Wednesday, 8 June 2011

Episcopal appointments - from subtle exclusion to overt discrimination

Since 1993 I have chosen to belong to a church that ordains women priests, and before I retire it is likely I will belong to one that consecrates women bishops. Yet this is a practice that I believe to be mistaken, so why am I still here?
One answer is that I am committed to the Church — not to the official ‘fine tuning’ of its theology. I have often argued that the Church of England is exactly what it says on the tin: the Church of England. It is not demarcated from the Church anywhere else by anything other than geography, and therefor it ought not to be defined by anything other than what the ‘Church universal’ accepts as essential.
Now I know this is a ‘pipe dream’ at innumerable levels. But when I read Scripture I see a similar picture. One of my favourite bits of the Bible is the book of Revelation, and in the seven letters to the churches in chapters 2-3 we find ourselves in very familiar territory. There is division, there is heresy, there is immorality, there are false apostles, there is lack of love, there is indifference. It’s just like home, really! And yet each letter is addressed “to the church in ...”, and each concludes with a promise “to him who overcomes” — and I take it that part of what is to be ‘overcome’ is precisely the situation in some of those churches.
So although I have been tempted to give up on the Church of England, I feel that on principle I ought not to.
Another reason I have stayed, however, is that when the Church of England decided it would ordain women priests, it also decided that the decision was not absolute. Instead, the phrase that was coined was ‘a period of reception’, meaning that it would go ahead with a move that seemed right to the majority of its decision-making body, but without prejudice to whether this was right or not. (Incidentally, this makes further nonsense of the 1975 ‘decision’ that there were no “fundamental” theological objections to the ordination of women. If that was what the Synod really believed, it would have acted accordingly.)
What this means, however, is that every woman who has been ordained in the Church of England has done so knowing that not everyone else accepts this should (or could) have happened. Now that is tough, but there are other denominations they could have joined which would not have presented them with the same problem. Only a day or so ago, I was yet again invited to leave the Church of England by someone who thinks I should go (actually, he tends to do this quite a lot!). But why should the boot not be on the other foot? So I stay knowing that everyone knows we are a ‘mixed economy’ denomination on this issue.
And then thirdly I stay — or at least I stayed — because I and others like me were assured of fair treatment. Unfortunately, it is on this third point that problems have developed and are getting worse.
We hear a lot about equality today, and there is a widespread insistence that people are treated ‘equally’ at every possible opportunity.
In 1993, as the ordination of women to the priesthood was brought in, the Church of England similarly committed itself to treat those on both sides of the debate equally. Thus the Episcopal Ministry Act of Synod (which is still in force) stated as its first principle that,
There will be no discrimination against candidates either for ordination or for appointment to senior office in the Church of England on the grounds of their views about the ordination of women to the priesthood.
Unfortunately, that commitment was never upheld, and has now effectively been overturned.
Thus in 2001, just eight years on from the original legislation, the Perry Report on episcopal appointments noted that of the thirty-one diocesan bishops appointed between 1993 and 2000, twenty-seven ordained women and two were already diocesan bishops elsewhere. Only two new bishops did not ordain women, and these were both appointed before 1995 (2:28).
More recently, in 2007 the General Synod report ‘Talent and Calling’ (GS 1650), which looked at the appointments of suffragan bishops, cathedral deans, archdeacons and residentiary canons, made the following observations:
4.6.1 While the proportion of women on the Preferment List and among those holding senior appointments is lower than the proportion of full-time stipendiary clergy who are women, we are pleased to note that action is being taken to address this.
“Quite right, too,” we may respond. But then the report added this:
4.6.2 The proportion of minority ethnic, conservative evangelical and traditional catholic candidates on the Preferment List and among those holding senior appointments would appear to be even lower.
At least regarding conservative evangelicals, that is something of an understatement. It is true that traditionalist Catholics continue to be appointed as both suffragan and (occasionally) diocesan bishops. However, the last Evangelical appointment was in — well, can you guess?
In the past year, however, the discrimination has changed from being subtle (indeed not necessarily proven) to overt. In 2010, the Diocese of Salisbury, as part of the process of looking for a new diocesan bishop, published, as it is required to, a ‘Statement of Needs’. This, however, included the following:
The Bishop will have to be prepared to ordain men and women without discrimination ... and to envisage in due time a female episcopal colleague. (Section 20)
It doesn’t take much of a legal mind to realize that this rides roughshod over the requirement of the Act of Synod that there shall be “no discrimination ... on the grounds of ... views about the ordination of women to the priesthood.”
So what happened in the Vacancy in See Committee to bring about this situation? Did no one spot that this was, in fact, contrary to the Act of Synod? Or did no one care? Discrete enquiries suggest there was some awareness of potential difficulties in this area, but the statement itself was presumably not challenged.
But then should it not have been picked up by the Crown Nominations Commission? After all, this includes some fine minds, well aware of what is legal or not — to say nothing of the two Archbishops. Did they not see a problem? Well, of course the workings of the CNC are strictly confidential (at least in theory), so you can ask (I did), but don’t expect long answers.
What seems clear is that the Salisbury members of the CNC went into the selection process having been given a mandate that contradicted an Act of Synod, which is supposed to represent the ‘mind of the Church of England’. And given that the diocese was not asked to rewrite the Statement and publicly invite a new round of submissions of possible candidates, presumably either the other members of the CNC did not spot the problem, or they spotted it but did not feel it made any material difference.
Meanwhile, we have had two new appointments of Provincial Episcopal visitors, though how long their services will be required is anybody’s guess. Despite belated lobbying from the evangelical constituency, however, both of them are traditionalist Anglo-Catholics.
So when will the next Conservative Evangelical be appointed as a bishop in the Church of England. I don’t know. But the last one — and the way things are going he might actually turn out to be the last one — was in 1997, fourteen years ago.
John Richardson
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  1. It is amazing to me that in the Dioceses of Chester (a reasonably conservative dioceses)+Peter will ordain 21 women+ and only 13 men+ on the 18th of June. At that rate the next generation will only know a Church of England that is completely feminized. Sigh

