One of the things that first struck me when I initially read the legislation to introduce women bishops that failed last November was the absence of any mention of the convictions of the bishop who would provide ‘alternative oversight’.
“Surely,” I thought to myself, “Some mistake. The consequences could be nonsensical, with a bishop who did believe in women’s ordination ministering to congregations and clergy who didn’t, as the result of a petition made precisely on the basis of that about which they disagreed!”
Well, as we now know, it turned out to be no mistake at all, but rather a ‘deliberate oversight’, behind which lay an intention to detach the beliefs of bishops from the content of the legislation.
For some, this was because they saw no need. Thus the view was expressed that for evangelicals ‘any bishop would do’, provided he were a man. For others, it was, I fear, the result of a genuine antipathy to the doctrine, and a further means by which it was hoped the doctrine would be encouraged to die out.
In the end, it was this, as much as anything, which led to the defeat of the Measure. And as I sit here this morning, I can’t help feeling ‘good job too’. Living with a bad law may be harder than living without any law at all.
Now, however, we are seeing new proposals, and one interesting feature of them is the recognition that, when it comes to episcopal oversight, conviction matters on this issue.
The report urges that future legislation reflect the principles of simplicity, reciprocity and mutuality. This is what it says about reciprocity:
35. Reciprocity will mean that the majority and the minority, while each believing the other to be in error in relation to this particular issue, will nevertheless accept that they can rejoice in each other’s partnership in the Gospel and remain within one Church despite differences of conviction about gender and holy orders. There will be a willingness to cooperate in mission and ministry.
But then it develops this principle in an important direction:
38. The outworking of reciprocity will also mean that those who cannot receive the priestly or episcopal ministry of women should not be the only ones for whom special arrangements should, in some circumstances, be made. [...]
40. In dioceses where the diocesan bishop does not ordain women it will be particularly important that a bishop who is fully committed to the ordained ministry of women is given a role across the whole diocese for providing support for female clergy.
In other words, the new proposals embody the principle I observed to be explicitly lacking from the old (although I also observed at the time that it was there in terms of making a provision for women clergy). In future, episcopal ministry will look for coherence between the views of the bishop and the views of the clergy when it comes to female clergy. In every diocese, they will be ministered to by a bishop “fully committed to the ordained ministry of women”.
This is to be done, however, on the basis of reciprocity. This is the ‘special arrangement’ in the hypothetical situation that the diocesan does not ordain women. But what about the reciprocal situation where the diocesan does? Then there will be the provision of episcopal ministry by a bishop who doesn’t — presumably.
If this were strictly reciprocal, then according to the proposals it would mean that every diocese would contain a traditionalist bishop, since it is proposed that:
39. Once the Church of England has admitted women to the episcopate either the diocesan bishop or a suffragan bishop of the diocese should therefore be willing to ordain women to the priesthood. There should no longer be any dioceses where none of the serving bishops ordains women as priests. (Emphasis original)
However, even I am willing to concede the difficulty of this. Therefore the solution is obvious: there will continue to be a supply of traditionalist bishops who minister across diocesan boundaries to congregations and clergy who, as at present, adopt the traditionalist position.
Oddly enough, this looks very much like the existing PEV (Flying Bishop) scheme, but that is currently due for the chop in 2015.
Watch, therefore, this space.Please give a full name and location when posting. Comments without this information may be deleted. Recommend: