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women bishops – an MP intervenes

Ruth Gledhill has a report on her blog today, Church-State war looms over women bishops.

She reports that Chris Bryant, who is a Labour MP for a Welsh constituency, has tabled a private member’s bill which will have its First Reading on 21 March. The official confirmation of this fact can be found here:

That leave be given to bring in a Bill to amend the Priests (Ordination of Women) Measure 1993 so as to remove the bar on the consecration of women as bishops; and for connected purposes.

The text of his bill will not be published until 21 March, but it is safe to assume that it would amend Clause 1 of the Priests (Ordination of Women) Measure 1993 (No. 2) along the following lines:

1.—(1) It shall be lawful for the General Synod to make provision by Canon for enabling a woman to be ordained to the office of priest or to consecrate a woman as bishop if she otherwise satisfies the requirements of Canon Law as to the persons who may be ordained as priests.

(2) Nothing in this Measure shall make it lawful for a woman to be consecrated to the office of bishop.

This is likely to upset quite a lot of church people, but on the other hand, as Ruth notes, it might well get significant support from parliamentarians, not all of whom are sympathetic to the Church of England’s self-perception.

See also this report from Ekklesia Bill to pave way for women bishops

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ruidh
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I don’t understand why anyone would object to this measure striking the prohibition unless they were hoping that this provision would eventually prove to be an insurmountable impediment to consecrating a woman. The measure seems to get the government out of regulating the church. What am I missing?

Alan Marsh
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Alan Marsh

The government does not regulate the Church of England. That is what General Synod is for. Parliament ceased to legislate for the Church in 1919. Parliament retains a right of veto over Church legislation but by convention it can neither amend church legislation (called Measures)nor propose it.

If Parliament decided to end the convention it would mean formal disestablishment, but since General Synod will approve women bishops eventually by itself, it is unlikely that a rogue MP like Bryant will gather sufficient support for a bill which would have such a destabilising effect on the English constitution.

Peter Lear
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Peter Lear

But wouldn’t the proposal actually shorten the time scale through concurrent legislative activity? If Parliament had already amended the measure, the when eventually General Synod makes up its mind, the process could be that much quicker. Or have I misunderstood?

Dave
Guest
Dave

Dear Alan

I would not be so sure that the House of Commons won’t interfere in church issues. I think that the Labour party, in particular, sees no areas as sacred and shows no respect for people whose views that they consider “wrong” – hardly even pays lip-service to the idea anymore.

I was shocked that Christina Rees said this was fantastic news (Times blog) – is she still sore that the GS was more inclusive towards people who disagree than she or Giles Fraser (leader of “Inclusive Church”!) want to be ?

Alan Marsh
Guest
Alan Marsh

Peter, the whole point of the current legislation by General Synod is to amend the existing Measure. It is primary legislation and requires primary legislation to amend it. If Parliament suddenly decided to step in and alter church law at any time some MP decided to interfere, then there would be no point having a synod or a church. The only reason why disestablishment has not taken place in England is because the Church has had the right to govern itself since 1919. If that is taken away then the Church would have to declare complete independence from the state.… Read more »

ruidh
Guest

Alan, please help me understand. You say the government does not regulate the Church of England. But it seems there is a law on the books making it unlawful to consecrate a woman. Is that not a regulation on the Church of England? Perhaps we are being mislead by American vs. British usage.

I don’t see why this bill is a crisis for anyone except those who oppose women bishops.

Alan Marsh
Guest
Alan Marsh

ruidh, The Church of England makes the law for itself. Under an Act of Parliament of 1919, the Church was given power to make its own law (called Measures). Measures have to be scrutinised by Parliament, which retains a veto. But Parliament does not frame new Measures (only the Synod can do that) and Parliament can not amend Measures (only the Synod can do that). The 1992 Measure which permitted women to become priests was framed and passed by General Synod, and it can only be amended by General Synod. It is generally acknowledged that a secular Parliament should not… Read more »

David Walker
Guest
David Walker

The value of this bill would not lie in any eventual passing of it into law (I doubt that parliament would wish to go that far), but in testing the view sometimes put forward that the C of E needs to be cautious in the nature of the Measure GS puts forward if such Measure is not to be rejected by parliament. It’s an argument usually usually cited by traditionalists claiming that if GS does not protect their minority rights then parliament will be likely to do so. An early test of parliamentary opinion might be useful as it would… Read more »

Dave
Guest
Dave

Dear David, I don’t think that General Synod (except for a few of the more extreme “Inclusive” people like Christina Rees and Giles Fraser) voted overwhelmingly in favour of a secure arrangement for traditionalists because they were concerned about how parliament would react to a single clause measure !

