Monday, 6 June 2011

More traditionalist bishops or less episcopal integrity - the dilemma of the proposed legislation

On Saturday the Chelmsford Diocesan Synod debated, and approved by a large majority in all three houses, the draft ‘Bishops and Priests (Consecration and Ordination of Women) Measure. It also rejected the Following Motion being sponsored by the Church of England Evangelical Council that stronger provision should be written into the legislation for those who feel this development to be wrong and who would therefore want episcopal ministry from a male bishop.
Once upon a time, let us remind ourselves, this would have been the majority of ordinary evangelicals. The 1977 Nottingham Statement from the second NEAC declared that whilst leadership in the congregation ought to be plural and mixed in gender, “ ultimate responsibility” should be “normally singular and male”. Some of us still believe this, and the Anglican Church purports to welcome us as faithful fellow-Christians.
However, the focus has shifted from theological argument to practical provision. Yet it is here that further problems lie, for the proposed legislation is, in my view, bad law both from a practical and from a moral viewpoint.
It is bad morally because whilst, as I have just observed, the formal position of the Church is that all are welcome and included, the legislation places all the demands and obligations of ‘conformity’ on one party and not the other.
For example, a petition by a PCC for the provision of oversight under the Measure will only be effective for five years, after which it will have to be revisited (3.13).
One might say, “Fair enough — opinions change and people move on,” which is true. But what about PCCs that have not petitioned for such provision? If the law is even handed and if the underlying principle is that both views are valid, ought they not be required, every five years, to consider petitioning for provision — even if it is only a formality on the agenda? After all, the present legislation requires every PCC to consider Resolutions A and B (concerning only having ministry from a male priest), whenever there is an interregnum.
What we see in the proposed legislation is massive legal slippage which makes it clear who really ‘belongs’ and who does not. All Anglicans are equal, but ...
There is, however, another problem area, identified in the question time at Synod and to which there still seems to be no satisfactory answer.
Under the present legislation, episcopal ministry is provided to those parishes which request it by a bishop of what the Church of England chooses to call the same ‘integrity’. Actually ‘integrity’ is not a bad word in this case since it reflects the mood, prevalent in the 1990s, that both opponents and supporters of women priests may be moved by theological integrity rather than misogyny on the one hand or theological laxity on the other.
Under the new legislation, however, one of two things must happen. Either there must be a huge increase in the number of serving bishops opposed to the ordination (and now consecration) of women or integrity must be sacrificed by both parish and bishop alike.
The reason is this. Section 2 of the legislation (Duty of diocesan bishop to make arrangements) states that:
(1) The bishop of each diocese shall be under a duty to make and publish a scheme containing arrangements in his or her diocese for the exercise by way of delegation to a male bishop who is a member of the House of Bishops of the diocesan synod of that or another diocese of episcopal ministry which appears to the bishop to relate to —
(a) the celebration of the sacraments and other divine service in parishes which request such arrangements in accordance with section 3, or
(b) the provision of pastoral care to the clergy and parishioners in those parishes.
Now we must leave aside whether (a) and (b) above cover the fullness of episcopal ministry (which in my view they do not). The point to notice is that the Measure legally excludes anything like the existing Provincial Episcopal Visitors from providing such ministry.
How so? Because the bishop concerned must be “a member of the House of Bishops of the diocesan synod of that or another diocese”.
Incidentally, this also means (as we were assured during the debate) that this ministry cannot be from a retired bishop, since he would not be a “member of the House of Bishops”.
Now if integrity is to be maintained, this means that there will have to be a bishop available in each diocese — or at least in every other diocese geographically, since it would be unreasonable to expect busy bishops to be travelling much further than the odd 100 miles or so round trip — who is opposed to the ordination and consecration of women. Two cheers for the new legislation.
Unfortunately, that is not quite what the legislation requires, for it does not actually say that the bishop himself needs to be opposed to the ordination and consecration of women. All he has to be legally is male.
But this is where integrity goes out of the window. How so? (you may again ask). Because the situation would then be that at the very point at which the ministry of Bishop A was provided to Parish B, there would be disagreement.
The justification for having Bishop A (and not the female Bishop B) provide such ministry would be solely (according the legislation) the “theological conviction” that “episcopal ministry and pastoral care should be provided by a male bishop” (Section 3.1). Yet if the said male bishop did not share that theological conviction, he would in effect be saying, “The one thing that justifies me, rather than someone else, ministering to you is a point on which I actually do not agree with you.”
To say the least, this would be a very odd basis for the provision of ministry and care.
Just to make this clear, the same proposed legislation envisages that,
(5) Where a scheme made under this section includes a statement by the bishop that he will not ordain women to the office of priest, the scheme shall make provision ---
(a) for the ordination of female candidates for the office of priest, and
(b) for the support of the ministry of clergy who are women and their pastoral care.
Now whilst 5.a obviously requires the ministry of a bishop in favour of women’s ordination, 5.b, technically, does not. One can provide support even for someone with whom one disagrees, as the recent Statement of Needs for Salisbury Diocese clearly envisaged when it (quite improperly and possibly unlawfully) stated that the new bishop “will have to be prepared to ordain men and women without discrimination, while sensitively engaging with the few parishes not accepting women priests or bishops”.
Nevertheless, one can imagine the problems if such a scheme under the proposed legislation appointed, for the purposes of support and pastoral care of women clergy, someone opposed to women’s ordination, rather than someone in favour.
Thus, as I said earlier, unless integrity is to be sacrificed (along with the principle of moral equivalence in the law), the existing legislation ought to require more, rather than fewer, bishops opposed to women’s ordination and consecration.
But is this the intention of the legislation? On the one hand it would seem that it is, since it is stated specifically that ministry could come from “another diocese”. Why would this even be considered, if not to ensure that ‘integrity’ is maintained?
Yet a specific question on this point (from myself) elicited the answer (as happened repeatedly) that this would “presumably be covered by the Code of Practice”. And this, of course, is no answer at all since no one knows yet what will be in the Code of Practice and the legislation is, in the end, the law that will be applied, whereas the Code of Practice will be just that — a Code covering the application of what the law says.
And the law, as it stands, says only that a male bishop will be provided, which can only mean one of two things — more bishops of the traditionalist integrity, or less integrity.
John Richardson
6 June 2011
Please give a full name and location when posting. Comments without this information may be deleted.


