Monday, 9 July 2012

Petition to Keep Clause 5 (1) c

Petitioning is a bit of a bore really, and perhaps more so when it concerns theological propositions. If the gospel were to be decided by petition it would undoubtedly be wrong.

Nevertheless, when an organization like WATCH puts up a petition to remove the House of Bishop's very modest amendment to the women bishops legislation, and when that House seems potentially vulnerable to pressure, it probably doesn't hurt to provide a bit of 'ballast' the other way.

Hence, entirely on my own initiative, I have put a petition online to 'Keep Clause 5 (1) c'. The reasoning (which is hard to read on the website) is below. I've used that website because it is the one chosen by WATCH themselves.

If you want to sign it, go ahead (use the widget on the left or below). If you want to forward it, feel free. If you don't like it, I'm sorry about that.

To view signatories and comments go here.


Petition to the House of Bishops of the Church of England:

Keep Clause 5 (1) c in the Consecration and Ordination of Women Measure.

The Bishops and Priests (Consecration and Ordination of Women) Measure is intended to introduce women bishops into the Church of England, whilst at the same time providing for Traditionalists for whom this would be unacceptable. This is a proper aim of the legislation, since according to Resolution III.2.c of the 1998 Lambeth Conference, "those who dissent from, as well as those who assent to, the ordination of women to the priesthood and episcopate are both loyal Anglicans."

Clause 5 (1) c is a limited and logical provision which rightly belongs in the Measure itself. It states only that, in the Code of Practice to be drawn up by the House of Bishops, guidance should be given as to "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 [of the Measure]".

Legal advice to the House of Bishops says that the amendment does not introduce the concept of 'theological conviction' into the Measure, pointing out that, "It was already present in clause 3". It also observes that, "the guidance must be directed to the end that *the exercise of ministry* by the bishop or priest, rather than their theological convictions, should be consistent with the theological convictions as to the consecration or ordination of women underlying the Letter of Request." (GS 1708-09 ZZ, 'Article 7 Reference to the House of Bishops')

The amendment therefore does not do some of the things its opponents have accused it of doing. What it does do is clear up an apparent anomaly, that in the Measure itself there is no recognition that bishops or priests provided in response to a Letter of Request need necessarily be distinguished by anything other than their maleness.

The additional provision is therefore 'minimalist', clarifying in part what ought to be a logical necessity -- that if a parish requests particular oversight or other ministry on the grounds of theological conviction, the convictions themselves ought to be respected and maintained in the ministry provided.

If it is argued that the amendment is unnecessary because the Code of Practice will provide what is needed in a form which is 'as good as law', then there is no reason why the provision should not now be in the Measure itself. On the other hand, if there are those who argue it should be removed from the Measure, we cannot believe they will want its requirements then to be put into effect through the Code of Practice when that is drawn up and applied.

The removal of Clause 5 (1) c at this stage would be to abandon even this limited recognition of the needs of some 'loyal Anglicans'. It would also now suggest that the theological convictions of parishes submitting a Letter of Request are actually of limited significance in determining the subsequent provision of ministry.

The amendment should therefore be kept, both in the interests of Traditionalists and of clarity about what the Measure intends.

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  1. Not sure I get this, really. I do understand, I think, that some Anglo-Catholics perceive a need, on theological grounds, to have bishops who have not got themselves mixed up with the ordination of women - either by ordaining them, or being ordained by them, and probably in other ways too. But I don't understand the position of conservative evangelicals. Isn't their/your position that maleness is the only issue, or at least the only one relevant in this debate? Or is there some other theological conviction, expressed in the putative bishop's practice, that conservatives want to be able to bring in under letters of request?

    That is one thing I don't get. The other is why conservatives and catholics have not come out clearly and said whether they would, or would not, have voted for the measure as amended. That would have brought some clarity, at least, to the debate up to today, and indeed going forwards. There seems to me to have been some marginally disingenuous fudging of that issue going on! But perhaps I am being uncharitable.

  2. Simon, personally it is a matter of ecclesiology. Now I know evangelicals don't usually do that, but I try to! The role of priests (presbyters) and bishops in the Church of England includes both teaching and 'driving away erroneous and strange doctrine'. In this particular instance, therefore, part of ministry must be 'ministry through teaching' on this issue. I believe it is possible to be charitable to those who take a different view, as we can be charitable to Baptists, but I still have to say "I think you're wrong," and teach accordingly.

    That being the case, it is not enough to have simply a male bishop or priests if the position of petitioning parishes is truly going to be upheld. There actually have to be priests and bishops who will minister accordingly. Hence the need for provision actually stronger than in Clause 5 (1) c - but that is what is on the table.

    Hope this helps, though I'm not asking you to agree.

  3. Thank you, and yes, that does help me to understand the position. But there is a difficulty here I think. Assuming the Measure came into force in its current terms, and assuming that your reasoning was agreed to underlie it, then the issue, I suppose, would be as to how far the petitioning parish's request could extend, in terms of what theological ground it covered. Would it only, for example, be permitted to influence the choice of bishop on the grounds of what the bishop taught about leadership in the church? Or would male headship in the family be another valid point to consider? What about the egalitarian/complementarian debate more generally? Or other issues that, generally speaking, divide along similar fault lines as these? I have to say that I think all this is pretty well insuperable; so whereas two or three years ago I would have been firmly in the "proper provision" camp whilst wanting to see women bishops, I am now much more resigned to a split. Indeed, I think that if the Measure (however it now turns out) is defeated, then in due course a yes/no choice will have to be made, perhaps in the longer term to the benefit of gospel proclamation from all those now spending effort on this.