    Rev John X. Leal

  2. John, I have to agree that it sometimes feels as if church leadership is becoming a job for women. One reason is that far more women than men are prepared to become non-stipendiary clergy, and that is partly (perhaps largely) because there are far more women in their forties who have both the time and the financial support to undertake the training and the responsibilities.

  3. John, Sad that Sods law is at work in such a great institution. The unintended consequence of (fairness) only shows that some people are more equal than others.

  4. "Since 1993 I have chosen to belong to a church that ordains women priests, and before I retire it is likely I will belong to one that consecrates women bishops. Yet this is a practice that I believe to be mistaken, so why am I still here?"

    John. Surely your question is only one that you can answer based on personal conviction.
    Nevertheless as I think you will agree the general consensus of the Church is for acceptance of women in ministry, and therefore if you and others of like conviction remain "in" then they should recognise and submit to that consensus - notwithstanding the flawed application of the principle which is regrettable.
    The question then arises - is it the collective Church, Scripture, or yourself which is "mistaken"?
    Clearly Scripture cannot be - but a fallible church may well be continuing to mis-interpret some fundamental passages.
    Further, if those who take your view that women's ministry is not God's will, presumably based on Scripture, then surely the onus is on them to define biblically where the rest of the Church has gone wrong?
    I suggest to you that in terms of ministry, Scripture makes no essential differentiation between male and female in ministry.
    The sad aspect is that many only ASSUME that the traditional view is "right".
    Perhaps then, a fresh scriptural exegesis of 1 Timothy 2:12 and 1 Corinthians 14:34-36 which have been used to silence women is now long overdue.
    More light has been shed on these passages by various commentators who come to a completly opposite view to your own.
    As the overwhelming evidence of Scripture (both testaments) is that women's ministry was recognised and practiced, and also in the 1st century church, then clearly one should examine the possibility that subsequent tradition which stifles that ministry must be attributed to faulty exegesis of these passages, or mistaken assumptions regarding the role of women.