Politicians should accept with humility the limits of their competence.

Martin Reynolds
Guest

I think it a jolly idea.

It does little, but says a great deal. I wish Chris a fair wind.

Alan Marsh
Guest
Alan Marsh

I think it is pretty well known that members of the House of Commons will vote by a large majority for women bishops – in 1993 the Labour Party even imposed an informal whip on its members who duly voted 100% for women priests. There is no need to “test” their opinion in this way. But one can hardly expect secular politicians to be able to tell the difference between secular law and the way in which the life of the Church of Jesus Christ is ordered. They voted down the revised Book of Common Prayer in 1928 (mostly with… Read more »

badman
Guest
badman

Just a little background on Chris Bryant for those who don’t know him.

Although he is now an MP, he studied theology at Ripon College as a postgraduate and was ordained by the Church of England in 1986. He served as curate at All Saints, High Wycombe, and as youth chaplain in Peterborough. He is now Parliamentary Private Secretary to the Secretary of State for Constitutional Affairs.

So he perhaps has more knowledge both of the Church of England and of constitutional matters than some other MPs.

Dave
Guest
Dave

Ripon College, Cuddesdon… good grief! The bishop factory strikes again…

Pete Broadbent
Guest
Pete Broadbent

Pros and cons of this approach: Pro – it will give us a flavour of where Parliament stands on the issue (though as a previous poster suggests, opinion in the House is probably overwhelmingly in favour) Con – it muddies the relationship between Parliament and General Synod, because it proposes to amend a Measure through the Parliamentary procedure (which is not how the Enabling Act is designed to operate) Pro – it fires a salvo across the bows of the Ecclesiastical Committee, which still has its fair share of Anglican and lapsed Anglican reactionaries on it, to deter the Ecclesiastical… Read more »

Doug Chaplin
Guest

Badman says: “he [Bryant] perhaps has more knowledge both of the Church of England and of constitutional matters than some other MPs”.
This would be a first for members of the Department of Constitutional affairs!
Anyway, the problem isn’t his knowledge, it’s his right, or lack of it, as a member of a church in a constituency serving a minority ethnic group (the Welsh) to try to overturn a constitutional convention and settlement which affects none of his constituents, but only the majority ethnic group of the nation which he does not represent in parliament.

Alan Harrison
Guest
Alan Harrison

I am interested to see Mr Bryant’s reference to an “ultra-conservative tail”. I’m an Anglican layman opposed to the innovation of the “ordination” of women to the sacred priesthood. I’m also a bit of a leftie – union activist (MSF, then AUT), resigned from the Labour Party in ’92 in protest at the expulsion of Dave Nellist, currently on the dole.

Chris Bryant is a rightward-moving Blairite apparatchik, happy to renounce his orders in order to get a well-paid parliamentary sinecure.

And HE’s calling ME an ultra-conservative????

Peter Bergman
Guest
Peter Bergman

I understand that clerics of the Church of England are forbidden to serve as members of the House of Commons (as opposed to the Lords) and that in order to be elected such clerics must first renounce their orders (the idea being that the Church of England orders its own life). Of course, no such restriction applies in the USA or elsewhere (think of Senator John Danforth), but of course in the USA Congress cannot make laws regarding religion. I’m afraid the fact that Mr Bryant resigned from the priesthood and his solemn vows to God in order to take… Read more »

Göran Koch-Swahne
Guest

Alan Marsh wrote: “This still happens in Sweden and Norway: but thankfully not since 1919 in England.”

It does not happen in Sweden. It could, in theory, between 1719 and 2000.

Why all this neverending disinformation?

Peter Owen
Guest

In reply to Peter Bergman’s comment, Church of England clergy (other than the Lords Spiritual) are now eligible for election to the House of Commons. Their disqualification was removed by the House of Commons (Removal of Clergy Disqualification) Act 2001 (http://www.opsi.gov.uk/acts/acts2001/20010013.htm ) which came into effect in time for the 2001 general election.

Simon Sarmiento
Guest

“especially as he now lives in another country”

Last time I checked, Wales was still part of the United Kingdom.

Martin Reynolds
Guest

Wales may be a part of the UK but as our Church has been disestablished for some time now Anglican clerics have not had to renounce their orders to seek election to Parliament from our seats. We have had several make such attempts.

Peter Bergman
Guest
Peter Bergman

You don’t follow rugby, do you, Simon?
The Church in Wales is a different church from the Church of England (for which I imagine quite a few people over in England are grateful).

