Monday, 29 October 2012

What is left of 'proper provision' in the Women Bishops Measure?

My pre-breakfast reading this morning was GS 1708-09ZZZ, the background paper for General Synod describing the process by which the House of Bishops decided on the revised Clause 5(1)c which the Synod will vote on in November.
It is hardly a rivetting read. Indeed the three ‘z’s seem particularly appropriate. But it is important because it illustrates how difficult the legislation is to interpret. 
My eye was particularly caught by the section attached as an annex, which sets out the legal advice given to the bishops. Of particular importance is paragraph 4. As many readers will know, the ‘phrase which pays’ in Clause 5(1)c is now that the Code of Practice (yet to be written) will give guidance as to “the selection of male bishops and male priests in a manner which respects the grounds on which parochial church councils issue Letters of Request under section 3” (emphasis added).
The crucial question is the meaning of the word ‘respect’, and the analysis in the annex by Stephen Slack, the Chief Legal adviser, attempts to explain what this means. He writes,
The effect of the use of the word ‘respect’ ... can be helpfully contrasted with the effect of other expressions which have been canvassed in discussion of possible amendments:
                      Guidance under which those making the selection were to ‘respect’ the relevant grounds of theological conviction would have a less prescriptive effect than guidance under which they were to select a male bishop or priest in a manner ‘consistent with’ such grounds: in the latter case, they would need to select a bishop the selection of whom would be compatible with those grounds.
This means, however, (if I’ve understood it correctly) that a selection which ‘respects’ the theological conviction of a petitioning parish need not be done in a manner compatible with those grounds.
So far, so slightly confusing. But at least Mr Slack points out that another worry I have had is well-grounded. In his second bullet point he observes that,
                      Guidance under which those making the selection were to ‘respect’ the relevant grounds of theological conviction would have a more prescriptive effect than guidance under which those making the selection were to ‘take account of’ or ‘have regard to’ such grounds: in either of the latter cases, whilst those making the selection would have to take the grounds of conviction into account, they could nonetheless lawfully select a male bishop or priest the selection of whom would be incompatible with those grounds provided they had ‘cogent reasons’ for making that selection. (Underline added)
In short, where the legislation requires someone to ‘take account of’ or ‘have regard to’ certain factors concerning selection, those wielding authority can ultimately make decisions contrary to those factors.
And this is a worry, because the legislation actually contains those same phrases at several other points:
2(9) When making, amending or reviewing a scheme made under this section the bishop shall, without prejudice to section 6, take account of the Code of Practice issued under section 5 and consult the diocesan synod of the diocese.
3(9) Any person exercising functions in relation to the appointment of an incumbent of or priest in charge for a benefice shall take account of any Letter of Request under subsection (3).
6 Duty to have regard to Code of Practice
Any person who exercises any functions, whether episcopal or other functions, shall be under a duty to have regard to any Code of Practice issued under this Measure.
So if I’ve got this right, sections 2(9), 3(9) and 6 can also be nullified in the final decisions, provided those bishops or other persons concerned have ‘cogent’ reasons for doing so.
Clearly the word that needs defining now is ‘cogent’. And the way in which that could be defined, we are being told, is in the courts. So hands up now all the PCCs willing to take their bishop to court.
I thought so. I don’t really need to bother saying ‘Hands down’, do I?
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  1. Really don't like that wording! It leaves the situation far too open to abuse for my liking. If this isn't fixed by Synod then I hope the vote fails to go through. Not because I don't want women bishops, but because the loss of any who cannot in good conscience remain in the CofE would be far more damaging than making women wait until a suitable solution can be agreed!

  2. On the positive side we have "respect" rather than "take account" though as you rightly say "respect" is less strong than "compatible with".

    Stephen Slack rightly points out that where something has to be taken into account it need not be followed, or as I said at our Deanery Synod last year from my perspective as a lawyer, having been taken into account, it can be disregarded. Sadly that was ridiculed by one member who said we know what Jesus thought of lawyers and dismissed by other members, lay and clergy, as unbelieveable. we have "take account of".

    But I rather doubt that even "cogent reasons" are needed to go against something. Provided the decision maker has "had regard" to it, and his decision is not otherwise irrational, it will be difficult to upset. And of course, Christians are not to take each other to the secular courts.

    1. Apologies, I forgot to sign that one
      David Brock, Elmdon

  3. So, they ridiculed you, then said, "trust us"?

  4. To paraphrase John's final comment, we really don't need to hear the answer to that, do we? It shows how much "regard" there is towards those of the dissenting "integrity".

    Remember that word? When did we allow our position to be dismissed as lacking integrity? It's the pro-women-bishops side that seems to lack it, in its duplicitous and dismissive attitude to those who can't agree that the innovations are right and proper. They MUST have their way, and if their tank runs over people in the process, well that's their fault for being in the wrong side, isn't it?

  5. This whole situation stems from a failure of leadership from the AoC.

    Very interesting piece from the Mail

    Unfortunately I do not see any of the AoC candidates reducing the decline. Peter Akinola could do it. He at least has a record of leading a growing and successful Church.

    It does not matter what the words say or mean. Women Bishops will just accelerate the decline that is systemic. George Kovoor has often stated that the CofE is living off dead men’s money. I think the tipping point will be financial. Nobody will fund (or attend) a church that does not preach the Gospel, that is 90% of UK Clergy?