  5. Only a day or so ago, I was yet again invited to leave the Church of England by someone who thinks I should go (actually, he tends to do this quite a lot!). But why should the boot not be on the other foot?

    John, I guess you are referring to me. No problem! But in fact the boot went on the other foot - I have effectively left the Church of England.

    But actually this last time I didn't call on you to leave. Rather, I called on you to accept the oversight of male bishops regardless of their theology. I only suggested you leave if you cannot accept the bishops who are legally appointed to oversee you. I note that you will continue to have the right to reject a woman bishop. But it is quite unreasonable for you to insist on a bishop who is not just male but also agrees with your minority theology.

    On the issue in this post, the only sensible thing is for the Church of England, by amending its legislation if necessary, to appoint bishops who can properly carry out the full range of jobs a bishop is supposed to do. If the Bishop of Chester were to refuse to ordain 60% of his ordination candidates this month, he wouldn't be doing his job, and that means he shouldn't be considered a candidate for it.

  6. I suspect that "conservative Evangelical" in this case means something other than the plain meaning that those words convey - in other words, they mean someone from Reform.

    As the Bishop of Lewes (the last "conservative evangelical" appointed in 1997) has indicated that he intends to leave office in the third quarter of next year (see his entry on Wikipedia), I can understand Reform's concern that it will no longer be represented in the episcopate.

    However, I feel that a disservice is done to the diocesans of Birmingham and Southwell and Nottingham who have been appointed in the last five years - during the term of an acknowledged non-evangelical Archbishop of Canterbury. Are they not conservative and evangelical enough? Or does acceptance of women clergy (both priests and bishops) now exclude one from the use of the word "evangelical"?

    If bishops ARE to be a focus of unity - and not encouraging folks to split off and form a third province - then as much common ground as can be found needs to be sought.

    Beryl Polden,

  7. John

    I appreciate the difficulty biblically of leaving an established church. There is little evidence of believers being instructed to leave (perhaps 2 Tim 2).

    However, followed through, does this not mean we should all be in the Church of Rome?

  8. Graham, the problem is you comment contains a considerable ‘terminological inexactitude’ which I heard repeatedly during the Synod debate, that this is a matter of accepting or rejecting “women’s ministry”.

    Whatever would suggest I believe “women’s ministry is not God’s will”? That would of course put me off-side with Scripture, and it no wonder I appear to be in potential conflict with Scripture if that is what I, and others of the same view, are thought to be doing.

    You may say in response that you’re using “women’s ministry” here as shorthand for “women’s ordination” or perhaps “the ministry of ordained women”, but it is a very dangerous shorthand, because, as I have said recently on this blog, the ‘orders’ of the Church of England, into which people are ordained, in no way correspond precisely to the ministry categories we can discern in the New Testament.

    It does not automatically follow that ‘women’s ministry’ as seen in the New Testament is properly exercised in Anglican orders as constructed today.

    Further, there is a difficulty that by using this language of “ministry” as your comment does, we suggest that ‘real’ ministry equals ‘ordained’ ministry, and that all other ministries are somehow less satisfactory. One thing that troubles me in this debate is that being a bishop has become the ministerial ‘first prize’, and that none of the ‘glitter’ (for which, read ‘authority’) must be removed from this — which means the rest of us are ‘runners up’ in the ministry stakes.

  9. Peter, I am simply noting the illogicality and inconsistency of (a) saying you recognize rightful differences of opinion (b) setting up legislation to allow people, on acknowledged theological grounds to have 'special' ministry in this regard and then (c) providing them with a minister on this basis who disagrees with them precisely on this particular point.

  10. Beryl, all our labels are problematic, but are sometimes necessary. By and large, in the Church of England the label 'Conservative Evangelical' is accepted usage for a traditionalist evangelical who does not accept the ordination of women. I know other evangelicals who would probably not describe themselves as 'Open Evangelicals' who do accept the ordination of women, but I don't know how they would label themselves!

  11. John Thomson said: "However, followed through, does this not mean we should all be in the Church of Rome?"

    Shouldn't we all be in the Orthodox Church rather?

