Wednesday, 10 October 2012

Women bishops: why 'respect' will not do

I have held off from commenting on the amended Clause 5(1)c of the proposed Measure to introduce women bishops principally to try to digest its implications.
Part of me is genuinely inclined to wish we could get it all over with, and move on to more important issues — the conversion of England for starters. But the report which championed that long-ignored task in 1945 also recognized that the Church must be up to the challenge. Put simply, the proclamation of the gospel to the nation would have to go hand in hand with the spiritual reformation of the Church through the gospel.
And that is why we cannot simply take an ‘anything goes’ attitude to the proposed legislation, for if it in any way sets the Church back, then it also sets back the mission of the Church.
Now I personally do not think absolutely everything hangs on not having women bishops. There are branches of Anglicanism, such as in Kenya for example, where women are ordained, but where the Church is far more spiritually healthy than anything experienced in this country in the last half-century of male-only clergy.
For us, however, the doctrinal latitude already present in the denomination means that a false step at this point could quickly have dramatic consequences that do not apply elsewhere.
Furthermore, given the way that English bishops are appointed, the number of English women bishops is likely to outnumber the global total very soon. According to this site, between 1989 and 2010, only twenty-six women bishops had been appointed in the entire Anglican communion. It is hard to imagine that the Church of England will not see at least a dozen such appointments within a decade. Therefore whatever the impact of introducing women bishops, it is likely to be greater here than in any other part of the Communion.
We therefore have to get this right. And that is why I am of the opinion that the proposed legislation is inadequate.
The initial introduction of Clause 5(1)c was itself a clear recognition that the legislation was unlikely to get approval as it stood. This itself was a significant admission.
However, the reaction of WATCH and others was equally important. Having misread the proposal as a guarantee that traditionalist views would be guaranteed a place in the episcopate, they immediately launched a political campaign — to some extent successful — to persuade the bishops to withdraw the amendment.
This, and the intemperate language used, made it absolutely clear that, if anything, the guarantees to traditionalists needed strengthening. Almost inevitably, however, the House of Bishops came back with something milder.
Not only that, however, but the focus of the Clause had shifted significantly. The old 5(1)c looked primarily to the nature of the ministry (though not, as many initially assumed, the beliefs) of those selected to serve petitioning parishes. The new Clause, whilst retaining the same number, shifts the focus entirely. The relationship addressed by the new amendment is no longer that between the bishop and the minister, but between the bishop and the parish. And this is entirely unsatisfactory.
First, it puts the stress on the weakest link in the chain. Few parishes contain people confident enough of their theology, let alone ecclesiastical rules and regulations, to stand their ground against a bishop or archdeacon determined to get their own way.
Secondly, this stress will often occur at one of the points where parishes are least ready to stand their ground, namely during an interregnum.
Thirdly, and most importantly of all, it depends on a display of respect where hitherto little has been shown: “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.”
Those parishes will basically be those which currently have passed Resolutions under the existing legislation. Far from being ‘respected’, however, such parishes, and the clergy running then, have regularly been the object of misunderstanding and suspicion (I speak from experience). And where clergy have moved on it is not unknown for members of the hierarchy to begin looking at ways to circumvent the position established under the previous incumbent.
With genuine respect for traditionalist parishes being such a rare commodity now, what hope is there that the security of the traditionalist position can rely on respect between bishops and PCCs in the future? And if even the existing bishops have found respect such a difficult thing to show, what hope will there be of respect being sustained ten or twenty years from now?
The House of Bishops clearly hopes that the Appleby amendment will do they trick. And they genuinely seem to think they are up to the task. Sadly, they are wrong, for whilst individually they mean well, there is already an institutionalized disrespect for traditionalist parishes. In an ideal world, respect would do, but in the real world of the present, it simply will not.
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  1. John

    While I support the ordination or consecration of anyone called by God to that ministry, I find nothing here with which I can disagree. My fear (the word is chosen carefully) is that it will be a poor day for those who disagree with me on this, whose rights are as important as those who seem to want this stuff pushed through at any cost. Grace seems long lost, sadly.

