Thursday, 29 November 2007

GRASed up: the betrayal of a commitment

The proposal from the Group for Rescinding the Act of Synod to give ‘Conscientious Objector’ status to existing clergy who do not believe in women’s ordination, whilst excluding any new candidates for the ministry from the ranks of Christians who take the same view, raises for me an interesting question: was not the Anglican Church with an all-male priesthood which voted to allow woment to be ordained more tolerant than that which now has a mixed priesthood of men and women?

The question is not at all artificial. It is freely acknowledged, not least by some of those in GRAS, that the Church of England would not have voted to ordain women in 1992 if there had not been a legal provision for those who did not agree. This provision is partly provided within the 1993 Priests (Ordination of Women) Measure itself.

However, the General Synod, reflecting the mind of the Church, realized that even this was not enough. The inclusion of this provision was a clear admission that the question was not settled, despite the majority vote to allow women to be ordained. And so a further provision was made in the Act of Synod, without which it is quite possible that the Measure itself would not have received parliamentary approval.

In other words, the ordination of women was achieved in 1993 as the result of a deal. Calling it a political deal may be too pejorative. Rather, it was a recognition that, just as there were those persuaded that women could be ordained to the priesthood, there were those who were not. The outcome was, on the surface, an honourable arrangement —an agreement to differ, but to allow movement.

Now, the impression is given that this was, after all, only on the surface. Some of the supporters of women’s ordination have reneged, insisting that what is not the case —that the issue is settled —should be treated as if it were true. From henceforth, no argument will be brooked.

Frankly, this suggests either a dishonesty amongst those who argued for women’s ordination in the early 1990s, or a betrayal of a past commitment.

Either way, we should look and learn. Anyone who imagines that a Church which ordains and blesses those in active gay relationships will have room for those who don’t twenty years later is living in a fool’s paradise.

Revd John P Richardson
29 November 2007

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  1. It is interesting how General Synod is being steared by a small minority.

    It is obvious that the majority agree with the ordination of women and with women Bishops. But the majority of that majority want fair provision with discenters.

    When we debated TEA etc. at Diocesan Synod, I was surrounded by people I knew from my Deanery, all very pro women Bishops. Yet all very pro TEA or some provision like it. It struck me chatting to others over coffee there are many who disagree with people you like you John, or me, but most of them are very fair people.

    So why are a small group of liberal-ultras wagging the dog?

    Darren Moore, Tranmere, Birkenhead.

  2. "So why are a small group of liberal-ultras wagging the dog?"

    It's because they are called "bishops", dear boy.

    David, London

  3. (Chelmsford)

    OK, John and Darren, what do you want? The majority want women bishops, you agree. Do you want to deny their democratic right? Well, even if you want to, you won't be able to. So, if women bishops are accepted, what do you want for those like yourselves who do not accept them? Do you want a third province? Do you want to affiliate to the Southern Cone? See my post on this: the consequences of this will be pretty much the end of the Church of England as a unified national church.

  4. There are two issues here Peter. One is the attempt to go back on previous assurances and create a church in which no-one who holds that consistency with what the Bible says would exclude women from the role of Anglican Priest could hereafter serve in ordained ministry. That is something I find not just unacceptable but scary.

    The other, separate, issue is the best way to allow those who want women bishops to have them. The easiest arrangement would be something like a Third Province - not an impossibility as Forward in Faith have shown.

    Personally, I wouldn't be too bothered if we just had a continuation of something like the present PEV arrangement, but with the New PEV allowed to appoint and recruit. It ain't broke and I don't see why it should be mended - certainly not abolished.

  5. Well, John, I must say I wondered why the current PEV system could not be continued. I suppose that to be acceptable to those who have a strong doctrine of apostolic succession the "flying bishops" would have to be consecrated by men only, with an unbroken line of this happening. I fail to see why a male bishop who has ordained a woman is seen as disqualified, for the orders of a bishop are not lost when they sin, but that is a matter for them. The problem is that the existing scheme is effectively the same thing as a separate province. But I think the real problem with that is, what happens when there is a woman Archbishop? Would you accept being under her leadership? I know the Forward in Faith types would not. That is why they insist on a separate province, not just a separate diocese.

  6. One more point, still from Chelmsford: was the current scheme with PEVs etc really intended to continue for ever? Were promises of this made? Or are you trying to make an eternal commitment out of what was very likely seen by many as a transitional arrangement to avoid violating the consciences of the current generation, in the expectation that the number of new ordinands opposed to women's ordination would be very small?

  7. Hi Peter. I envisage that the New PEV would have more independence than the existing PEV, able to recruit and deploy clergy in a way that the existing PEV is not. It would be good if they could also take over 'redundant' churches, just as HTB are encouraged to do in London at the moment.

    This would therefore not be just like the existing arrangement in every respect. There would have to be financial independence as well. This wouldn't have to be formally a Third Province, but yes, the appointment of a female Archbishop of Canterbury would change things.

    The ABp of Canterbury's role is limited with regard to diocesan bishops (doesn't he know it!), but a female ABp would be problematic, not for me (being further down the food chain), but for the bishops who would have to convene when she calls them together and operate under her direction. So I guess the appointment of a female ABp would require a corresponding male and therefore would de facto create a Third Province.

    I would, however, like to see this done with minimal fuss and ballyhoo. We could, for the time being and until a female ABp is appointed, extend the authority of the existing PEVs, tidy up the legalities (that's what lawyers are for) and then get on with the job.

    As to the point about the present system being intended as a transitional arrangement, obviously that is what many of those who engineered it hoped. Unfortunately, the generation of those opposed to women's ordination to the Anglican priesthood has failed to die out fast enough, so some of them feel a bit of encouragement is required. That, however, does not feel to me like an honourable attitude, irregardless of one's support or otherwise for women priests.

  8. I see your point Peter, but is Church meant to be a straight forward democracy?

    Isn't it interesting though that those of us who'd have difficulty with women bishops are trying to come up with ways of that happening, which begs the question about who's tolerant etc. Interesting in most cases Bishops are trying to come up with something that keeps everyone in.

    Also I don't think people like John and me should be viewed as a quirky minority. Both from stats I've seen and what I see on the ground 'our types' are churning out more and younger ordinands and other trained workers and having Churches that are generally growing, often with more men, therefore more money (if you only have a wife or a husband they are limited in what they can give) & my perspective is from an UPA. So to get rid of us would be devistating to the wider Anglican Church.

    So actually, for me at least, I want this sorted out for the C of E's sake. Free Church freinds seem to think there's always a job for us there, or with Presbytarians in USA (where we'd be better paid). So we not worried about our own backsides. I am worried about the sustainability of the C of E.

    Darren Moore, Tranmere, Birkenhead

  9. Thank you, John and Darren. I agree that this should be done with the minimum of ballyhoo. Perhaps extending the PEV scheme would be the best way of doing that, although I wonder whether making PEVs "able to recruit and deploy clergy in a way that the existing PEV is not" would be a change supported in General Synod or in Parliament.

    Darren, maybe the church is not meant to be a democracy, but the fact is that it is, with the various qualifications that we know about.

    I still feel that a PEV type scheme is only really workable as a transitional arrangement, and those preferring to relate to a PEV will necessarily be second class members of the church. There is no realistic possibility of you ever becoming the large majority and taking the church back to male-only ministry, so women priests and bishops are here to stay.

    If you really want an independently organised branch of the church with authority to deploy clergy, plant churches etc, and you want this to continue indefinitely and grow, then what you need is a separate province or at least diocese, not a PEV scheme. So, while I would really rather you accepted women priests and bishops, if you cannot do this I would prefer you to form a separate province. Then both groups can get on with the work of the gospel without arguing, as independent churches, hopefully working in cooperation although with impaired communion.

  10. Hi Peter. This does make it look as though the decision to ordain women was badly conceived and inadequately argued.

    If people had said in 1992, as a result of this decision the Church of England will no longer have a place for those who disagree with women's ordination, would the vote have gone the way it did? I doubt it.

