Thursday, 15 September 2011

GRAS, trust and the question of assurances

According to a front-page article in the Church of England Newspaper today, no promises made to opponents of women’s ordination in 1993 have been broken since then.
The claim comes in a paper (downloadable as a pdf) by Revd Rosalind Rutherford, which is published on the website of GRAS, the Group for Rescinding the Act of Synod.
Unfortunately, it illustrates precisely why there is so much mistrust around this issue at present. It also illustrates an astonishing lack of self-awareness.
Rosalind Rutherford’s paper seems to take the line that if the word ‘promise’ wasn’t actually used, and if the undertakings were not made in or through the General Synod of the Church of England, they don’t count. Thus, for example, she quotes Archbishop Carey’s statement to the Ecclesiastical Committee regarding the Act of Synod that, ‘it is our intention for this to be permanent and we are not thinking of rescinding it.’ This might appear to most people to be in the nature of an assurance, if not a promise. ‘However,’ she comments dismissively, ‘this remark was not made to Synod’ (5).
This whole approach rather overlooks the fact that legislation affecting the established Church is debated and approved by Parliament, and at the time it was quite clear that Parliament sought watertight provision for traditionalists.
Thus in a debate which took place on the eve of the meeting which actually passed the 1993 Episcopal Ministry Act of Synod, Lady Saulton of Abernathy stated in the House of Lords, “I myself asked the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury whether it was envisaged that the Act of Synod would operate in perpetuity or whether it would be in the nature of a temporary measure which would cease to operate at some future date. He replied that it was the intention that it should be permanent and that they were not thinking of rescinding it or anything like that. Then he added the caveat, ‘with the goodwill of the House of Bishops’. He went on to say that of course anything could happen in the future.”
As we now know, the Archbishop's ‘anything’ is precisely what happened. Moreover, it is clear from Rosalind Rutherford’s paper that this ‘anything’ will reduce, rather than increase, the present provision. At the end, she quotes an unnamed member of General Synod as stating ‘recently’ that in 1993 ‘we were too accommodating’. Clearly that is a mistake which is not about to be repeated.
What takes the proverbial biscuit, however, is the assertion in the paper that, ‘if the current proposals are agreed, the very provisions which the House of Bishops was trying to put into place in [the 1993 Act of Synod] will become part of legislation’ (3). Or again,
‘what was promised [by Archbishop Carey] for “as long as is needed” was episcopal oversight clearly exercised in full cooperation with the Diocesan who would retain jurisdiction, not a totally separate oversight defined by being uncorrupted by having ordained women. It could be argued that the current legislation is making good that commitment ...’ (Emphasis added)
The argument throughout Rutherford’s paper is that the problem since 1993 has been not that the Act of Synod was necessarily bad, but that the PEV’s operated in a way that exceeded what was intended. However, I may be missing something here, but is not this being said by someone on behalf of the Group for Rescinding the Act of Synod? And does not the word ‘rescind’ mean to revoke, cancel or repeal, as it says in my dictionary? And is there not some contradiction between ‘making good’ a ‘commitment’ and working for a number of years to ‘revoke, cancel or repeal’ the very administrative provision that expresses that commitment?
Forgive me, but given the express intention of GRAS not to make the same mistake of being ‘too accommodating’ this time round, it is hard not to question the self-awareness, indeed the integrity, behind such a statement.
John Richardson
15 September 2011
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  1. As a person who is ordained in a different denomination, it is always with sadness that the 'established church' (strange phrase)is constantly washing it's dirty linen in a very public, and embarrassing way for all to see - especially those who are skeptical of religion and especially of organised religion.

    The CofE really needs to understand that it has created so many issues for itself. People reject such issues when enshrined in legislation. Maybe all of you should actually read the Bible and try and put it into practice - Matthew 18 would be a good start (7 x 77 reconciliation, and also something throughout about the issues of legalism and taking each other to court.

    You are providing a bigger unwelcome door to Christianity and the CofE seems to care about... maybe it doesn't care, maybe it is too caught up in maintaining institutional control..... very sad for all who are Christian and painted with the same embarrassing brush as yourselves.

  2. Avey (we try not to encourage anonymous posting here btw), the CofE is established by law, whether we like it or not. It is a problem, however, when people make public statements in the media which are misleading and are designed to influence the legislative outcome. It is difficult to do anything other than respond publicly and rapidly.

  3. As a member of the CofE I am saddened by women who think only of themselves and not what god wants for the Church.

    We need to ask ourselves has God blessed the Church since the Ordination of Women? Has it grown? Is it more united?

    Look what has happened recently HELLO!! we now have the North American Anglican Churches effectively abandoning scripture and promoting Evil as a virtue.

    We in the UK are not far behind and the Devil is laughing out loud!