  2. One of our group of tiny rural parishes recently passed the three resolutions. The immediated and furious reaction of the archdeacon on hearing the news augurs ill for the future, when the resolutions will not be available. Why should one little benefice, surrounded by endless wastes of liberal protestantism, be regarded as any kind of threat?
    Jeremy Hummerstone.

  3. Whilst I am fed up to the back teeth with the matter of women Bishops and in many ways would like this matter resolved, I really do not think that the present measure offers any future to traditionalists. At the November Synod the Measure to Consecrate Women to the Episcopate needs to be defeated and then it might be possible, with a little goodwill on the behalf of the protagonists for women bishops, to find a solution which will be acceptable to those for and those against. And then we need, as a matter of urgency to bring the Good News of Jesus Christ to all those who haven't yet heard it

  4. Pride and selfishness are at the heart of this. Women clergy who want to be Bishops or see women Bishops appointed are not interested in God at all. They want to be on Jesus' right and left, because they know better than God.

    The men who support this proposal ceased to be men a long time ago. (Ask any woman)


  5. Conservative Evangelical Anglicans don't like what their leaders, the bishops, are doing. So they try and change it by campaigning, blogging, filling in petitions, joining Synod etc etc. Still no success. So what to do?

    Well, aside from leaving the organisation and joining or setting up a different one, the answer must be to strip the power of the bishops by campaigning for a more congregational / localist style of church. They would find plenty of support from all sorts of other Anglicans. Everyone dislikes something the bishops are doing. And localism is very 21st century, and in tune with the Zeitgeist.

    So, chuck all the campaigning against women bishops. Just campaign against ALL bishops. You have nothing to lose but your chains. What's not to like?

    My experience with Evangelical Anglicans suggests I won't get an answer to this question. Perhaps, in their heart of hearts, they prefer Episcopalianism to the Gospel.

  6. David, I'm not sure I've even understood your last sentence!

    1. John, you really are a splendid fellow - I am reading one of your books at the moment - but you need to explain why you put so much effort into supporting the principles of the Anglican hierarchy, when they are obviously largely against you. It's such a waste of effort. Maintaining the antiquated, failing, wasteful system just isn't worth it. Anyway, it is dying faster than any other church in the country.

      So why does a wise man like you continue to do so?

  7. David, you appear to be arguing for some sort of Presbyterianism?

    ... I'd agree

    1. Well, presbyterianism would be better than the current arrangements in the C of E.

      England nearly got there in the 17th century, but then the clock was turned back by what happened after the Restoration.

      Having said that, the (presbyterian) Church of Scotland is not doing too well - look at what is happening to St George's Tron in Glasgow.

      I think the future is congregational - the FIEC is a good model for how churches can work together.

    2. There are a few Presbyterians in England, EPCEW & IPC. Not many of us, but going in the right direction. Best of Independence and Anglicanism.

      C of E, needs an overhaul. Or those feeling the squeeze need a re-think. Maybe Ussher style hybrid, reduced, bishops being pastors of local churches, Elders ruling together etc. etc.

  8. Every Church needs Bishops for a Church cannot exist without a Ministry. The trouble is not with Bishops but with bad bishops and you have that in Presbyterianism as much as Anglicanism. But on the wider point John is spot on. If this legislation passes there is going to be serious trouble ahead. Nigel

    1. "Every Church needs Bishops for a Church cannot exist without a Ministry"

      And why would that be? Do, for example, Baptist churches "not exist"?

      "The trouble is not with Bishops but with bad bishops".

      One man's bad bishop is another man's good bishop and vice versa.

      I suppose electing bishops might help, but junking them would be better!

  9. for the last few weeks we have been attending as a family a "liberal" lively CofE church. (We were invited so we went. What struck me was the services were completely run by women.

