Sunday, 2 June 2013

New Proposals, New Flying Bishops?

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.
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  1. Hi John,

    Do you see the present (ABC) system changing to include (D)"Under the oversight of a Bishop that ordains women to all three orders"

    John Leal

  2. Not sure I understand the question, John, and I've not yet read and taken in the whole paper. A 'D' provision (Diocesan Bishop doesn't ordain women, women clergy petition for oversight from the bishop who does) would seem to be the suggestion.

  3. Hi John,

    It just seems that in theory the "we ordain women" parishes would require their own PEV.

  4. John L, there's no need for a 'D' provision or PEV because "39... There should no longer be any dioceses where none of the serving bishops ordains women as priests."

    John R, that statement (39) also implies that reciprocity in the report does not mean symmetry. I'm therefore wondering if you are putting too much weight on it. On a more positive note, the report does speak of "a continuing commitment to consecrating bishops within the Church of England who can minister to the minority" (43)--but we'll have to see whether that includes conservative Evangelicals. Actions speak louder than words. We all know what became of the 1993 commitment that “there will be no discrimination against candidates either for ordination or for appointment to senior office in the Church of England on the grounds of their views about the ordination of women to the priesthood.”

  5. Having just sat down to redraft the London Plan to clarify working relationships with the new Bishop of Fulham, most of what we will need in the future will have to be governed by reciprocity, along the lines of "if Fulham's making the appointment to a parish, the Area Bishop needs to meet the guy before appointment" or "if an ordination candidate comes from a Fulham parish, how can we make sure the discernment process works properly?" It's nuts and bolts stuff.

    Now that there's little chance of the way in which we get to extended oversight being written into legislation (I think the November vote scuppered any likelihood of us being able to get "provision" on the face of a Measure, in that neither Synod nor Parliament will now look at anything that remotely whiffs of discrimination against women priests or bishops being written into law), the detail will be even more important for us to work through in order to make it work for ConEvos and TradCaths.

    1. This would be the 'trust us' part. Since the details won't be written into law, the details (such as they might be) won't be enforceable. Any provision can be promised in the full knowledge that said provision has all the authority of the words on this weblog. To place one's trust in such an arrangement is to place the mouse in the care of the cat.

      Now there will be many proclamations about 'grace' and 'trust' instead of 'law' but trust is not freely given. It must be earned. The adulterous husband does not demand of his cuckolded wife "If you loved me, you would trust me again." He takes the burden upon himself. If the majority desired to create trust then it would for the sake of its past actions bind itself against its interest. This it will not do, and that fact speaks more loudly than claims of 'grace.'

      The argument is intractable because the majority demands submission as the price of provision, and the minority will offer anything but submission. The essentials at stake are mutually exclusive. There exists no solution that can get around the law of the excluded middle. A man cannot submit and not submit at the same time. Whatever details emerge, they will not be able to overcome that salient fact.


  6. Pete, if this can be done at all, it surely looks like being something along the lines of the PEV scheme or local diocesan arrangements.

    A key thing, however, is that the bishops provided must be 'real bishops', which is to say they must be able to function missionally. Now I know this is not how many Conservative Evangelicals have viewed things in the past, by I hold no brief to uphold every jot and tittle of the 'party' practices. On the contrary, I have sketched out my ideas on this in my book A Strategy that Changes the Denomination, where bishops are given a very high profile.

    We must not make the error of thinking that the ministry of the local presbyter is an extension of that of the diocesan bishop, but equally we must not make the error of assuming the bishop is only an administrator. Rather, following the NT pattern as closely as possible within the confines of our own history and tradition, we must make bishops agents in mission and therefore able to found churches, to ordain and to manage succession.

    It is certainly not enough to 'let' some 'special bishop' do 'certain episcopal functions' like confirmations and ordinations of those others have decided should be ordained.

    The trouble is, I suspect, this is far too radical. Nevertheless, cooperation with the wider denomination (rather than creating an enclave) could presumably be written into the new job description, and presuming it would be held under Common Tenure, could actually be enforced in the case of new appointments.

  7. Thanks John, all helpful stuff as always.

    I have a couple of questions- apologies if the answers are obvious.

    We won't the first country/province to appoint women bishops; I've not been able to find out how things have worked out elsewhere. Is there another country where provision has been put in place which has allowed both 'sides' to flourish? If so, could that be adopted here?

    There's now a lot of encouragement to show grace and trust, which has to be a good thing. I can see how conservative evangelicals would need to trust those on the other 'side', but how/in what do they then need to trust in conservative evangelicals/Anglo Catholics?

    Thanks ever so!

    Rob Bridgewater

  8. Yeah, I think you have to convince your fellow ConEvos of the usefulness and importance of proper missional episcopacy. Most of them don't really have any time for bishops at all, except as authority figures to ignore and kick occasionally. I know and understand (and share) your commitment to bishops in mission - and believe and hope that I practise it too! An interesting question is why any bishop who didn't share your convictions on male "headship" is thereby disqualified from being your bishop, since, unlike the TradCaths, you have no doctrine of impaired communion.

    It's absolutely clear, however, within the London Plan arrangements, that the Bishop of Fulham has the full episcopal oversight of clergy in parishes which ask for his oversight. No confirmation machines here. When we've nailed down the final version, we'll stick it on the internet.

  9. Pete, I think one of the reasons why it is hard to convince conservative evangelicals of the value of institutional episcopacy is that the models offered to us are often poor. This is not just our own prejudice (though I admit that has a part to play). In his 2003 book to which I refer in A Strategy that Changes the Denomination, Bishop Samson Mwaluda of Taita Taveta writes, “Our experience in Kenya, as in many parts of the Anglican Church worldwide, is that the diocesan bishops [sic] leading rôle affects every aspect of the Church. I want to contend that one key factor in the reorientation of the Anglican Church in Taita Taveta for accelerated growth, is for the diocesan bishop to focus on his rôle as the chief teacher-evangelist.”

    However, he then adds, “The Anglican Church, particularly in the West, is decreasing in areas where bishops undervalue evangelism and the teaching of the apostles’ doctrine.”

    And this is surely true. We have had far too many bishops whose delight seems to be in speculating about the apostles' doctrine, rather than teaching it, and who have had little or no interest in seeing evangelism done - certainly not in the terms envisaged by Towards the Conversion of England.

    Where evangelicals have distanced themselves from bishops, sadly it is often the case that this hasn't really mattered on either side.

    As to 'Resolution C'-type approaches, the evangelical case is that the bishop who ordains women is in error. Of course, bishops have been in error in other ways, but this one is 'structural'. Furthermore, in this particular case the Church of England has allowed that where this error is perceived, provision will be made for other structures to be put in place.

    So there is a coherence about passing 'Resolution C' in evangelical parishes which means not that one rejects entirely the 'regular' bishop, but that one wants to affirm and be part of a structure which preserves the traditional order and understanding of the episcopate and the presbyterate.

    There is also the practical 'political' point, which I have often made, that this is one of the only mechanisms through which a representative Conservative Evangelical presence can be actively preserved in the House of Bishops. Given that the last CE bishop was consecrated in 1997 and has now retired, I think my point here is valid.