REFORM has replied to GS Misc 1033 with the following letter:
Rod Thomas wrote to William Fittall, General Secretary of General Synod
RESPONSE BY REFORM TO SECRETARY GENERAL ON GS MISC 1033
In GS Misc 1033, you sought views on Clause 5(1)c of the draft Women Bishops Measure prior to the formulation of proposals for the September meeting of the House of Bishops. My purpose in writing is to let you know how members of the Reform network have responded to your request and to the situation in which the General Synod now finds itself.
As you will know, conservative evangelicals have always been assured that their theological outlook relating to male headship in both church and family life will have a respected position. We have argued that to achieve this, any legislation for women bishops should introduce appropriate safeguards – and these should be mainly on the face of the Measure, rather than in a Code of Practice. The latter should be seen as elucidating the basic provision of legislation.
To this end, we have sought over the years to put the case for legislative provision which would achieve four safeguards:
1. Enabling vows of canonical obedience to be taken with integrity.
Such vows are made to the Lord Bishop and his (or in the possible future, her) successors. Those of us who believe in male headship would be unable to make these vows if they were subsequently taken to apply to spiritual oversight exercised by a female bishop. This is not a purely theoretical issue; it is of real practical significance. Already a large number of young men who would otherwise have applied for ordination training have stood aside from doing so – and there is every indication that this number will rise catastrophically from our point of view if the present draft legislation gains final approval. As you know, we sought to address this problem by making proposals for the transfer of Episcopal jurisdiction. When this proved unacceptable, we suggested a way of applying the ‘London Scheme’ to the national church by providing for jurisdiction to be ‘ceded’ rather than delegated. As it is, the present draft Measure seeks to provide some reassurance by distinguishing between delegation and derivation. This is helpful, but our conversations with prospective ordinands have shown that much more work needs to be done if the distinction is to be seen as more than an exercise in semantics.
2. Providing for non-discrimination in selection processes.
The experience of conservative evangelicals in the US and Swedish churches has shown that with the passage of time, attitudes to those who are opposed to female Episcopal oversight harden. In this country, the briefing produced by WATCH prior to the July 2012 General Synod also indicated a desire to see arrangements put in place that were temporary rather than permanent. This demonstrates how necessary it is to provide clear safeguards against discrimination in selection procedures if we are to feel assured about our longer term future. At the moment, such provision is contained within the illustrative Code of Practice – and presumably the argument is that this is equivalent to the present provision in the Act of Synod. However, with the passage of the Women Bishops legislation, the situation will be very different from 1993. This has led us, therefore, to question whether putting such a provision in a Code is adequate, given that changes to a Code require only simple majority voting in the General Synod.
3. Providing for Episcopal Representation.
While Clause 5(1)c of the draft Measure was designed to provide important new reassurances for traditional catholics, it had real significance too for conservative evangelicals. The Archbishop of Canterbury was good enough to spend some time discussing the draft Measure with me last May and he was concerned that I should understand that while substantive changes to the draft Measure might not be possible, the proposed new clause did represent an important peg on which provisions in the Code of Practice could be hung. I was therefore encouraged to see the clause both as providing an important acknowledgement of the need to accommodate our theological position and as a reassurance that there would be now be some legislative weight behind the assurances of the two Archbishops in the foreword to the illustrative Code, that some bishops sympathetic to our theological position would be appointed.
We are very grateful for these assurances about the appointment of bishops, but it has to be said that without the sort of legislative underpinning provided by Clause 5(1)c, it is difficult to see how they might work in practice. The Pilling report recognized discrimination against conservative evangelicals over Episcopal appointments, yet what has happened in practice since then? Despite very encouraging appointments of evangelicals, no conservative evangelical bishops who hold to male headship have been appointed. With the retirement of the Bishop of Lewes, we are now in the extraordinary situation of having no serving bishop of our theological outlook anywhere within the Church of England. As a result, a substantial section of the Church of England has no Episcopal representation; this is deeply alienating.
