Saturday, 10 November 2012

Appleby feared 'respect' was 'a compromise too far'

In recent weeks, the word 'respect' has come to the forefront of the debate about the Women Bishops Measure. Indeed, some people are now suggesting that this word almost alone legally guarantees the future of traditionalists in the Church of England.

As with the present Archbishop of Canterbury, they feel there has been "enough waiting". If you want this development at all, it is time to vote 'yes'. If you object in principle, the right thing is to abstain, so as to allow the Church to get on with its mission.

Everyone in favour is now legally bound to 'respect' those against. In any case, that respect hardly needs to be commanded. The mood of the moment is that all will be respected and all will flourish. If you don't believe me, check out the recorded messages on the Archbishop's website, from the Bishops of Chelmsford, Willesden, Worcester and Sheffield, from Mark Russell, Chief Executive of the Church Army, Rebecca Swinson, a member of the Archbishops' Council, and last but not least, the Revd Janet Appleby herself, the woman who first suggested the 'respect' formula as a way out of the impasse.

It is when you look at Appleby's contribution, however, that questions arise. After saying how surprised she is to find herself playing such a prominent role in Church affairs, she makes this remarkably frank admission:
When I offered this suggestion I found it personally painful and feared this was a compromise too far.
Now it is worth pausing at this point and reminding ourselves just what that suggestion was. 

The original Clause 5(1)c, which caused outrage amongst many supporters of women bishops, read as follows:
5 (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,
This has now been replaced by the 'Appleby Amendment'
5 (1) The House of Bishops shall draw up, and promulgate, guidance in a Code of Practice as to— 
(c) 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,
Enough has been written already to show that we are some way from the original 5(1)c. Not least, this is no longer about the bishop and those whom he or she will help select as clergy, but about the Parochial Church Council and the attitude the petitioned bishop will have towards their theological views (which, when you put it like that, sounds -- frankly -- faintly ridiculous).

Be that as it may, however, in view of all the enthusiasm for 'respect', it is noteworthy that the original proponent of this new approach thought at first that this was too much to concede.

Now I have no doubt about Janet Appleby's sincerity of purpose. She goes on to say that she did this for the sake of the Church:
I took the risk of compromising my own dearly held beliefs for the sake of the unity of the church, a church which, as a cradle Anglican, I love dearly in all its glorious breadth and frustrating contradictions.
To swallow one's convictions for the sake of unity in the Body of Christ is admirable, provided it is done on proper theological grounds (compare Romans 14:13-15, concerning those whose faith is weak with Galatians 2:14ff concerning one who should have known better).

But it is the very fact that I take her seriously which leaves me worried about the new mood of optimism that this is indeed the right way forward. For if Janet Appleby found even the watered down requirement of the new 5(1)c barely tolerable -- a potential compromise of her beliefs -- what of those others who, in future years (or indeed decades) will be acting on the principles it sets out? Will they genuinely allow the flourishing of others for whom they feel 'respect' is too great a compromise?

Remember, it is not just that the legislation puts certain provisions in place for traditionalists. It puts massive powers in the hands of others -- including other PCCs. One of the things the Code of Practice is going to have to work out is what to do in multi-parish benefices where some PCCs want to petition and others don't. Another largely-overlooked provision of the Measure is that a single PCC in a multi-parish Benefice will immediately be able to revoke any existing Resolutions under the earlier legislation.

When you compare the final proposal with what might have been, it is hard to credit the compromise of 'respect' with being able to hold the weight that must rest on it. We know, because they have said so plainly, that for some campaigners, this is not the end. WATCH and others have clearly signalled their short-term intention to be monitor carefully the actual provisions of the yet-to-be-written Code of Practice, and in the long term they want a 'Single Clause' Church de facto if not de jure.

A grudging respect may not be what Janet Appleby intended, and it may be real, but it is hardly enough.

Please give a full name and location when posting. Comments without this information may be deleted. Recommend:


  1. The central challenge for proponents is this: "Find wording that allows for some credible protection in the short term but does not bind anyone to provide any protection in the long term." Traditionalists keep looking for some guarantee of long-term protection. Proponents keep ferreting out and removing any provision that might demand it. Which makes me wonder why Traditionalists are placing any confidence in this process at all. Words on a page mean nothing if they are not binding. Who is going to enforce the CoP? How long will it remain unmodified in any case, and this requirement to 'respect' is tossed into the same fire as 5(1)c?

    Proponents talk about how this proposal allows both sides to learn to trust each other. But the majority has no need to trust the minority for the majority can simply exercise its power. The minority is being to told to trust simply because it has no other choice. It is offered the choice of the mouse to trust the snake. But the snake must eventually obey its nature.


  2. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  3. Kiwianglo, there comes a point where me old grandmother's adage has to apply. If you can't think of anything nice to say, don't say it.

  4. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  5. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  6. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  7. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  8. My apologies for being away from the blog for 24 hours. My apologies also for deleting everyone's messages to do with Ron Smith (kiwianglo).

    The reason I deleted his comment was that it was simply an ad hominem remark which didn't pick up on any matters of fact or issues raised in the article. It was just about me and seemed therefore to be making no point other than that. I don't think it is helpful to anyone to go around posting the sort of thing you shouldn't really say to someone's face, let alone in the emotionally cheap environment of the internet, so I thought it best simply not to have it on this blog.

    I have deleted everyone else's comments because I thought it was only fair to treat everything related with this matter equally.

    I trust people will take the hint that the issue is now closed.

  9. Justin Welby said that (especially within the Church) "the way you disagree is just as important if not more so than what you disagree about"

    Good man, well said.


  10. It is for the very reasons you outline, John, that I am against the measure as is. I too hold a view that I hope you and all others who are against the ordination and consecration of women to change your minds but the last thing I would want would be for someone to be able to try and force this upon you.
    I have been in church situations far too many times the church leader has taken how the rules are written and then danced around them to make them fit their desires, or worse still make them up as they go where the rules are not defined.
    Respect is a fine aim to have, but the Church is made up if human beings. And let's face it, if the Church of England can be set up on the whim of a king that wanted an easy divorce then it can quite easily be influenced by a group who want to forcibly remove those against women's ordained ministry to the point where respect goes out of the window!
    I think the Yes To Women Bishops campaign speaks volumes with their "enough waiting" hashtag and sadly it speaks only to the negative.