    Over the summer we met up a friend of the family who had been appointed a year ago to be in charge of around 30 Churches and 12 clergy of various grades. (I am not sure what his grade was but the vicarage was huge). He took me to his church next door and asked me to pray with him as he was at his wits end. It transpired that none of his 12 clergy were interested in preaching the Gospel. The Bishop has backed him to the hilt and said he could do what he wanted, close churches, move staff on, whatever. What he was doing was giving anyone willing to preach the Gospel and lead Christian worship the chance to do it. The only qualification was that they convinced him that they are Bible believing Christians. That is it, qualifications gained in Theological college not needed, just a desire to preach and lead people to Christ. He said the policy had caused some clergy (and congregations) to be a “bit upset” with him! TAt the end point where he nearly is the pressure is money. He stated that the total giving week by week would at the present time support about 1 or 2 churches and 1 or 2 clergy. He could survive for some more years by selling vicarages and churches, but the end result would be just slow decline. He said he wanted to give the churches one last chance before they were all sold off as holiday homes, and or “entertainment” venues.

    Are we going to whinge that you do not get any “respect”? I don’t believe that any respect or accommodation is intended to be given for Bible believing Churches. North America leads the way to Babylon.


  6. Phil, I think you are more than a bit harsh with your assessment of how many clergy preach the Gospel. However your comment regarding finances is probably quite close to what might happen.
    As John can confirm (maybe even correct me on this!) our diocese, Chelmsford, is 10 years away from losing half it's current clergy. That will mean more of a strain on the pensions pot. And if this is similar to the rest of the CofE then the response from bods on high will be key to the future of the church.

  7. Youthpasta

    I withdraw the 90% claim! I am however, fed up with talking to clergy who seem to think it is quite OK to accept or reject Bible passages (or even books) based on their own "feelings", no other evidence is apparently necessary. On probing, they have (sometimes many) idols ruling their lives, rather than God. Many of the male clergy are scared to death of upsetting the female clergy and their supporters. Another friend on a walk a vicar of a large parish in the South of England, on country walk, stopped, looked both ways to be sure that nobody could overhear him and then said he agreed with me about women clergy and that the Church was heading to disaster. I have known him 30 years and he often visited us when we worked overseas and in the UK. He is not a wimp but he has come to see everything through the lens of British culture, rather than God. In our youth I was the liberal and he was the conservative, now after 20 years as a leader in the Church, he is the liberal and I am the conservative. The sad thing is he thinks he is a conservative Christian! So it begs the question if he is conservative, what about the rest of the clergy?

    I don’t blame my friend (much!) as a Parish Priest working on their own, I can see it is very difficult to be salt and light, or as we now call it, counter cultural. For bigger city Churches, e.g. St Barts Bath or Jesmond, Newcastle, with a group of like minded clergy, it is easier to stay on the narrow path as a Church leader and resist the pressures to conform from society and the__% of other clergy in the CofE.


    PS So John, back to the question Youthpasta asked. Does Chemsford Diocese pay it’s way or does it rely on “dead men’s money” to balance the books?

  8. The two names are
    James Jones
    Graham Jones

    lets hope the CofE can keep up with the Joneses!

    1. Dont you mean Graham James??
      Who is the first name?

  9. "I am however, fed up with talking to clergy who seem to think it is quite OK to accept or reject Bible passages (or even books) based on their own "feelings", no other evidence is apparently necessary."

    +1 to that. Mind, Phil's whole post, and his first one, are pure gold through and through.

    A modest proposal, which DBF's should also warm to: let's pay all stipendiary clergy pro rata according to the percentage of the Bible they actually believe.


  10. Genius, Dan!

    Regarding "The Joneses", may God keep us clear of them as ABC, given James Jones comments on homosexuality! Also don't trust Graham Jones. Anyone who declares that the next ABC should be someone who doesn't want the job and then declares he doesn't want the job is more than a little bit fishy in my book!

    1. And yes, I did mean Graham James!
      Schoolboy error!!!

  11. This may be a bit off topic, but I've just seen the news (on Paranoid, sorry "Thinking", Anglicans) that the Bishop of Ebbsfleet is moving to be Bishop of Fulham. That presumably opens a vacancy at Ebbsfleet- for, finally, an evangelical PEV?

    Stephen Walton

  12. It's a bit of a joke now, this selection of the new ABC. The choice at one stage was between someone who could do the job but had only been a Bishop for a matter of months, and two others (++York and +Norwich) who had both said they didn't want the job. (And ++York is a year older than the man he would replace.) Some arm-twisting appears to have happened for James Jones to declare himself a runner, not having been on anyone's list at one stage. The field is still wide open - anyone for Rabbi Lionel Blue?

  13. John

    Sadly you have misread the crucial paragraph there! The sentence which says that the Bishop could ignore the wishes of the petitioning paragraph actually says "in either of the latter cases" that would be possible, referring to two other wordings considered for 5.1c, but rejected. However, in the wording chosen this is not possible.

    It goes on to make this clear, saying,

    "The effect of the use of the word ‘respect’ in that context is to require the Code of Practice to give guidance to the effect that, in selecting a male bishop or male priest, the person(s) making the selection would need to seek to address, or accommodate, the grounds on which a PCC has issued its Letter of Request. They could not simply fail to give effect to those grounds at all, even if they considered that there were cogent grounds for doing so. "

    Given that this means you have completely misunderstood this legal advice and have said it means the exact opposite to what it actually means, I would suggest you create another blog post to highlight this.

  14. Anonymous(e), I am NOT saying that the exercise of 'respect' for the grounds of a request nevertheless means that the process of selection of a bishop or priest could "for cogent reasons" be done in a manner incompatible with those grounds.

    I hope this clarifies - if I've understood your point Sorry, I'm reading and writing this on a Blackberry