4. Affirming our Theological Outlook.
We have been very concerned at the way in which the arguments in favour of women bishops have developed over time. At the most recent General Synod, we were told that we did not have a gospel theology. Positions which respected ‘equality’ and ‘justice’ were regarded as gospel positions, while our views on the biblical references to creation order were seen as antithetical to the Gospel. This was not just hurtful. It seemed to suggest that biblical theology could only be legitimate if it supported pre-conceived notions of ‘human rights’. Developments such as these strike at the heart of Anglican formularies. Canon A5 states that the Scriptures are the primary grounds of the Church’s doctrine. Article 6 affirms that we can only be required to believe what is in Scripture. We believe that if this position is to be maintained, then our theological outlook needs to be explicitly recognized as legitimately Anglican. There have been many public statements to this effect, but now that we are facing such opposition, these statements need legislative expression. Again, Clause 5(1)c went some way towards doing this by referring to theological conviction. To remove any such reference would be profoundly counter-productive.
The Options in GS Misc 1033 *
It will, I hope, be apparent from what I have said above that any diminution in the effect of Clause 5(1)c would further undermine our confidence in the draft Measure. Thus while we appreciate all the work that has been done in formulating the options in GS Misc 1033, we cannot support options 2-7 as they stand. Each would materially undermine what little Clause 5(1)c originally gave.
Option 2 would be wholly out of keeping with the effort the House of Bishops has made to make the protective provision for traditional evangelicals and catholics more acceptable to them.
Option 3 would remove from Clause 5(1)c a key element that is of significance to evangelicals – namely an implication that bishops who believe in male headship will continue to serve within the Church of England. The phrase ‘consistent with’ implies that some ‘Scheme’ bishops will need to share the theological outlook of petitioning parishes. The suggested alternatives – ‘respect’ or ‘take account of’ – have no such implication. Furthermore, by prefacing the clause with the words ‘the manner in which’, the impact of the clause moves from ‘outcome’ to ‘process’ in a way which will have widely varying and uncertain results.
Option 4 not only removes the implication that serving conservative evangelical bishops will be available, but also deletes all reference to theological conviction. This means that the process of selection will be open to accusations of sex discrimination and that the theological convictions underpinning the letters of request will not be properly recognized.
Option 5 has attractions because it envisages dialogue, but ultimately cannot be supported because it will give rise to varying outcomes across dioceses and fails to rely on the appointment of any conservative evangelical bishops.
Option 6 introduces the interesting possibility of substituting the ‘position’ of the PCC for the term ‘theological conviction’. This would, in practice, appear to provide for the same possibilities as does the current Clause 5(1)c – but would only do so if the words ‘consistent with’ were re-introduced. Just to ‘respect’ or ‘take account of’ a PCC position adds virtually nothing to the original legislation. As it stands, therefore, we cannot support option 6.
Option 7 suggests that all it does is to add mention of a process to option 6. In fact it completely removes the potential significance of option 6 by substituting a process for an outcome. It therefore significantly diminishes the effect of the Clause and would lead to varying outcomes between dioceses.
Having opposed options 2-7 as they stand, we do nevertheless appreciate that the House of Bishops may wish to introduce changes to Clause 5(1)c in order to address some of the concerns voiced at the General Synod last July. We therefore welcome the proposal that has been made by Clive Scowen for retaining Clause 5(1)c but refining the reference to theological conviction and removing the words ‘ as to the consecration and ordination of women’ are removed. As an alternative, an amended option 6, including the words ‘consistent with’ might be appropriate.
Finally, I would like to put on record my gratitude to the House for the work it has done in seeking to address the many concerns that have been expressed over the draft Measure. Reform members met nationally for prayer last June and we will continue to hold you and all the members of the House in our prayers over the next few weeks.
Rev’d Preb Rod Thomas
*For the background to the options follow this link to the Church of England web site.