How wrong can you be? Or is it just me?
The recent amendments by the House of Bishops to the legislation to introduce women bishops have been greeted with relief by same and outrage by others.
According to Forward in Faith (on the side of relief),
The first amendment secures the provision of bishops ... who are not simply male, but who share the theological convictions of those to whom they will minister.
Similarly Bishop Stephen Cottrell, speaking to his Diocesan Synod on the 9th June, and generously seeking to persuade doubters to vote in favour of the legislation, affirmed,
Where the measure had allowed for parishes to request the provision of a ‘male bishop’ the amendment says a male bishop whose views are “consistent with the theological convictions (of the parish) as to the consecration or ordination of women”.
Meanwhile, understandably on the side of outrage, WATCH (Women and the Church) complained that,
... the amended legislation gives them [Conservative Evangelicals and, by implication, Traditionalist Catholics] the right to have ministry from someone with their own theological conviction on this issue.
I am even wrong in my own recent submission to Evangelicals Now:
As amended, however, male bishops or priests selected to carry out this ministry must have views ‘consistent with the theological convictions as to the consecration or ordination of women’ of those [petitioning] parishes.
Personally, I’d have beeen very happy if we had all been correct about this. And for the last couple of weeks (on the assumption that we were) I’ve been struggling to decide which way I thought the vote should go.
But as far as I can see now, we’ve all been quite simply wrong.
Look carefully at what the amendment actually says, because the wording is quite convoluted:
5 Code of Practice
(1) The House of Bishops shall draw up, and promulgate, guidance in a Code of Practice as to — [...]
(c) the selection of male bishops or male priests the exercise of ministry by whom is consistent with the theological convictions as to the consecration or ordination of women on grounds of which parochial church councils have issued Letters of Request under section 3.
Notice, it does not say what any of the above say it is saying:
FiF: “... bishops ... who share the theological convictions of those to whom they will minister ...”
Bishop Cottrell: “... a male bishop whose views are ‘consistent with the theological convictions (of the parish) as to the consecration or ordination of women’”.
WATCH: “... ministry from someone with their own theological conviction on this issue.”
Me: “... views ‘consistent with the theological convictions as to the consecration or ordination of women’ of those [petitioning] parishes ...”
It simply says,
“... the selection of male bishops or male priests the exercise of ministry by whom is consistent with the theological convictions as to the consecration or ordination of women on grounds of which parochial church councils have issued Letters of Request ...”
And in law, what is says is how it will be applied.
Now you might be asking whether this matters. Surely it comes to the same thing? Not at all, as WATCH nearly saw earlier in its statement, which tellingly observes,
The amendment brings into law a completely new idea that it is what a male bishop or priest does (the “exercise of ministry”) which will determine whether he is acceptable to a parish. (p 3)
One can critique this in the details, but that would be superfluous. The point is that it correctly picks up what the amended legislation now says: “it is what a ... bishop or priest does” that will be the determining factor.
So focussed is everyone on the issues of ‘beliefs’, however (such as amongst those who have decried this as ‘picking your own bishop’), that the statement goes on to ignore this fact.
The error can readily be seen if you consider the following scenario. Bishop Brown is looking for a priest-in-charge for Holy Trinity Marshingham. The former incumbent was a conservative evangelical and the PCC, under his leadership, passed Resolutions A and B. Since he left, the bishop, who is also the patron, has duly received a ‘Letter of Request’:
[...] We write to inform you that at a duly convened, meeting of the parochial church council of the parish of Marshingham held on August 5th 2013 a resolution was passed requesting that, on grounds of theological conviction, only a male priest shall be appointed as the next incumbent or priest in charge in accordance with the Code of Practice issued under section 5 of the Bishops and Priests (Consecration and Ordination of Women) Measure 20.
Bishop Brown, however, is very much in favour of the ordination of women, and somewhat disgruntled at the stand-offish approach to diocesan affairs taken by Holy Trinity. He wants them ‘brought back into the Church of England’ and while they’re about it, encouraged to embrace the ministry of women in all its fullness.
Fortunately he is the patron. He also knows of, in his view, a very good evangelical curate looking for a title post. There is only one problem, which comes up in a telephone conversation:
Bishop Brown: Tony, I’d like you to have a look at Holy Trinity Marshingham. Is that a post you might consider?
Tony Keen: I’d thought about it, given the location and the facilities, but aren’t they a bit conservative for me?
BB: You’re an evangelical, aren’t you?
TK: Of course, but I’m all in favour of women priests — and bishops, come to that. So they could refuse to have me, couldn’t they?
BB: That depends. Tell me this — in all honesty, would you be prepared, despite your personal views, to conduct your actual ministry in a way that is consistent with the theological convictions expressed by the PCC in their Letter of Request?
TK: I wouldn’t agree with them, but yes, I’d respect them if they didn’t want women preachers and so on.
BB: Well that’s all that the legislation requires. Why don’t you have a think about it?
Several weeks later the PCC gets sight of the list of candidates, including Mr Keen. One of their members, however, knows that he voted in favour of the women bishops legislation at the Diocesan Synod. The Bishop is duly contacted to raise this concern. In his letter of reply the Bishop makes the following observation:
I have noted your concerns about the views of one of the candidates regarding the ordination and consecration of women. I do not need to make the obvious point that he is male, as required by the legislation. However, the Measure requires only that he be someone “the exercise of ministry by whom is consistent with the theological convictions as to the consecration or ordination of women on grounds of which parochial church councils have issued Letters of Request”. This candidate has given me his personal assurance, and I have no doubt the would give the same assurance in interviews, that he will conduct his ministry strictly in accordance with the provisions of the Measure.
On what leg does the PCC now stand when it comes to any further objection? I suggest none.
But if I’m wrong, please do put me right.Please give a full name and location when posting. Comments without this information may be deleted. Recommend: