Thinking Anglicans

Church Times feature on women bishops

Updated

The 18 January issue of the Church Times carries an eight-page supplement: “women bishops theological debate” with this introduction:

CLEARING the way for women to be consecrated bishops in the Church of England is unfinished busi­­­ness after the defeat in the General Synod last November. In the pause before the fine detail is discussed yet again, we thought to answer readers’ questions about what exactly were the theological objections. We commissioned four main pieces, for and against women bishops, from Evangelical and Catholic viewpoints (encountering a few refusals along the way). We invited the contributors to consult whom they wished, and most filed in time for us to show the pieces to the others, to allow emendations and additions. There are also a few other pieces we thought illuminating. These are, of course, not definitive. As Edward Dowler suggests in the final piece, there are vaster areas of theological reflection about authority and gender with which the Church ought to engage. But, for the time being, we hope that these pages might provide a useful insight into the most pressing issues in the debate.

There is also this related editorial: An issue of unity,

The nine articles themselves are behind the Church Times paywall and so only available to subscribers. But versions of two are available elsewhere: An Ordinary Radical Event is an extended version of the article by Judy Stowell, and Veni Sancte Spiritus – but please don’t tell us anything we’d rather not hear is an earlier version of that by Edward Dowler.

Rachel Weir, the chair of WATCH, has responded to this CT supplement with Last year’s words belong to last year’s language … And next year’s words await another voice…..

In an eight page feature, nine articles are printed only three of which take a positive line on the ordination of women (and only one is actually written by a woman). Many of the rest seem to assume that having women as priests/leaders in the church is an interesting hypothesis to which they would not themselves subscribe!

There is clear bias of content here but there also seems to be a wilful blindness to the fact that women are already ordained as priests in the Church of England. The theological ‘rightness’ of this reform was decided back in 1975 when General Synod decided that there is ‘no fundamental objection to the ordination of women as priests’ and that decision was enacted in 1994 in the first ordinations.

So why is it that the Church Times is running a series of articles this week that seem to be trying to re-open the debate?

The offense to women clergy is extraordinary. Since 1994, over 5,000 women have been ordained and have served faithfully in ministries throughout the land. Many already exercise considerable authority and ‘headship’. The Church of England simply couldn’t survive without her women priests.

Another response comes from Miranda Threlfall-Holmes who writes about Loyal Anglicans : A historical view.

A few years ago, the Church of England’s General Synod passed a resolution declaring that both those who agree and those who disagree with the ordination of women are ‘loyal Anglicans’.

Since then, this phrase has been repeatedly quoted by those who disagree with women’s ordination. Look here, the argument runs. We are loyal Anglicans – Synod has agreed – and we cannot be called disloyal just because we don’t support the church’s decision to ordain women. You have to let us have everything we feel we need to flourish. Separate bishops. Separate dioceses, preferably, but failing that certainly separate Chrism masses, separate ordination services, separate selection conferences. It isn’t disloyal or separatist to ask for these things, we are assured: how can it be, when we know everyone involved is a ‘loyal Anglican’?

Let’s leave aside, for a moment, the illogicality of basing your argument on a declaration that both sides are loyal, and then using that declaration as an excuse for disowning your opponents as invalid innovators who are not loyal to the inheritance of faith.

Instead, I want to consider the phrase ‘loyal Anglicans’ as a historian. Because from a historical perspective, this phrase ‘loyal Anglicans’ is a very richly evocative phrase.

It is hardly going too far to say that the entire basis of Anglicanism is loyalty. Loyalty to the Crown over the Pope, mainly. And secondly, loyalty to a prescribed way of doing things rather than to our own ideas.

But if Synod’s statements are to be taken as the grounds for argument, there is no getting away from the fact that Synod has said that women can be ordained. That women can and should become bishops, that there are no fundamental theological objections to women’s ordination. And since Synod has declared women can be ordained, there is no grounds for refusing to accept that your (male) bishop is a loyal Anglican, let alone demanding an alternative one with whom you can agree.

We should stop the creeping separation that we have allowed to infiltrate the Church of England since the Act of Synod. Let’s all go to the same Chrism masses, the same ordination services. Let’s enact unity, rather than talking about it. Or let’s stop, please, claiming to be loyal.

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Simon Sarmiento
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Another article provoked by the Church Times feature is this by Miranda Threlfall-Holmes: Loyal Anglicans : A historical view
http://mirandathrelfallholmes.blogspot.co.uk/2013/01/loyal-anglicans-historical-view.html

Peter Owen
Guest

I’ve added extracts from Miranda Threlfall-Holmes’s article to my piece above.

William Tighe
Guest
William Tighe

As M T-H wrote (and was partially excerpted above: “So loyalty was the heart and soul of early Anglicanism. Loyalty to the Crown, and loyalty – shown by conformity – to the church. Explicitly not, ever, loyalty to your personal theological convictions, or the claims of any other church body. Explicitly not, ever, loyalty to a certain theological position over loyalty to that proclaimed by the bishops, monarch and parliament.” Except for “bishops” in the last sentence, I can think of no better parallel than that of 1559, in which the Elizabethan Settlement was devised and enforced by the monarch… Read more »

Peter Sherlock
Guest
Peter Sherlock

Perhaps one gift the Church of England could give the rest of the Anglican Communion is recognition of orders for the increasing numbers of women and men who have been ordained by a female bishop for the past 20 years. Are non-English Anglicans to be considered loyal as well?

Rod Gillis
Guest
Rod Gillis

Read the article by Ed Dowler, whose central thesis is “putting it bluntly, we have been trying to decide whether to have women bishops without really having a clue what either a bishop or a woman (or a man) actually is.” Sure Ed! His comments reminded me of an article in the WashingtonPost. “The truth is that the Abrahamic religions fear women and therefore go to extraordinary and sometimes brutal lengths to control them, constrain them, and repress them in every way. Show me a non-religious society that feels so threatened by the thought of female sexuality that it will… Read more »

Sara MacVane
Guest
Sara MacVane

On Rachel Weir’s article: and of course how ironic is the ‘hesitation’ of the bishop-designate of Fulham, given that the church of Rome is ‘more than hesitant’ about his own confirmation, ordination, and consecration (totally null and void, isn’t that it?) ……. a position I find impossible to understand (Fulham-designate’s that is) and totally illogical…..

Richard Ashby
Guest
Richard Ashby

A generation ago now, the Church of England decided that there are no theological objections to the ordination of women, more recently it decided to proceed to the consecration of women as bishops. The argument now is about the legislation to do the latter, it is not about the theology of women’s priestly ministry. To my mind the chair of the recent Synod debate should have ruled as out of order all those contributions which sought to re-open the theological issue and admitted only those which concerned the current legislation and the adequacy of the provision for those who still… Read more »

Collette Drake
Guest
Collette Drake

In Printing Rachel’s letter to the CT should you also not have printed the editorial response to it?

ED: It’s not a letter to the Church Times, check the link.

Father Ron Smith
Guest

Miranda Threlfall-Holmes’ article very neatly describes the double-mindedness that has crept into the arguments of the anti-women bishops camp in the Church of England. Loyalty to the Church of England surely involves being loyal to her polity concerning Holy Order. If the C.of E. has already officially, in General Synod affirmed the ordained ministry of women, then this is a fact that should be accepted by the whole Church – in order that there may be cohesion in both the exercise and the acceptance of such ministry by the entire membership. Anything less than acceptance by everyone in the Church… Read more »

Laurence Roberts
Guest
Laurence Roberts

What has gone wrong at the Church Times now ?

It souns like a veritable capaign against women’s ministry- but who knows for sure behind the pay wall ?

Francis
Guest
Francis

Rod, re the Washington Post article you quote. Since female genital mutilation in northern Africa and the Middle East appears to predate both Christianity and Islam, and to be forbidden in Judaism, and to exist within Islamic and Christian cultures in the region as an informal but very embedded cultural practice to do with ‘purification’, despite frequent condemnations by theologians, and since Christianity and Islam elsewhere do not feature it as a practice – it seems a bit tendentious to claim that it shows that ‘the Abrahamic religions fear women’. This sounds to me much more like a projection of… Read more »

Rod Gillis
Guest
Rod Gillis

Re Francis, did you have opportunity to read the entire article? For example, right under the by-line, the subject she proposes to evaluate is laid out. “Many traditions teach that while both men and women are equal in value, God has ordained specific roles for men and women. Those distinct duties often keep women out of leadership positions in their religious communities. What is religion’s role in gender discrimination?” I think if one reads the entire article, the reader will find criticism of Abrahamic religion is forceful, and yes, there are a number of relevant touch stones with the ongoing… Read more »

Peter Bostock
Guest
Peter Bostock

Anglo Catholics of a traditional hue have long lamented the demise of The Church Times as their house journal, which it once was. We mistakenly assumed it had “gone over to the other Side” but clearly it is a disappointment to those who wish only their view to be represented on its pages. The tendency in Roman Catholicism towards the silencing of dissent and the acceptance of infallibility seems to find a reflection in attitudes to the paper’s contribution to the current debacle and the statement of General Synod on the ordination of women in the 1970s.