  12. You assume that a Conservative Evangelical diocesan bishop would refuse to ordain women. That assumption seems to me problematic.

    Even if they disagree on prinicple with the ordination of women, they might conclude that it is better for them to ordain women. This could be for several reasons:

    * to respect the will of the church as a whole, even though they themselves disagree with it
    * for the sake of unity within the diocese and so female clergy are willing to listen to them on other issues
    * the women will get ordained anyway, so it could be argued that it doesn't matter whether they are ordained directly or by delegation.

    Probably plenty of other reasons too why a conservative evangelical bishop might choose to ordain women. But I speculate.

    John Allister, Cheshire

  13. Peter Kirk said "I note that you will continue to have the right to reject a woman bishop." As I understand it, only for so long as he remains in his current post. If he were to be appointed to a new post in a diocese with a woman bishop, under current proposals he would have to swear an oath of canonical obedience to her 'in all things lawful and honest.' I can't speak for John, but I imagine this would be the line in the sand for many conservative evangelical incumbents that would cause them to leave the C of E. I speculate that the code of practice will HAVE to contain some provision for some varying of the wording or swearing ceremony of the oath of canonical obedience.
    Jonny Kingsman, Cambridge

  14. John, As I've said before, one of my concerns is why those associated with Reform make such a big fuss about women in leadership. I do not see you going on a similar crusade against liberal clergy and bishops, for example. If women's ordination is unbiblical (a view I don't share), surely it is insignificant compared to ordaining those who deny the inspiration of the scriptures and other central doctrines? Would you rather have a woman who preaches the gospel or a man who doesn't?

  15. "Would you rather have a woman who preaches the gospel or a man who doesn't?"

    Put in those terms, Ian, it's a no-brainer. Indeed the OT recognises such situations, notably re. Deborah, where things were so low there wasn't a decent man to do the task needed at the time. Call it the "Zelophehad principle" if you like.

    But is that really the situation we're in today? If anything, isn't it the case that, as David Holloway wrote many years ago, quite a few "good" men keep getting turned down at ABM, yet (as you stress) numbers of unsuitable candidates get selected? Until this acute problem is sorted out, it's at least highly premature to say we MUST ordain women as pastors on the grounds that the men simply aren't there.

    Dan Baynes
    Barton Seagrave

  16. Dan, that's not what I'm saying. Evangelicals like me who support women's ordination do so because we are deeply convicted that God calls men and women equally and that restricting any form of ministry or leadership to men only is incompatible with the scriptures. A perceived or actual shortage of men has nothing to with it. I have no knowledge of the machinations of ABM so can't comment there, but I would never want unsuitable women to be selected over suitable men.

    My point is simply that conservative evangelicals seem to be primarily known for their objections to women's ordination. I personally prefer to be defined by what I am for, not what I am against. If Reform choose the latter, I'd respectfully suggest they would advance the gospel far more by campaigning against liberalism rather than women's ordination.

  17. Ian, I'd be very happy to see a concerted effort against harmful Liberalism, but this should surely be the concern of all evangelicals.

    Yes, Conservative evangelicals have a particular problem with the notion of women bishops. This is partly because it embodies a particular understanding in a rather 'binary' fashion - you can't be a bit male or female, whereas you can be a bit liberal.

    What I'd like to see a some evangelical unity on this point. But what we have seen, rather, is mistrust and in-fighting.

    Any suggestions?

  18. John, At the risk of labouring my point, I don't see the conservative evangelicals refusing to accept the authority of liberal bishops (whether they are just a bit liberal or very liberal), yet you want special consideration when it comes to women bishops.

    Anyway, here's a sugggestion to help evangelical unity: have an evangelical lady as your next curate. I think you'd find that sharing parish ministry with her over three years would restore a lot of trust.

  19. Ian, it's a great step towards unity when everyone agrees with our own point of view! ;-)

    However, in response to your suggestion, I've worked with evangelical lady curates but as 'curacy' is not the issue, it doesn't really address the problem.

    As to the authority of liberal bishops, evangelical Anglicans cannot 'refuse' this, as it is a matter of English law. However, they can query the appropriateness of the person holding that office, as they have been doing for decades - remember the Bishop of Durham, or Gary Williams's trenchant criticisms of Rowan Williams's theology?

  20. So, John, if and when it becomes a matter of English law, are you prepared to accept the authority of a woman bishop? Or for that matter of a male bishop who supports women bishops? If not, what makes them different from liberal bishops? You will of course still be able to "query the appropriateness of the person holding that office". But in your previous post you talked about having to sacrifice your integrity to accept even a male bishop who accepts the ordination of women. What integrity do you have, which remains after the sacrifices you made to work under liberal bishops, which would be compromised in this case?

  21. Peter, it is very simple really. I would accept the lawful authority of a woman bishop in the same way that I would accept the lawful authority of a woman vicar.

    Actually, to say "I would accept" is a bit misleading - rather like saying "I accept" that the speed limit is 30mph through our village. It is not something I am actually in a position to dispute as a matter of law.

    Thus the law confers on bishops, vicars, priests-in-charge, churchwardens, etc, certain legal duties and powers which just are the case. Anyone ordained, for example, by a woman bishop would be legally ordained. According to Article XXII, they would have been "lawfully called and sent" by those "who have public authority given unto them ... to call and send".

    Hence also when there was a little local difficulty here with the bishop over his stance on issues of sexuality, there were problems over sacramental fellowship with the person, but there were (and could be) no issues with the legal status of the office, exercised through the office holder.

    The issue of integrity regarding male bishops I explained in the post to which you refer. It would be incongruous and anomalous for the Church of England to make a provision purely on the basis of a theological principle and then to provide someone to deliver the requested episcopal ministry who disagrees with the principle.

    I do think, however, there is an air of "Ah, gotcha!" about some of these comments, which has little to do with understanding what people are saying and why they are saying it, or with creating the best possible way forward for a church which purports to hold together different views, and much to do with catching people out.

  22. John, thanks for the clarification. Yes, commenters like myself have been looking for inconsistencies in your position. The point of this is not so much to catch you out as to reach the kind of clarification we now have. One of the difficulties in this whole matter is that not everyone has been clear about what they will accept, if they can't get their ideal, and what will lead them to leave the Church of England. No, I'm not calling for you to do that!

    So it seems your position is a consistent one: you accept the authority of whatever bishop is lawfully placed over you, whatever their theology and whatever their gender. Good. So on this matter a woman bishop is in the same position as an extreme liberal bishop: you don't like them, and may speak out against them, but you will submit to their authority.

    The Church of England position may not be so consistent, but then as always it is a matter of pragmatic compromise, what can best hold together such a diverse bunch.

    But then you raise the issue of "sacramental fellowship". If an extreme liberal male bishop were appointed to your diocese (we hope not!), came to your church and celebrated the Eucharist, would you take communion from him? What if a woman bishop did the same - would you take communion from her? If not, what is the difference? And if you have made a vow of canonical obedience to the bishop, do you have the right to refuse communion from her?

  23. Peter, thank you also for your clarification.

    The issue of sacramental fellowship in the particular instance to which I referred was a difficult one, and arose from the same issue being confronted at one of the Primates' Conferences, where (as I recall) Primates were themselves not prepared to participate with all and sundry.

    However, we must distinguish 'fellowship with' and 'receipt from'. Article XXVI is quite clear that even the worst of Liberal clergy, "forasmuch as they do not the same in their own name, but in Christ's, and do minister by His commission and authority, we may use their ministry both in hearing the Word of God and in the receiving of the sacraments".

    The case is rather different with a woman celebrant in that for Anglo-Catholics this is an impossibility.

    For evangelicals like myself, who are quite happy with 'lay' celebration in principle (though it is not allowed in practice), receiving from a woman is no different to receiving from a man. So there is no essential problem there. (This needs to be slightly nuanced in the light of what the CofE tends to make of the whole 'presiding' issue, but I can't go into the whole thing in one comment.)