    And why put a conscience clause in the very measure which permits women's ordination unless you concede that the argument is not settled.

    You can't make a decision not to decide (which is what happened in 1992) and then say in 2007, well, most of us have decided and now we're going to move the goalposts where we want them.

    Really this suggests that either the decision in 1992 was fudged or that the inclusion of provision for those who disagreed was disingenuous.

    I suggest what we really need to do is re-open the whole debate!

  11. Yes, the 1992 decision was a typical Anglican fudge. Probably no one then thought it was best on principle, but only as a compromise, so can hardly blame them for dishonesty or betrayal in not accepting it as a continuing principle now.

    A less fudged measure might have failed in 1992, but would surely have passed 5 or 10 years later.

    I would not necessarily oppose continuing this fudge. I just think it will leave your party as a dissatisfied minority indefinitely. It is not good for the church to have a group of grumblers in its midst. Best that they go independent.

    Yes, let's reopen the whole debate. But you can't realistically get your way in the whole C of E, women priests are here to stay.

    And don't say you don't want to leave because there is only one church in England. Some left the C of E because they could not accept its rejection of the authority of the pope, others because they could not accept bishops, the Methodists because they could not accept parish boundary restrictions, etc etc. Most recently many left over women priests. There have always been groups who have left because of differences over church order, and set up separate structures - or went over to Rome. Why don't you do the same?

  12. Funny how I love the Book of Common Prayer, believe the 39 Articles (For the Avoidance of Diversities of Opinions) to be a great summary our faith, understand (and accept) what it actually means for the monarch to the the Supreme Governor of the Church, grew up as a 'cradle' Anglican, have served in the Anglican ministry for over thirty years, and love my country, of which this is the church with the longest historical link with the first Christians - and am being shown the door!

  13. No, John, you are not being shown the door. The church to which you belong has made decisions, democratically and with the consent of its Supreme Governor, and is preparing to make more decisions. You need to abide by those decisions and accept the authority of those legally put over you, or leave. That is the essence of a democracy, or an autocracy, rather than a Judges 21:25 situation.

    I could add that the same is true of openly gay clergy and those who support them, even of our Archbishop, but that does not make it less true of yourself and those who share your position.

  14. John, that is the nail on the head. Because the it is something easy to put your finger on (do you believe x about women bishops) it is easy to exclude people who give the 'wrong' answer. Even though they are Anglican through and through. Whilst at the same time we allow all shades of false teaching to go unchecked, because it's all a bit slippery.

    So 1 group is kicked out for holding on to a long historical position, whilst novelty is allowed. Also re: demoncracy, of course if you went interdenominational and through time, we'd have a clear majority.

    The reason we don't want to go "free" is that we think we are true Anglicans, care for the Church and although we are accused of being narrow minded are offering much more freedom of thought than is offered back.

    Although we may be a minority, as someone pointed out in our deanery here, by simple demographics, although we are 1 of the smaller Churches, over 1/2 the Church is under 40 (mostly under 30) of which is also the more conservative end, so if nothing changed, in 10 years we'll be the only viable Church round here. It pays to keep us in.

    Of course it does question the integrity of some if compromises made in the 90s were only made to get it through, in order to creep in more changes latter. But as I said, I keep finding people who disagree with me, but want to keep the likes of me in. And we're not exactly a large forbidible Church.

    Darren Moore, Tranmere, Birkenhead

  15. Peter, those making decisions in the Church of England, and those supporting those decisions, need to ask themselves what authority they have, what enables them to make decisions and what sort of body the Church of England is.

    If it is a mere 'denomination', and if denominations can be cut to suit the cloth of some, but not all, Christians, and if the way to decide what that shape should be is by a vote by a few members chosen on a five-year basis by a small (and increasingly biased) electoral college, then what GRAS proposes is reasonable.

    However, if the Church of England wishes to make any claim to be historically 'what is says on the tin', and is a branch of the universal Church, then such a decision cannot be made on such a basis.

    Of course the CofE has 'form' in this regard - remember 1662 - but the 'Great Ejection' is hardly an honourable episode in the Church's history.