Flora Alexander
Guest
Flora Alexander

I have read the explanations of their positions offered by the opponents of women bishops. Enough has been said about the idea that the Church of England has to keep in step with the Church of Rome, which does not recognise Anglican orders. In the other direction, I found it hard to follow the reasoning of Peter Myers of the Church Society. He includes in his argument against ‘being made to submit to a woman’ his concern that ‘playing male roles leaves many women stressed, burnt out, and their gifts not nourished effectively’. Myers maintains that it is not sexist… Read more »

Martin Reynolds
Guest
Martin Reynolds

I am not sure what Peter Bostock is on about. It would be good to think the Church Times had suddenly rediscovered a distinguished Anglo Catholic past, sadly I suspect it was more down to poor or even incompetent journalism.

Rod Gillis
Guest
Rod Gillis

Readers here may also be interested in the editorial from National Catholic Reporter, the R.C. publication here.

“After our editorial “Correct an injustice: Ordain women” (NCR, Dec. 7-20), several readers asked us to provide more background on some of the issues raised by the editorial. This is the second in an occasional series of articles looking at these issues.”

http://ncronline.org/news/women-religious/meaning-ordination-and-how-women-were-gradually-excluded

John
Guest
John

I consider myself to be a loyal Anglican. I am not ‘loyal’ to the monarchy, except in the sense that I do not want to remove it by force. The attempt to link loyalty to the Church of England and loyalty to ‘the Crown’ (and yes, I do know the history and the outward forms) seems, in this day and age, almost farcical.

Anne
Guest
Anne

Flora Alexander: “But to argue by implication that women in general are not fit to occupy positions of authority indicates a kind of essentialism that is difficult to distinguish from sexism.” Amen to that, Flora. It was the casual statement that ‘playing male roles leaves many women stressed, burnt out, and their gifts not nourished effectively’ which worried me in this particular article. Of course some women find being in authority stressful. Many men do too. Being in authority is bound to be stressful sometimes – “uneasy lies the head that wears the crown”. The discernment process for ordination is… Read more »

Simon Dawson
Guest
Simon Dawson

Rod Gillis links to some National Catholic Reporter articles which are fascinating and well worth reading as a counter to the Church Times articles.

But what is sad is the footnote to the first article

“This article was prepared with consultation with scholars knowledgeable about the topic but who asked that their names not be used.”

So much for academic freedom.

Simon

Collette Drake
Guest
Collette Drake

ED, I do apologise – the letter in the CT was of course from another WATCH Council Representative

Stephen Morgan
Guest
Stephen Morgan

Truly beyond belief! Some of the contributors to the CT supplement remind me of the the knight in ‘Monty Python and the Holy Grail’ who has his arms, legs and head cut off one by one but still wants to fight on. For them it is as if the last twenty years never happened. In the real world we have women priests, archdeacons, deans and bishops and the sky has fallen on nobody’s head. The Church of England made itself wholly ridiculous in November in the eyes of the world and many within its own ranks, and supplements such as… Read more »

Helen
Guest
Helen

Peter Myers trotted out the same arguments used in the c19 to prevent women having the vote, taking degrees, joining the professions etc. What exactly is a “male role”anyway? And who is he and what does he do apart from displaying a Taliban like beard? Presumably he does not work in any profession that involves working under a woman. So that must leave him suffering a woeful lack of experience. I think we should be told.

Flora Alexander
Guest
Flora Alexander

Picking up on Anne’s remarks, based on actual experience, about the ability of men and of women to cope with the stresses of ministry, can anybody enlighten me about the notion of complementarity (between men and women) that the bishops have been invoking in connection with same sex marriage, and that some evangelicals are using to oppose women bishops. It looks to me like an old-fashioned essentialism that most of us discarded a good forty years ago, but I’d be interested to know if it’s derived from anything more than a naive reading of the OT and St Paul.

Jean Mayland
Guest
Jean Mayland

I think I have come to the conclusion that people who refuse to accept the vote of the General Synod that women can be priests just cannot be described as ‘loyal anglicans’. They are loyal to the Roman Catholic Church and maybe that is their proper home.

Veuster
Guest
Veuster

> If the C.of E. has already officially, in General Synod affirmed the ordained ministry of women, then this is a fact that should be accepted by the whole Church

The problem with this view is that the C of E is only a tiny part of the whole Church.