    Preaching, singing, reading, Sunday school,everything. The congregation was reasonably large but almost all women, the in he "coffee time" women were assertive, full of desire to evangelise.

    However, the teenage girls were fully involved, Sunday school readings, singing everything. The boys (there were a few of them looked bored)

    What great training for fatherhood I thought. In a few years these same women will be looking to these boys to step up and be good Christian husbands and fathers for their children.

    If it happens it will be a miracle and despite not because of the church.

    All that effort and it was a lot of effort these women were putting in, and ultimately it is wasted their men and boys will not be what they really want them to be that is the leader of their home church and family


  10. I think perhaps on re reading that my point is rather obscure. We tend to blame "Bad Bishops" or women wanting to lead. The problem is and has been the men in the Church being unwilling to fulfill the role God gave them.

    The solution is simple men need to be men and men need to teach their sons to be men. Counter cultural yes, but we are Christians... not sheep!


  11. (well, we are sort of sheep, of the good shepherd but point taken)

    I think you're right about men manning up & Biblicaly manning up, not silly macho-ism, which can be the opposite.

    I don't think the feminised churches that you talk about will see any problem when in the future they don't have the "men" that they want. Because, a trend often found in church is that men are just broken women. So the expectation is that we will be useless, get things wrong, can't find things etc.


  12. "Feminised churches"? Careful Darren - according to Canon Andrew there ain't no such thing ;)


  13. Darren

    I agree..

    However, the discussion here is about (basically) our castle is being overrun. Do we run away an build a new smaller castle or do we fight for the castle we have?

    Building walls and making homogenous communities seems attractive, but history has shown us that arguments continue, and the castles just split and get smaller and smaller.

    We have to stay, we have preach the Gospel, we don't have to be nice..We don't! God made us aggressive, we do not need to kowtow to women just because they wear silly clothes and argue at the pitch of a dentist's drill.

    God made us men, so be men. My experience is that most women will say “about time too!”


  14. The certainly will!!

    Of course, I'm not longer in a C of E Church. I'm now a Pastor of an Evangelical Presbyterian one. Interestingly, we are experiencing a little bit of growth, we're starting to turn up the temperature on mission and we get all sorts of visitors, we have no idea where they come from. But passing trade is as big as I've seen anywhere.

    Our gender balance is 50/50, & slightly more men mid-week. They're a happy bunch, quite a few former Anglicans. Most just look puzzled at the whole thing. On the gender issues, the women here are happy with how we do things and the comment you'll here about the C of E is, "well of course it looks silly to 'restrict' ordination to men... everything about Christianity looks silly if you look from the world's angle". & they serve happily along side men in all sorts of ministries here. Funnily enough, they are often more vocal than the blokes on this!

    But the bigger/smaller castle, tough choice. All I can say is that we just don't have to worry about this sort of thing. We get on with the job of making disciples, which takes up plenty of time, effort and resources. If everyone left the big castle, there would be nothing to over-run, it would run out of steam pretty quickly. But that's what you've got to work out.


  15. John

    I disagree with almost everything you've written here, but just to pick you up on one point. You stated the following:

    "However, the reaction of WATCH and others was equally important. Having misread the proposal as a guarantee that traditionalist views would be guaranteed a place in the episcopate, they immediately launched a political campaign — to some extent successful — to persuade the bishops to withdraw the amendment."

    The reason they believed that, is that one Rod Thomas quite rightly let the cat out of the bag and boasted that he had achieved this coup. And he was right. If there was a legal guarantee to provide either an Anglo-Catholic bishop or a conservative evangelical bishop to oversee parishes, then the Archbishops would quite obviously have to ensure that such bishops were permanently available for service.

    As for the rest of it, your piece reads to me like a determination to do the opposite of what you think WATCH want, rather than a sensible reading of the proposed legislation, I'm afraid.