Fulcrum Perspectives: Women Bishops Legislation

by Andrew Goddard

 

In responding to the proposed amendments I have two principles.  I want to see women bishops, equal with men, as soon as possible. I want to do justice to Lambeth 1998 III.2, supported by General Synod in 2006, “that those who dissent from, as well as those who assent to the ordination of women to the priesthood and episcopate are both loyal Anglicans”.

Loyal Anglicans who dissent have clearly not got most of what they have sought and claim is needed for “adequate provision” for them.  The proposed amendment to Clause 5 is a minimalist response to one of their concerns.  As it stood the Measure required the code of practice to delegate to a male bishop. Now it requires this to be to men “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”.  In other words, this recognises the issue is not – for many dissenters – simply a matter of having a male bishop.  That is a necessary but not a sufficient condition if their theological convictions – as loyal Anglicans – are to be respected in provision.  The choice of bishop still lies with the diocesan bishop – it is not “choose your own bishop”.  The code of practice simply must recognise the need is related to “theological convictions”.

The apparently unlimited range of possible “theological convictions” is a cause of concern and the code of practice must ensure this is not a blank cheque for any “theological convictions” as “grounds”. But why has requiring consistency with the theological convictions of loyal dissenting Anglicans proved so objectionable?  It is in part, understandably, the late stage and means by which this amendment has appeared.  But two more worrying factors seem present in some reactions.

As with objectors to the covenant, both wings sometimes distort the wording and project their worst – and opposing, incompatible – fears onto the proposal: the Measure will either be worthless, offering no serious long-term provision, simply giving “hospice care” for dissenters or it will ensure in perpetuity that women are not treated equally, enshrining discrimination in law.  Even more disconcerting, reactions to the amendment seem to confirm that some are not committed to recognising dissenters as loyal Anglicans and taking their theological convictions seriously.  Those convictions are seen as beyond the theological pale with no lasting place in an inclusive church or as pseudo-theological cover for injustice and discrimination.

Are we serious about recognising dissenters as loyal Anglicans and, in the words of the 2008 Synod resolution, making “special arrangements… within the existing structures of the Church of England, for those who as a matter of theological conviction will not be able to receive the ministry of women as bishops or priests”?  If so, then saying in the Measure that provision should be consistent with those theological convictions should not be so significant as to justify abandoning the first principle – women bishops, equal with men, as soon as possible – by opposing the legislation.

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