Erika Baker
Guest
Erika Baker

“The problem with this view is that the C of E is only a tiny part of the whole Church.” There is no problem with this view. The Whole Church is an almost mythical body that does not actually exist in practice and it is only ever evoked when someone wants to stop the CoE from doing something the Roman Catholics and the Orthodox haven’t yet caught up with. The CoE is a precisely defined legal entity with its own discernment processes and it is absolutely entitled to make those decisions as, indeed, it has done. And so the fact… Read more »

Perry Butler
Guest
Perry Butler

…and of course Erika neither the Roman Catholic Church nor the Orthodox believe ( unambiguously) that we are part of “the Church”..Indeed many Orthodox dont believe the Roman catholic Church is part of the Church. The official theology of both churches affirm that schism can only be FROM the Church, whereas from the 16thc onwards we have believed that schism is WITHIN the Church.Not suprising then that ecumenism with both Churches has stalled.

Rod Gillis
Guest
Rod Gillis

Re Simon (Dawson) and R.C. academic freedom. I don’t think one would associate “academic freedom” with the church, any church, per se. Academic freedom is a crucial part of the academy, but corporate believing is part of the corporate nature of the church, and it can be difficult for folks who sometimes function in these two different contexts to balance the two–sometimes one must decide. However, I certainly agree with your essential observation. Roman Catholic academics who stick their neck out and offer critical evaluation of Vatican policy must contend with Vatican intimidation. There is nothing like the theological toleration… Read more »

David Lamming
Guest
David Lamming

It is clear that not everyone who has commented on this thread has read all the articles in the Church Times supplement which, as Peter Owen points out, are behind the CT paywall. It is to be hoped that they will shortly be freely available to all online. For me, the most significant contribution is that by the Bishop of Chelmsford, Stephen Cottrell, who, as he points out, as someone nurtured in the Catholic tradition of the Church of England, was not a natural supporter of women’s ordination. His article deserves to be read in full but I will quote… Read more »

Helen
Guest
Helen

Pete Myers, he who cannot submit to a woman and claims that women are unfitted for “male roles”, is a 29 year old ordinand at Oakhill College ie he has entered the only profession in Britain where he has a reasonable chance of escaping the dreadful prospect of a female boss. The church is the last legal refuge of the insecure (and immature) male sexist. Had his comments referred to Jews or blacks rather than mere women, they would have been seen for what they are- deeply unpleasant expressions of prejudice founded on nothing more than personal gut feeling (“conscience”… Read more »

John
Guest
John

As one entirely in favour of women priests and women bishops, I find the standard of debate on this thread depressingly low-grade. It is axiomatic that when you engage with opponents, you take them at the level of their best arguments. Instead, here we get ritualist denunciation of their prejudice and sexism. It’s so profoundly lazy. As for M T H, as a fellow academic of some status, I can only say that if I marked her exam papers, she would get a 2:2.

Sue Slater
Guest
Sue Slater

John says contributors are lazy, but hides behind his Christian name while uttering a gratuitous insult to a fellow academic. If he was marking my exams I would be making an official complaint about bullying or harassment.

Helen
Guest
Helen

I think you’ve rather missed the point John: prejudice and sexism lie at the heart of at least some of the arguments against women bishops, and your own dismissal of comment on this as “ritualistic” is pretty lazy in itself. Rather than grading MTH’s essay from your lofty academic heights, perhaps you could enlighten the rest of us as to what its shortcomings actually are. Do remember that for many people the “best arguments” against women bishops have lost any sort of currency they might once have had, though do by all means raise the tenor of this thread by… Read more »

Rod Gillis
Guest
Rod Gillis

Re John “Instead, here we get ritualist denunciation of their prejudice and sexism. It’s so profoundly lazy.” While I agree that comment boards do not always elevate discourse, I think one can also point out that for many us, but I’ll post for myself, the church is, in fact, profounldy deeply sexist. Sexism and prejudice rationalized with theological langauge, remain sexism and prejudice. Opponents of gender equality may advance their “best” arguments from a theological point of view, but that does not make those arguments any less sexist. What’s lazy, is the dimissal of feminist analysis, some of it done… Read more »

Jeremy
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Jeremy

“It is axiomatic that when you engage with opponents, you take them at the level of their best arguments.”

Wow. What kind of ivory tower do you live in?

Erika Baker
Guest
Erika Baker

The whole point that many contributors here were making is that the arguments made in the Church Times should not be engaged with. They are yesterday’s debate and it is profoundly wrong to give the impression that there is still even the smallest debate about the validity of women’s orders to be had. The Church should really do itself a favour and stop this winding back the clock firmly. The only argument worth having and the only one that should be had is what kind of provisions should be granted to the tiny minority who still cannot accept the official… Read more »

John
Guest
John

Helen,

I’m sure she knows who I am. But for the record, John Moles, Newcastle University.