  1. John, you and your friends now seem to be trying to move the goalposts. You were saying that you would not accept the ministry of a female bishop. I understand that as matter of principle, although I don't agree. But now you are saying that you don't want to accept the ministry of a (male) bishop who disagrees with you on this particular theological issue.

    This seems inconsistent given that you later write "One can provide support even for someone with whom one disagrees". It is also fundamentally un-Anglican given that the Church of England, if not all of the Anglican Communion, is built on the principle that local priests and congregations accept the oversight of their diocesan bishop even when that bishop is of a very different "churchmanship" and potentially disagrees on many theological issues, within the very broad lines of what is acceptable among Anglicans.

    If you and your friends are to remain within the Church of England, you need to take the same kind of approach as the Diocese of Salisbury, that a male bishop of whatever theology can give you the support that you need. If you cannot accept that, the only way forward for you is to set up a parallel church structure with your own independent bishops. I am not calling on you to do that, but only to accept the male bishops that do exist.

  2. Yawn. Bishops. Who cares? Who has any respect for them? Why bother with them?

    Evangelical Anglicans will continue to lose the battle on all fronts as long as they persist in supporting this absurd, ineffective and wasteful idea of (almost) all powerful bishops. A hangover from pre-reformation days.

    Ignore them, campaign against them, fund your own staff, declare UDI for your churches - anything, just stop wasting your time with these people. Wake up! There are too many people in England heading for a lost eternity. Bishops are just an irrelevant distraction.

    David Waters, Cheltenham

  3. Peter, I think if there is any goal post moving, it would have to include the documented failure of the Church of England's structures to act consistently with the Act of Synod in the appointment of people to senior office, including the example I quote above from the Diocese of Salisbury.

    That notwithstanding, however, this is an issue of integrity.

    You object to me that "you don't want to accept the ministry of a (male) bishop who disagrees with you on this particular theological issue". But the whole point is that their ministry would be provided and justified precisely on the basis of this theological issue regarding which we would be in mutual disagreement.

    That seems to me somewhat contrary.

    However, if we accept that this ought, nevertheless, to work, then the same (on the principle of equity) ought to be true for the provisions under section 2.5 of ministry for women clergy in a diocese where the bishop will not ordain women. That is to say, whilst he would necessarily provide someone else to ordain them, it would not be necessary for him to provide anyone, other than himself, to give them pastoral care.

    Now you may agree that this is right, but I am not convinced that is what the legislation envisages.

    And that is why I think this is bad law. Too many things in it have not been thought through, and too much is hanging on a Code of Practice yet to be written, which it is envisaged will somehow make the thing work.

  4. John, I won't dispute that this is a bad law in some ways. Not everything in it has been well thought out. The problem is that it is trying to reconcile the strongly held but sometimes inconsistent positions of several different parties, and that is just about impossible. But I think if we have got into the position where priests and parishes decide which bishops they will accept on the basis of their theology, then the Church of England is no longer tenable, and we would do better to go down the line David Waters suggests.

    By the way I am still in Warrington, and attending a church with no bishops.

