Wednesday, 25 July 2012
Church of England publishes discussion document on women bishops' legislation
A discussion document (GS Misc 1033) has been issued to all members of the General Synod today. It explores possible ways of resolving the issue which led to the adjournment of the final approval debate of the women bishops’ legislation in York a fortnight ago.
Here is a link to GS Misc 1033: Women in the Episcopate – the Final Legislative Lap in PDF format.
And here is a copy of the document as a web page.
The document is in the name of the Secretary General and has been issued with the agreement of the Standing Committee of the House of Bishops (Canterbury, York, London, Coventry, Dover, Gloucester, Norwich and Rochester).
It also reflects input from the Steering Committee for the legislation (Bishop of Manchester, Bishop of Dover, Viv Faull, Paula Gooder, Ian Jagger, Margaret Swinson and Geoffrey Tattersall), and from the three bishops (St Edmundsbury, Chichester and Coventry) who were previously members of the Code of Practice Working Group.
No recommendations are made at this stage. Instead the document sets out the decision making process which now has to be followed, explains how the disputed issue concerning clause 5(1)(c) relates to the rest of the legislation (which cannot now be amended) and discusses seven possible options.
Two of these are to retain or remove clause 5(1)(c). The other five are ways in which the present wording might be replaced by a new provision. These five alternative drafting approaches are not intended to be exhaustive. As the document says at paragraph 11: ‘The hope is that these possibilities will stimulate further suggestions.’
Posted by Simon Sarmiento on
Wednesday, 25 July 2012 at 12:38pm BST
The consultation period ends on 24 August so that the results can be assessed and reported to the House for its meeting on 12 September. On that occasion - which will also be attended by the Steering Committee - the House will need to decide how to respond to the Synod’s request to reconsider clause 5(1)(c). In the light of the decision taken then Synod members will have just over two months to reflect on how they will vote when the Final Approval debate is resumed at the group of sessions called for 19-21 November.
On 12 September the House will also consider the need for supplementing the illustrative draft Code of Practice which was circulated to Synod in January (GS Misc 1007). A final decision will not be needed then because drafting the Code does not at this stage form part of the formal legislative process.
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This is a very important document. While it is tempting to dismiss the debate on the grounds of angels dancing on the head of a pin, it just might create a groundswell of support for one particular option and thereby improve the chances of Final Approval. Leaving or removing the offending paragraph doesn't work. Me an option five person I think.
I agree this is also a document of great significance. What disappoints me, however, is the lack of theological reflection in the document. I recognise this is not possible given the document's origin and context, but it seems critical to me that in addition to providing a response to the General Synod, the House of Bishops receives a range of theological reflections around the issues of content and process which have been raised, and itself exercises its ecclesial and collegial role to provide theological reflection to the Church. The key issue on which I believe the Church needs to reflect is trust. Legislation has a key role in engendering trust, however it also has the possibility to create disengagement and prevent relationships of trust being built. So part of the solution to the conundrum facing the Church of England is how the final Measure, and if approved, the Code of Practice, can both reflect and foster a higher degree of trust based on sound communication and relationships that mirror the trust exhibited by Christ crucified and brought to fruition in the resurrection. This is going to require rebuilding of relationships across the Church - for ordained women, whose trust has been abused for decades in these debates, for those opposed to the ordination of women, who see a litany of half-hearted, broken promises, for the House of Bishops, which needs to speak honestly and collegially rather than in party-room fashion, and I could go on. Neither a Measure nor a Code of Practice will function effectively if they do not institute and operate on the basis of trust.
Having briefly looked at GS Misc 1033 "Women in the Episcopate - the Final Legislative Lap" (an appropriate title as the Olympic Games are about the begin)I only wish I could work out how my computer could do a Word Count on this document. Its length reminds me of nothing more than:-
"The Lord's Prayer is 66 words, the Gettysburg Address is 286 words, there are 1,322 words in the Declaration of Independence, but government regulations on the sale of cabbages total 26,911 words".
Even Thinking Anglicans request that "comments are limited to 400 words".
I can't quite get beyond wondering how a church can enact legislation to cover those in 'impaired communion' - a term used in this document. If I am in impaired communion (in this case not recognising the orders, (most of the) sacraments and authority of another part of the Church), then I am not really in communion. When used ecumenically, this means we recognise a high degree of doctrinal affinity, some cherished shared history, and so on, but we don't pretend to be part of the same church for the purposes of legislation (if indeed we are recognised as being a church, as opposed to an ecclesial community).
It seems to me that our problem is we're trying to draft/enact a legal fiction without admitting that we are doing so. We're trying to fib to ourselves and the fib is being resisted. If the matters are as important and crucial to the Gospel as some say they are, then a legal fiction is not good enough. Is there no room for (costly) integrity here?
I still think there are fundamental problems with the legislation as a whole: it still allows a diocesan bishop not to recognise the orders of some of his priests. How can we permit ourselves to make such appointments? How can anyone accept the post of diocesan bishop with integrity while not recognising the orders of his priests? I don't get it.
Part of me is attracted to being part of a theologically messy church, where we don't pretend to have everything figured out, where we live with tension and contradiction, where we recieve communion from/alongside people with whom we profoundly disagree and all that. But when we get to legislating on theological matters, we can't use such nuance to make something that doesn't make sense magically make sense -- not without compromising faith and intelligence. If we're going to be messy, then legislating for it is not the way forward....
I suspect we should have simply enabled the consecration of women bishops by a single clause measure and then lived with the messy messiness.
"I suspect we should have simply enabled the consecration of women bishops by a single clause measure and then lived with the messy messiness."
- Joe, on Thursday -
I think Joe has a point here. Church discipline is always going to be 'messy'. Life itself is 'messy'. I'm sure God is used to our messiness. Why should the Church expect more of humanity than God does?