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