  5. Whether the proposed law is 'bad' is a matter of perspective. If you evaluate the law from the perspective of reconciling the two factions, then it may be a 'bad law.' If you evaluate the law according to its intent, then it is quite a 'good law' indeed. It was never intended to effect reconciliation. It is intended to provide a hospice for the theology of male headship until such time as it expires. That's why for example there is a five-year requirement. The Law envisions its own eventual termination, and the five-year requirement is the operating mechanism. It is the one-way ratchet that guarantees the direction of motion can never be reversed.

    Two options are being offered to the vanquished. You can submit, or you can leave. But there is also a third option - secede in place. David Waters is right. Raise your own funds. Establish your own support networks. Above all else Starve the Beast! Send no money up the organizational chain. That is the one effective weapon you have at your disposal. And make no mistake. This is not a friendly theological debate over coffee. Those who have propagated this law do not wish you well. They wish to see your theology in that hospice - strapped to a bed, deprived of food and water, and condemned to certain death. Albeit with palliative care of course. A painless death is the least they can provide.

    carl jacobs

  6. Bishop Dominic Stockford (Evangelical Connexion)6 June 2011 at 13:34

    I always find that when someone makes it clear that they really, really do not want me then I leave - even if the reason for their wanting rid of me is wrong-headed before God.

  7. I'm baffled by the apparent complexity of the whole debate on gender, especially in the light of your (John Richardson's) original coment (Some Notes on Anglican Ordination, Gender and Ministry).
    There you wrote:
    "Plural and mixed’ is certainly the pattern of ministry we find in the New Testament churches — to give one example, Romans 16 names several women ministers."
    This being the case, and I presume you accept your own dictum here - where is the substantial objection grounded?
    If the passages concerned are the 1 Timothy 2 and the 1 Cor.14:34-36 passages as traditionally understood, then perhaps it is time to re-visit these with fresh exegesis.
    That is why I recommended the ground-breaking work by Dr Jon Zens on these two passages. ('What's With Paul & Women'?)
    I suggest that new light has been shed on these texts, and that the New Testament "pluralist" pattern spoken of above should be practiced.
    Any substantial objection please?

  8. I think you exaggerate the problem.If you try to estimate the figures, each diocese has boarders with about 4 others and you could have 2 dioceses in each direction between those providing alternative oversight. Another way to look at this would be to assume that work is distributed fairly between bishops. It would then be unfair to add to this by more than say 10% or 20% if they were able to transfer other responsibilities within the diocese.Do you have any idea what percentage of parishes in Chelmsford or elsewhere will require alternative oversight?

  9. David, you might like to look at this map of the dioceses in England and work out how many bishops you'd need on the basis of your argument. Sodor and Man would, of course, need one since it is bordered by no-one else. But then I'm not sure how the Measure will apply there as they seem to have their own laws!

    It does also depend, as I indicated, on what is meant be 'episcopal ministry'. If that is taking confirmations, then you could manage with just a few. If it is 'that ministry which is properly exercised by a bishop in relation to the parish under his oversight', then I suggest you might need a few more, especially if this includes (as seems to be indicated for the women in 2.5), general pastoral care and support.

  10. I get very confused by what the C of E is trying to do or not to do re the proposed Measure(s) or non-measure(s) ... see, I am confused! But I would like to make one tiny point: I work in a 'mixed economy' diocese whose diocesan is a woman (+Victoria Matthew, Diocese of Christchurch, NZ). While it is not for me to try to tell the story of her episcopacy - perhaps a future historian will do that - the simple fact is that we are working out ways to be a diocese in which some (known) clergy and parishes do not think a bishop should be a woman and yet we have no alternate male bishop to wheel in as conscience might demand it. It is not always plain sailing, and huge grace is being demonstrated on all sides. In sum: when the C of E has women bishops, it could work out better than you think!

  11. Bishop Dominic Stockford,

    What if it's your house, which another group of people has moved into, taken over and then makes clear they want you to leave? It's still your house!

    Neil Jeffers, London

  12. Thanks for the book recommendation, Graham.

  13. Good luck evicting the squatters Neil. There comes a time when realism forces one to admit that the game is up.

    When that is, could be the question of the hour!

    Dan Baynes
    Barton Seagrave

    PS Rach, did you see my comment re. yours on the CC blog?

  14. Rach said...

    "Thanks for the book recommendation, Graham."

    You are most welcome. For your interest Anglican Mainstream published a short review of it by myself, and the Church Times has asked to review it.
    I mentioned it as "ground-breaking' as indeed I think it is. So, I would be most appreciative of any feedback from yourself if and when you read this.
    Dependent on your theological view, I nevertheless suspect that you may well say -
    Why have I not come across this interpretation of these Scriptures before? !
    Thanks! Graham