    Incidentally, I have now seen the FiF and Reform responses to the adjourment, and it is pretty clear that they are not being open about their intentions. This is very wrong. If the Measure as it stands with the amendment is acceptable, they should say so and vice versa, but they prefer, quite wrongly I think, to keep people in the dark.

  4. Simon, the 'terms and conditions' are very clearly laid out in the document I refer to, GS 1708-09 ZZ:

    13. In addition, the new provision does not refer to any theological conviction. The convictions must be ‘as to the consecration or ordination of women’. It was already
    implicit in clause 3 that, by allowing a parish to ask for a male bishop or priest, a PCC was allowed (and only allowed) to issue a Letter of Request on grounds of theological conviction related to the ordained ministry of women.

    14. Since the convictions in question must relate to ‘the consecration or ordination of women’, it follows that convictions about other theological matters - such as Biblical interpretation, theories of the Atonement or ethical issues concerning human sexuality - important though they may be for a parish, can neither provide the lawful basis for a Letter of Request nor have any relevance in law to the selection of a bishop or priest for that parish under the Measure.

    It is the basis of the petition which matters, and thought this may vary from parish to parish (Anglo-Catholic or Evangelical), only that would be the legal basis for the request.

    On the question of disingenuity, I know within the Reform camp there is a genuine hope of real provision - it just isn't seen in what is on the table at present.

    However, I think some of the remarks from the WATCH end show that they haven't been entirely open either. We have been told there will be 'graciousness' in what is provided. But then we read that Clause 1 (5) c is about 'discrimination' which has no place in the gospel community. The impression is that the provision therefore would be without grace, and only for a time.

    In one way it would be better to start again, but then we'd have at least four or five years on this topic when, as I have repeatedly urged, we ought to be about the conversion of England. But then if you want to talk about splits, I don't see those the WATCH supporters doing evangelism in the same terms as those in Reform - terms the Church of England once agreed and set out here.

  5. Reform are being open. They issued a press statement on June 28 which does clearly say that the measure with the ammendments is still not enough:
    Thursday 28th June 2012


    Reform Chairman Rev'd Rod Thomas said today that "Reform deeply regrets that we have reached such an impasse on women bishops" with the current House of Bishops' amendments not satisfying the conservative evangelical network's concerns over their future in the Church of England.

    Speaking at a prayer meeting attended by almost 200 Reform members in central London, Mr Thomas said: "We thank the House of Bishops for their work. They have tried to find a way through. But their amendments have not succeeded in persuading our members that there is a secure future for those who cannot in conscience accept the oversight of women as bishops. In light of that we will be encouraging our members on General Synod to vote against the legislation as it stands."

    Mr Thomas added: "The furore created by some in response to these small amendments reveals most clearly the reason why those who hold to our biblical position need legislative clarity, not just a code of practice if we are to continue to encourage young people to come forward for ordination.

    "There is clearly a desire on the part of some to see any provision for us as strictly temporary, despite the fact that we're simply seeking to follow the Bible's teaching about how God wants his Church to be organised. They hope we'll just leave. However, we believe the majority of Anglicans want to honour the promises made to us over the last two decades to preserve a place for us in the Church of England. As it stands, the draft Measure doesn't do this - and we'll be asking General Synod to withhold approval of the draft Measure so that some proper compromises can be agreed.

    "We face a very difficult situation, so we are urging our members to pray for the House of Bishops, the General Synod and for the Church's witness in this country to the saving grace of Jesus Christ."


    Stephen Walton

  6. You are absolutely right - sincere apologies to them, I had missed it. Not sure how, but there we are. Fallible as ever. Still hard to really understand what more Reform wants, though, at least if trying to envisage a practical solution. It would have been harder, I suspect, for those advocating an adjournment (and therefore possible back pedalling on the amendments to a less accommodating position) if Reform and/or FiF had been prepared to vote in favour.

  7. Simon, I'm rather inclined to agree with your last point, but I am glad I didn't have to make that decision.

  8. Andrew Godsall10 July 2012 at 17:24

    I have to say that if even just one of those from Trad Cath or Con Evo constituencies had told us in the chamber yesterday that they could have voted for the legislation in the amended form then I would have thought twice about voting for the adjournment. But not one of them said so. And privately many of them had said they would be voting against the whole thing if there was no adjournment. The House of Bishops are very clear indeed that they want the legislation to be passed and that their motive in making the amendments was to help that happen. In what was an excellent debate it became clearer and clearer that they had not yet got things right and they themselves wanted an opportunity to have another go. Some from the Trad Cath constituency have even said this privately now. It was the right outcome and the sizeable majority confirms that.

  9. I find this protest against the role of Women in the Church of England such a sorry state of affairs. On can try to understand the Catholic objection - on the ground of the Tradition. However, your Evangelical objection - on the supposed grounds of Scriptural authority - to be somewhat mean and degrading of women in the Church.

    Oh yes, they can be the Sovereign Heads of Government - even Supreme Governor of the Church of England, but they must not be ordained priests or bishops in the Church, how pathetic is that? Is this misogyny or what?