I am interested to hear that the law regarding representation has been changed in England. it doesn’t change the fact that Bryant turned his back on his vows to God and the Church.

David Walker
Guest
David Walker

Peter B wrote: I am interested to hear that the law regarding representation has been changed in England. it doesn’t change the fact that Bryant turned his back on his vows to God and the Church. This is a hugely unfair comment. It feels like an attempt to maintain an argument that has been shot out of the water. Mr Bryant was a highly respected Anglican priest who was forced (by virtue of an unfair law) to renounce his orders if he wished to stand for parliament. It is no small measure due to both the example of his sacrifice… Read more »

Peter Bergman
Guest
Peter Bergman

David W, nobody required Mr Bryant to stand for the British parliament. I could understand someone resigning from the priesthood if he’d had a crisis of faith or had fallen into some seriously compromising sin, but to do so for a switch of ‘career’ doesn’t impress.
Anyway, it ill-becomes a Welsh ex-priest MP who has acted imprudently before, bringing embarassment to his party, to try to use his position to influence the law of the Church of England. He should stick to looking after the concerns of his constituencies.

Anna
Guest

Peter, your comments seem to suggest that God’s call is heard once in a priest’s lifetime and only in one way. I know nothing of Mr. Bryant’s particular case, but it seems quite possible that God might call an ordained minister to public service in a different way, and that human laws might require two calls to come into conflict.

J. C. Fisher
Guest

Alan H, to cite your union activism everytime someone calls you a conservative (or ultra-conservative) is getting old.

You *don’t* believe God is calling women to the priesthood (despite the evidence) = you ARE an ultra-conservative. Period.

And as far as your “leftie” views?

Toni Morrison has a line in her novel “Beloved”, about white abolitionists who are (nevertheless) *racists*: [para from memory] “They hated slavery even more than they hated slaves.”

Humans being human, these sort of internal contradictions are all too common… :-/

Alan Harrison
Guest
Alan Harrison

J.C. Fisher writes: “Alan H, to cite your union activism everytime someone calls you a conservative (or ultra-conservative) is getting old.” Old or not, get used to it! I am, by any standard, firmly committed to a left stance in politics. JCF continues: “You *don’t* believe God is calling women to the priesthood (despite the evidence) = you ARE an ultra-conservative. Period.” I’ve no idea whether God is calling women to the priesthood, nor do I have a clue what “evidence” might indicate that He is doing so. Since I’m a layman with no theological expertise, I would be quite… Read more »

Peter Bergman
Guest
Peter Bergman

Anna & David W: it’s well known in the UK that even if Mr Bryant hadn’t had to resign his orders to become an MP, since then he hasn’t quite acted as you might expect a non-stipendiary priest to do so. All the more reason to stay out of Erastian meddling. JCF: rather like Alan Harrison, I too am very far from certain that the Holy Spirit is calling women to the priesthood. If that makes me an ‘ultra-conservative’, then I’ll just have to bear the opprobrium of standing with the vast majority of the church throughout 2000 years (it’s… Read more »

Ann Marie
Guest
Ann Marie

Peter and Alan, Out of curiosity, have you sat down and listened to women when they speak about their call. I’ve heard about the call of a number of women and have experienced it myself. I am curious as to why you would doubt the call of women and not of men. It appears that Jesus called women. Indeed, as more and more comes to light, stripping slowly away at tradition and writings written by men influenced by the cultures around them, we are beginning to understand that gender does not preclude anyone from following Jesus to the fulness of… Read more »

Alan Marsh
Guest
Alan Marsh

I know and work with a number of ordained women and have had the opportunity both to listen and to observe over a number of years, but I have come to the conclusion that God is not calling women to be presbyters in His Church. There have been extensive searches for evidence of ordained women in the early years of the church, but apart from some imaginative reinterpretations of doubtful archaeological material, there is none. Nor do the scriptures suggest anything other than a calling to sacred ministry restricted to men alone. There are no layers to strip away, but… Read more »

Alan Marsh
Guest
Alan Marsh

Göran, Women priests were imposed on the Church of Sweden by the State in (I think) 1958, but even after disestablishment the Swedish church remains dominated by the terms of the settlement made in 2000. Is it not the case that elections to church bodies are open to voters who are not church members, and that there is very active secular interest in these elections? That seems to me very much like state involvement in the inner life of the church. Do trade unions or political parties allow the general public who are not members to vote for their leaders?… Read more »

Peter Bergman
Guest
Peter Bergman

Ann Marie: I studied alongside many women at seminary and have taught theology to many others from many different denominations. I love and respect them as my sisters in the Lord, and co-workers in the Gospel. I have never doubted that the Lord calls women to His service – of course He does! Does He call women to the particular work of spiritual leadership of the church? I guess it all depends on what you mean by ‘leadership’. I am much less certain about this, primarily on biblical grounds (Christ’s choice of the Apostles; the appointment of presbuteroi/episkopoi in the… Read more »

Alan Harrison
Guest
Alan Harrison

It isn’t me (or Peter) you have to convince, Ann Marie. The late Pope John Paul II questioned whether the innovation of the ordination of women to the sacred priesthood was within the competence of the Roman Pontiff. It certainly isn’t within the competence of an Anglican layman.

Ann Marie
Guest
Ann Marie

Alan and Peter,

I would continue the discussion but then we would be off topic. Besides which, I’m sure that all of us have heard the arguments countless times before and none of us is liable to change our minds because of a few words posted here. There’s so much I want to say but for now I will hold my tongue (or fingers in this case).

Ann Marie

Peter Bergman
Guest
Peter Bergman

Ann Marie, thank you for your gracious words.
God bless you.

Peter Elliott
Guest
Peter Elliott

As, I hope a loyal Anglican, I cannot see any reason why a woman should not be ordained. Are women 2nd class Christians? Is there some flaw in their make up as opposed to men? It has been said to me that women are temperamentally unsuited to be priests; is this a widely held view? I believe that Chris Bryant is right to bring forward a bill that will expose the discriminatory attitude of some parts of the Church as thoroughly un-Christian.

Alan Marsh
Guest
Alan Marsh

Alas, Peter Elliott’s remark could only come from someone cocooned in an insular denomination. Does he really believe that the great majority of the world church (including Anglicans provinces) is “discriminatory” and “thoroughly un-Christian” and that the only people who have somehow got it right are the tiny majority of Anglican churches which do have women bishops?

Dumb Ox
Guest
Dumb Ox

Hear, Hear! I agree with Peter Elliot. I believe it is tradition only, not scripture that has held up women’s ordination. I know many women in the Church of England who have held non-ordained leadership positions and whose work has clearly had God’s blessing on it. I don’t understand the objections to WO.

Göran Koch-Swahne
Guest

Alan Marsh wrote: “Is it not the case that elections to church bodies are open to voters who are not church members…” No, it is not the case. All the 20th century there has been a loud propaganda that the Church is being taken over by the State (= the Social Democrats). In reality, this is about political opposition to the disappearance of pre-modern social and legal customs; the abolition of the right of the husband to beat his wife (1909), servants under 18 years of age (1929), school children (1954), “own” children (1966). As the introduction of general suffrage… Read more »

Antony
Guest
Antony

Not the easiest one to follow, our Lutheran friend pastor Goran! I have over the years made some close studies of the Church of Sweden and would like to make the following remarks about the state of that church: 1. Erastian? Yes, very much so, with most of the major political parties dominating the “General Synod” and thus enforcing a very secularised agenda upon it. 2. Episcopal? Hardly, since the CofS bishops doesn’t have a vote on the “GS” and their rights of visitation and licensing are very weak because of the parochial independence (most PCC’s are also dominated by… Read more »

Peter Bergman
Guest
Peter Bergman

Antony, you have summed up succinctly what I’ve been saying and observing for a while about the Church of Sweden. It is indeed deeply Erastian, politically ruled, and very largely ignored by the great mass of Swedish people. If Christianity has a future in that country, it will lie with the Pentecostalists and Roman Catholics.

Antony
Guest
Antony

Peter, thank you for your compliment! Church of Sweden is very much ignored by its members (that they still remain members is a sociological phenomenon that, I believe, only can be explained by the “loyalty” phenomenon that you find in the Nordic Countries and in Germany). Even worse is that CofS is being more and more ignored by the rest of Christianity, having become ostracised to the Russian Church, with frosty relationship to the Roman Church and severely criticised by CofE regarding homosexual blessings. Ad to that a steady decline in membership and in worship attendance and you realise that… Read more »

Merseymike
Guest
Merseymike

Thankfully, though, the bulk of the population will continue to reject that type of Christianity – better secularism than conservative christianity.

Peter Bergman
Guest
Peter Bergman

Merseymike, well, I agree it would be ‘better’ if this life is all there is and all of us, Christian, Jew, Muslim and atheist, have the same destiny (which I imagine you would say is extinction – please correct me if I’m wrong in this assumption). As St Paul says, ‘If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are to be pitied more than all men’ (1 Cor 16.19). But we affirm with the Apostle that ‘Christ is in us, the hope of glory’. Hallelujah!