Thursday, 8 November 2012

The Women Bishops Measure - a Flawed Process

If you go to the Archbishop of Canterbury's website, you will find a number of articles and videos (eight in total at present) under the heading Enough Waiting, which seek to persuade the viewer of the importance of passing the Measure to introduce Women Bishops now and in its present form.

One of the common themes is that if we do not, it will be a disaster for mission. According to the Bishop of Chelmsford, "if we don’t pass this it would look terrible in the eyes of the world". Similarly, the Bishop of Willesden observes, "it’s important we ... don’t look completely stupid in the eyes of society".

Whenever I hear such observations, I'm reminded of a woman student I spoke to just after the passage of the legislation to introduce women priests. She was a Christian sharing a house with a number of non-Christian women, all of whom were glued to the television news. As the result was announced from General Synod, a great cheer went up. "Oh," said my friend, "I suppose this means you're all going to start going to church, does it?" Embarrassment ensued all round.

However, the advocates of a 'yes' vote are right. If the legislation fails there is going to be some explaining to do. They, and others, might do well therefore to read a new joint publication by Forward in Faith and Reform. Title Not Fit for Purpose, it actually does quite a good job of setting out the issues from the 'no' side of the current debate.

The following extract from Simon Killwick, who was closely involved in the legislative process, sets out for example why there is still so much opposition from traditionalists. And incidentally on that last point, I found myself in a brief Twitter dialogue with someone who kept referring to 'trads' in the same way as some might refer to 'weirdos'. Odd how the three-legged Anglican stool of Scripture, Tradition and Reason always seems to have one leg that some people reckon they can do without. What is the Church, I wonder, without the Tradition?

Anyway, here is Mr Killwick explaining very succinctly just why the legislative process has, in this instance, been such a disaster:
Church legislation normally begins with an outline of what it should contain, which commands a broad consensus; this is then translated into legislation through a process which involves a Legislative Drafting Group, a Steering Committee, a Revision Committee and Revision in full Synod. This legislative process is designed to ‘tweak’ and ‘fine tune’ draft legislation, not fundamentally rewrite it, or change or establish policy.

The women bishops legislation was pushed into the legislative process before there was broad agreement on its contents; it was left to the vagaries of the legislative process itself to establish policy – something for which it was never designed. The Steering Committee was supposed to consist only of those who supported the draft Measure as it stood after First Consideration in Synod.

However, they abandoned that form of the draft Measure in the Revision Committee, and voted en bloc for the current form of the Measure, which is substantially different from that which Synod had seen at First Consideration. Revision Committees are supposed to have an inbuilt majority in favour of the draft legislation they are to consider. This meant that traditionalists were a small minority on the Revision Committee, and thereby very limited in our influence. It is all the more remarkable that a majority of the Revision Committee supported better provision for traditionalists by Statutory Transfer at one meeting, but less surprising that the Committee later found itself unable to agree on the episcopal functions to be transferred. We were tantalisingly close then to a lasting settlement which would have enabled the whole Church of England to move forward together.

Another tantalising moment came at the Revision stage in full Synod. The Archbishops of Canterbury and York jointly proposed amendments which would have led to bishops being provided for traditionalists on a similar basis to area bishops in Dioceses with area schemes under the 1978 Dioceses Measure (“Co-ordinate Jurisdiction”). The Archbishops' amendment was supported by a majority of the whole Synod, but was narrowly lost in the House of Clergy on a vote by Houses.

Tragically, again, the opportunity for a lasting settlement was lost, by the slimmest possible margin, against the will of the majority. As a result, we are left with the current draft Measure, which has never commanded consensus – so much so that attempts are now being made to persuade members of Synod to abstain in order to try and force it through, in a terrifyingly na├»ve attempt to bring closure.

My own view is that if the original Clause 5(1)c had been allowed to stand, the legislation would have passed in July and we would now be on the final lap. 'Traditionalists' would have found this painful, but they would have had some slim assurance of an abiding episcopal future. If you want to know why this didn't happen, go and read what the supporters of women bishops said and why they wanted to bring that amendment down.

If it all goes 'pear shaped' in a few days time, bear that in mind.
Please give a full name and location when posting. Comments without this information may be deleted. Recommend:


  1. A depressing but, sadly, unsurprising situation that has been caused mainly by people in the "excessively in favour" camp going for the throat, rather than looking to bring unity to such a divisive matter.
    I pray that a solution is possible to be found, even at this late stage, but won't hold my breathe.

  2. Christianity generally looks odd to the outside. God, becomes man, lives inside his people, dies in their place, calls them to take up their cross.

    Funny though that people who are happy to revise doctrines, are very insistent on robes, liturgical order, parish boundaries and synodical authority. Didn't Jesus say something about this in Mark 7:8?