Wednesday, 30 May 2012

WATCH responds to the House of Bishops' amendment

Those who are concerned about the Synod debate in July on the introduction of women bishops need to read the briefing paper from WATCH (Women And The CHurch).

What is shows clearly is WATCH's disappointment that the amendments will perpetuate the presence of those in the Church of England who cannot, because of theological conviction, accept the full ministry of women bishops (ie, beyond their legal powers as 'ordinary', which will be indisputable).

It objects to what it calls, "The creation of permanent space for dissenting voices" and "The doctrine of reception ... embodied in the revised Section 5" (whether they mean the doctrine per se or just the new version is not immediately clear).

It also argues on principle against bishops being required by law to 'do the right thing' by petitioners:
7. It [the amendment] changes the exercise of a pastoral power by the diocesan bishop into the exercise of a legal duty: the opportunity (and pastoral expectation) for the Diocesan bishop to offer an appropriate bishop to a parish becomes a requirement that s/he do so. In allowing our relationships to be governed by the exercise of law rather than grace it is profoundly untheological and cuts directly across our proclamation of the Gospel. There is a vast difference for anyone exercising authority between doing of it of their own free will – with grace, generosity, listening, cooperation, and acceptance of each party as human beings – and doing it because the law says so – which can be faceless, imply the imposition of the powerful on the powerless, and less commitment from both sides.
It would seem to me, however, that at its most extreme this would mean there ought to be no legislation - a position possible where truth and the gospel prevail absolutely, but meanwhile surely Utopian.

What WATCH seems to be saying is that if people would only trust the bishop, he or she would give them, out of a heart of generous listening, cooperation and mutual acceptance what WATCH don't really want them to have - male bishops and clergy of the same theology.

There is also surely a problem with arguing that if the law says we should do it, we only do it out of compulsion. The law says, "Thou shalt not steal." Do I only refrain from stealing because that is what the law says? It is in the nature of laws that what they tell us to do ought to be what we should be doing anyway. The law is only necessary because people sometimes tend not to do it - which in this case makes me suspicious of those who object to this particular law.

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  1. The CofE is dissolving into TEC. It lags about ten years perhaps, but its leadership is already shot through with liberal corruption.

    The CofE will get women bishops, there will be no adequate statutory protection provided for those who object. They will instead be presented with one of two choices:

    1. Submit.

    2. Leave.

    Large numbers will leave. Women bishops will become the inevitable push for a larger non CofE Anglican presence in the UK. The inrush of women bishops will tilt the leadership even more in the liberal direction. Women who want to be bishops do not draw from a terribly orthodox perspective. That's why they want to be bishops. The Church that is already liberal will be come more liberal. The CofE will accelerate on its non scriptural path and drive out even more of its members.

    We will need either a new Anglican church in the UK or we need to be willing to submit on issues of conscience. If TEC is anything to go by we need to REALLY be willing to submit to anything. Gay Bishops, Gay marriage, abortion a blessing, radical revision of scripture, a female God, you name it, we will be forced to accept it if we stay.

  2. Phil, just a quick reply. There are loads of very gifted female evangelical vicars and curates. In time, some are likely to become bishops. Is that going to "tilt the leadership even more in the liberal direction"? Somehow I don't think so.

    The key point, which I have to keep emphasising because the conservative evangelical camp tends to ignore it, is that there are plenty of card-carrying evangelicals who believe that the Bible teaches that all levels of ministry are to be open equally to men and women. And we're producing plenty of ordinands, both men and women. You may like to pretend we don't exist, you may not want to be part of the CofE with us, you may even think we're liberals (we're not), but be assured that there's a lot of us, and we are just as concerned about evangelism as you are. And my question to you is this: how does refusing to accept the decision of Synod over women in leadership (and requiring special treatment) advance the cause of the gospel in England by one iota?

    Ian, London

  3. Ian - you might as well ask how chucking CEs out of the CoE helps the gospel one iota. Particularly as their churches tend to be bigger-than-average contributors of parish share.

    At the moment CEs are the 'first line of defence' for egalitarian evangelicals. Be sure that if that line is stripped away, many of the latter will be next in the sights of guess who.

    Have a sense of strategic realism.


  4. Ian, two points if I may.

    First, though as you write, "there are plenty of card-carrying evangelicals who believe that the Bible teaches that all levels of ministry are to be open equally to men and women", I have yet to see a good biblical argument presented by them. There ought to be one out there somewhere, but so far I've missed it.

    Secondly, look at the women who are being tipped as potential bishops. Their names will already be known because the Church of England runs a preferment list and if you're on it, you know because you are told. I will confidently predict on this basis that the first women bishops to be appointed will be almost entirely liberals.

  5. Ian,

    Surely it is an overstatement to say that "the Bible teaches that all levels of ministry are to be open equally to men and women?" What some evangelicals argue is that the restrictions the Bible placed on some women's ministry were culture-specific, and therefore not applicable today, and, consequently, that all levels of ministry are to be open equally to men and women

    Surely we can all agree that there are no truly explicit commands in the Bible that absolutely require that all levels of ministry are to be open equally to men and women.

    Ro Mody, Bournemouth

  6. Sorry to gang up on Ian. But there again, it is good to go over some of these things. The phrase that slightly bugged me is, "Card carrying evangelical". Now, I know what you mean. I know there are people in your camp that are concerned for evangelism and share many CE concerns.

    But in one sense evangelical/liberal can be seen as a spectrum. But people describe themselves by a label to do with a tribe rather than what accurately describes their beliefs and practices. I'll give you a personal example, when I got married some years ago I had a 30" waste, 44" chest and 6'... I was anatomically thin! I can no longer make that claim! Something in me has changed. I'm not as fat as some and thinner than others, I left "thin" some years ago.

    Now, while it's true Evangelicalism has always had some breadth, a survey of evangelical writing from the Reformation up to, I don't know, say the war shows certain consistencies. There are also all the various protestant statements of faith. The 39 articles obviously will be a bit of a fav for people on this blog, although they may be a bit too vague. people certainly have taken them in their vaguest sense, even though the preface makes it clear they are to be taken in their most obvious sense and we have Cranmer's Homlies to be sure what we really meant.

    The point being, many Open Evangelical flavoured Anglican may have lots of Evangelical sympathies, but aren't as evangelical as evangelicals used to be. There are some yard sticks to measure by. For instance, how many (regardless of gender), would be accepted for Ministry in distinctly evangelical non-Anglican churches? E.g. NFI or FIEC

    Darren Moore

  7. Yikes! I didn't expect the Spanish Inquisition!! (Maybe I should have!)

    I will respond to the points raised, hopefully tonight. But two comments in the meantime:

    1. I learned yesterday that 15 out of the 38 provinces of the Anglican Communion (including several in the Global South) already permit women bishops. None of them have made legal provision for those who object. Why are we making such a fuss about it?

    2. This is for Ro Mody - I was wondering exactly what restrictions you are referring to. Do you mean the well-know texts in 1 Cor 14 and 1 Tim 2?

    Ian, London

  8. Ian

    Take a look at the provinces that actually have appointed women Bishops. Has there been fruit? has it provided a unifying force for the Church?

    Since we are considering the South. Take Australia, which has the most successful diocese and strongest churches?

    Answer Sydney by any measure.

    I wonder why?


  9. Spanish Inquisition... as an experiment, adopt our views and air them in a Diocesan event. You will not be accused of being mistaken (as you have been here), but being a morally bad person.

    Also, 15/38 does not = 15/38ths of the congregations. Phil mentions Sydney, 1 Diocese with over 50% of communicants in Australia. Some global south aren't amazingly known for being conservative (New Zealand & Brazil for e.g.)

    Also, importantly, I don't think the Anglican Communion = THE Church does it? If we believe in & claim to be part of, "one holy catholic and apostolic church" & at communion say that we join in with "angels and archangels and all the company of heaven", then we are talking about the church victorious too. THE Church spans through time too. So it isn't about my personal interpretation but the churches through time.

    Phil has some point about fruit (although we can get on to slippery ground here). Denominations that go down this path tend to end up liberal and financially ruined, e.g. Methodists & URC. As CS Lewis said, you end up with a different religion.

    The subject may have changed but it moves to the debate between Luther and Erasmus, is Scripture clear or not? If not, then we end up in chaotic liberalism, or become Roman Catholic and let the Pope decide for us. But, I'm with Luther, the hermenutical problems are with us, not the text.

    And again... we can see by any reasonable measure those who use the label evangelical, simply aren't as evangelical as they used to be

    Darren Moore