being obedient to God’s truth, wherever that might take one. He spoke of it not being about majority votes in Synod or elsewhere but about searching for truth and integrity. In respect to ‘voting’ he argued this cannot apply to all aspects of faith: would I vote for a fascist party even if the majority of people were doing so but which I knew to be wrong? In responding to the inner voice (the Holy Spirit?) we may well be prompted to take an opposing position to the majority. It is clear that the Holy Spirit has guided peoples’ faith journeys down many different expressions from Quakers, to Methodists, to Baptists, to evangelical house churches and so on.  None of us can dogmatically say their church is exclusively the right way. I was clearly demonstrating appalling inflexibility of mind and personal arrogance.

If promises were made in 1992 and since then about protecting and honouring the position of the traditionalist, then why are they now being broken or dismantled? Why are the traditionalists being discriminated against? Are they being squeezed out? I hope not. The Anglican Church is, if nothing else, an amalgam of masses of different forms of expression and none of us has the right to shoehorn everyone into one model, however attractive that sometimes might feel.  I would still want to argue my corner that there is nothing flawed with women priests presiding at the Eucharist; there is nothing lesser about the elements I receive which have been consecrated by a woman and -most importantly- I welcome the ministry they bring.

But my earlier seething has subsided and it served as a reminder of the need to hear all sides of an argument before getting on my high horse. It is clear that outside the UK the Anglican Church may well be more in tune with the traditional approaches, in particular in the African church. What right have I to impose my one-sided beliefs on those who choose to adopt a quite contrary position? The worldwide Church has changed dramatically over 2000 years but the traditionalists argue the male priesthood has been around since the time of Christ. All these issues made me stop and think a little more than a mere knee-jerk response that characterized my behaviour at first.  I would like to think this example has reminded me of the need to show greater tolerance than hitherto.

Will the liberals and evangelicals similarly show greater accommodation to the needs of the traditionalists?


Andrew phairI am becoming increasingly brave at pestering people who express interesting views on twitter to write for Lay Anglicana, and I must thank Andrew Phair for having good-humouredly (and promptly!) succumbed to my blandishments. Andrew sums himself for his twitter profile – @Andrew_Phair – as “Interests in healthcare, politics, literature and justice. Professed Christian often poor exponent. England” (Editor)

The illustration was chosen by me, partly because of the androgynous appearance of the priest.

 Note by editor on ‘The Two Integrities

As a reminder for anyone who has come late to the debate of what ‘the two integrities’ means,  the then Archdeacon of Richmond, the Ven Janet Henderson, summed it up in 2012 – no longer available on her blog, it survives on Kiwianglo’s website:

…For 18 years the Church of England has been trying out an approach that says, in effect, ‘both groups are right’. A lot of us thought we were doing this in the patient expectation that one or other group would eventually become less sustainable. How else are decisions made and people able to move forward? You pray, you argue the rationale, you try things out, you put it to the vote. In the Church of England, we seem now to be saying that however small the number of people who want to be protected from women priests becomes, we will continue to order the life of the church for their benefit and at the expense of all who want to see women in leadership.

Well, I can see that to pass legislation that is completely unacceptable to those who do not want women priests and bishops is a very hard decision to take (and not, at this point, one that is open to Synod) but let’s look at the cost of continuing with this ‘two integrities’ approach

It seriously endangers the coherence of episcopacy in the Church of England. The bishops will be trying to move in two directions at once over a good number of issues to do with gender and the ordering of the church.
It will cause arguments in parishes where there is a divergence of view about women’s ministry, particularly as the ‘supply’ (to use the bishops’ word) of clergy gets smaller.
It makes for a national church that treats women as second class, something parts of the church have to be protected from. How proud of that can we be?
It means that language about ‘taint’ and ‘the unsuitability of women having authority’ will continue to be a norm of church life. (As Desmond Tutu so famously pointed out, what you say about people in fact shapes the possibilities of your behaviour towards them.)
It endorses the notion of different churches within the Church of England needing different types of theological leadership – will other grounds for being able to petition for a different bishop begin to emerge? This leads to chaos!

2 comments on this post:

Erika Baker said...

Thank you, Andrew.
For me, the question goes deeper than “should traditionalists be allowed to stick with their traditional beliefs”.
Two Integrities does not mean that the church believes two conflicting things before breakfast. It means that it upholds the integrity of those who do not share the official view.

The questions we are tackling are:
– How can a church have women priests and bishops on the same terms as men if we must find a structure that allows men to reject them? Because accommodation for traditionalists cannot happen on the backs of women. That would merely swap one unfairness for another.
– Traditionalists argue that women priests are unorthodox and cannot be discerned by one church alone. But the CoE has its own discernment processes. They are laid down in its Canons and in its synodical government. Is it right that traditionalists assent to that when they are ordained but reject it when it no longer suits them?
– Traditionalists want to remain in the CoE, but with the advent of women bishops the protection they will need to achieve that without being affected by a woman bishop will create an almost hermetically sealed off church within a church. To what extent is it meaningful to talk of remaining in a church if you have to seal yourself off from it in order to remain in it?
– And why is that sealing off not also an innovation that goes completely counter to what the church has always been?

I understand what traditionalists want and why. Evangelicals want it for completely different theological reasons than Anglo-Catholics, the church will have to find a way of accommodating both views, both necessitating different provisions.

I am not sure at all that it will be possibly to find a way of pleasing everyone while achieving the overarching goal – women bishops who are not inferior to male bishops.

24 October 2013 16:20

Andrew, I feel the diplomacy of the Traditionalist you spoke with has put out the fire in your belly about what is fundamentally discrimination.

Men and women are equal, fact. The bible was written by men, probably. God is described as he/him, fact. Eve is described as being created from Adam’s rib, fact. The very foundations of the Church and the associated stories are what ostracises women, and as such a new generation of believers. Making a ‘safe house’ for retrograde beliefs within the church is like making a special suburb in South Africa where apartheid can still be upheld. It is wrong, and will hinder a progressive, healthy belief system in an already flawed and discriminatory world. Women have been forced into the shadows for aeons, it is time to acknowledge their misrepresentation, and to rethink the structures that have determined their oppression for so long.

31 October 2013 02:18

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