Richard
Guest
Richard

Jean Mayland, you said “I think I have come to the conclusion that people who refuse to accept the vote of the General Synod that women can be priests just cannot be described as ‘loyal anglicans’. They are loyal to the Roman Catholic Church and maybe that is their proper home.” I’m afraid I fail to see how your statements are linked. As someone who cannot accept the admission of women to the sacred ministry, I don’t see what this has to do with the Roman Communion. Were I to be able to satisfy myself that it was consonant with… Read more »

Stephen Morgan
Guest
Stephen Morgan

John Moles: Well, that’s a relief to all, to know that our ‘depressingly low-grade’ ‘profoundly lazy’ comments are being marked by a fellow academic of some status from Newcastle University. I thought we were commenting on the Church Times rather strange decision to issue a supplement on the theology of women’s ordination, rather as if we were at the beginning of the process, rather than more than two decades down the line! The manner in which contributors express themselves is surely a matter for the moderator, and actually, nothing to do with this thread.

Rod Gillis
Guest
Rod Gillis

@ Erika “those asking for provisions have not even hinted at what compromise they might be willing to make.” A prior question might be, are they in good faith interested in compromise? Looks like a lot of stonewalling to me.

Sue Slater
Guest
Sue Slater

John Moles – it was me, not Helen, who did not know your identity. It would be rude of me to suggest that your attention to detail is lazy, wouldn’t it? 🙂

Sue Slater

Helen
Guest
Helen

I’m afraid I didn’t have a clue who you were John, nor, following the revelation of your surname, am I any the wiser.

Father Ron Smith
Guest

I am not, and cannot imagine myself ever being without an awful lot of doctrinal rejigging, a Roman Catholic and so simply do not understand how I can be accused of being loyal to that branch of the Church.

Posted by: Richard on Thursday,

So, then, Richard; might you be of the school of thought believing that ‘Male headship’ trumps any idea of women becoming clergy or bishops. it would be helpful to know – so that you may be challenged on your opposition to women in ordained ministry

Geo Noakes
Guest
Geo Noakes

It is sad beyond words that some of the most caustic comments in this thread are being posted by the same people who promoted the ‘respect and trust’ agendas in the failed WB Measure. As the Archbishop Elect has said in his recent interview, unless Christians disagree in love then the Church is damaging its witness in a very profound way.

John
Guest
John

Even Homer nodds. But I stand by my comments on the general standard of debate here and the standard of M T H’s piece.

As for the Church Times feature, I took it as designed not to rehash all the old arguments but to show how people of good faith could in good faith reach different conclusions. In that it succeeded.

Laurence Roberts
Guest
Laurence Roberts

‘show how people of good faith could in good faith reach different conclusions.’ So what ? The Church of England as a national body has not only reached a conclusion on women’s ordination, but has actioned it, twenty years ago. So there is no need to rehash all that again and again. I hope there will be a simple motion and no para church, no artifical ‘Sees’ to foster misogeny and further discontent. It is impossible both to ordain women and not to ordain women. No more bishops who do not believe that women ministers are in fact Ordained. It… Read more »

Erika Baker
Guest
Erika Baker

John, you have still not made a constructive contribution to this conversation or substantiated any of your points. You used to be a really constructive contributor here, with views that were not always immediately accessible but ultimately always well thought through and well argued and that did frequently move the debate forward. Do you really want to give that up in favour of becoming one of those you yourself criticise so harshly here? I would find that very sad. I agree, at first I also thought the Church Times just wanted to present the arguments so that they did not… Read more »

Laurence Roberts
Guest
Laurence Roberts

I do not believe in women ministers.

I do not have to – I have seen them with my own eyes and heard them for myself.

And, some of the current bishop vacancies WILL be filled by women.

John
Guest
John

Erika, A number of contributors here think that anyone who does not accept women priests or bishops is by definition sexist and bigoted. I think that is wrong. Indeed, I know people who do not accept women priests or bishops who (in my judgement) are not remotely sexist or bigoted. I would be surprised if you did not also. At least you and others here ‘know’, through this site, a number of such people. Do you think Father David or Benedict by definition sexist and bigoted? Since the contributors to whom I refer think in this way on this basic… Read more »

Rod Gillis
Guest
Rod Gillis

@ John “A number of contributors here think that anyone who does not accept women priests or bishops is by definition sexist and bigoted.”

The idea seems to be to re-define sexism so that it encompasses only sexist attitudes one disapproves, but not sexist attitudes one approves. Men who oppose the ordination of women don’t get to decide how sexism is defined. But that’s part of the whole problem, men defining for women else, what is or is not acceptable for women.