Wednesday, 22 August 2012

Women bishops: a detailed response to GS Misc 1033

Responses to GS Misc 1033 Women in the Episcopate - the Final Legislative Lap were requested from synod members (though not from the general public) by Friday 25 August (see paras 94 and 95).

Our original introduction to this document can be found here.

One such response that has been submitted is from April Alexander, a lay General Synod member from Southwark Diocese, and she has agreed to its publication here in full. It is available as a web page or as a PDF file. The response is in 12 numbered sections.

Section 1 argues that option 1 (retain the bishops’ amendment) is not a satisfactory outcome. In discussing the difficulties of qualifying “maleness” she notes that:

The Archbishop’s argument that qualifying maleness would allow charges of misogyny to be avoided is excruciatingly insulting (para 33). It is an idea which the traditionalists have developed in the recent past in the context of women bishops; (“we are rejecting male as well as female bishops and therefore we cannot be accused of discrimination”). Women and their supporters are already accommodating misogyny and have been doing so with astonishing generosity for years. The responses to the unamended Measure from the Dioceses indicated that there was very wide acceptance of this.

To say that the phrase “male bishop” is “insufficient [and] does not go to the root of [the problem]” is incorrect. The position of the traditionalists and of the conservatives depends totally on a theology of gender and pandering to the notion of “pedigree” on the face of the legislation does nothing to alter this.

And she goes on to quote a statement from senior women clergy issued way back in 2008.

Section 2 deals with Option 2 (delete the amendment) which is the course of action April Alexander supports. She notes that:

…If the Archbishops were to throw their weight behind the unamended draft Measure on the basis that it contains all the provision necessary for extremists at either end to continue to practice as they have been doing up to now by statute and by grace and trust, then the very few changes of heart which are required among the House of Laity could be achieved.

… If Simon Killwick’s estimate that the traditionalists and conservatives form 35% of the House of Laity, then the numbers who need to change their vote in order to achieve 66.6% in favour in that House would only be four. Changing hearts and minds is the life’s work of bishops and archbishops and it would be strange indeed if , between them, they could not effect a change of heart in this small number if they put their weight behind the unamended Measure…

Other sections discuss a range of issues:

  • (3) the difficulty of evaluating the amendment without seeing at the same time its proposed outworking in the Code of Practice
  • (4) the question of what powers the synod has in November to make further amendments or further referrals - this information is not readily available from the Standing Orders
  • (5) the controversial decision that this amendment did not constitute a “substantial change” and the lack of transparency in reaching this decision
  • (6) whether there has been a sufficient degree of independence in the obtaining of further legal advice
  • (7) a lack of clarity in the paper as to who makes the judgement about which sort of bishop is suitable for which parish
  • (8) the possibility of option 4 being an acceptable replacement for the current working
  • (9) need for the Code of Practice to be very clear that parishes cannot pick their own bishops
  • (10) The voting records of the bishops serving on the Code of Practice group show this group is heavily weighted against the majority views of the synod
  • (11) this contains April’s own proposal for a revised wording of 5(1)(c) which refers to the setting up of the Diocesan Scheme, thus:

the identification in the Diocesan Scheme both of the bishop or bishops who will exercise episcopal ministry by delegation to parishes who issue a letter of request and the circumstances under which alternative provision might be made in a particular case (adapted from draft CoP para 40)

  • (12) She concludes with a quotation from Archbishop Robert Runcie, who in 1986 said this:

‘At the root of some of the options set out is the view, apparently held by some, that “Bishops who had associated themselves with the ordination of women” would no longer be “valid ministers of the sacraments”. I find this an extraordinary attitude. The scholastic doctrine, that the “unworthiness of the minister hindereth not the effect of the sacrament” is enshrined in Article 26. It is also traditional catholic theology that unorthodoxy does not invalidate the sacraments. The opposite view seems to me to introduce uncatholic heresy. How could we allow a situation where individual church members or groups decide who are real bishops and who are not? To reject the bishop is to reject the Church that he represents. I do not believe that it is possible to be an Anglican and not be in communion with your bishop and - I say this with deference and due humility - with the See of Canterbury.’

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Categorised as: Church of England | General Synod

"How could we allow a situation where individual church members or groups decide who are real bishops and who are not? To reject the bishop is to reject the Church that he represents." - Robert Runcie -

This statement quoted by April Alexander, in section 12 of her submission, seems to sum up very well the peculiar situation that the Church of England finds itself in at the present juncture of debate about the means by which Women might be able to become Bishops in that Church.

For a continuation of the present scheme, whereby parishes can opt out of receiving episcopal ministry from their local bishop - whether male or female - would only exacerbate the problem of a two-tiered episcopate, which was initiated in the Church of England by the provision of 'Episcopi Vagantes' - in the form of 'Flying Bishops'.

For Anglicans who value traditional Catholic Order - perhaps the majority of protesters against Women Bishops - the undermining of the diocesan bishops by substitution of a bishop chosen by a dissenting parish would seem to be against the whole ethos of catholicity in the Anglican tradition.

For the Church of England to perpetuate such a situation, uniquely among Anglican Provinces of the Communion, would prove a mark of difference in some ways little different from another Province's determination to ordain Gay and Lesbian Bishops - except that, this latter initiative could be seen as a mark of progress, rather than regressive and discriminatory.

Posted by: Father Ron Smith on Thursday, 23 August 2012 at 10:44am BST

I am distressed by the fact that according to April Alexander I am an extremist for wishing the Church of England to hold a valued place for those of us who believe that Western Catholic Church Order should not be replaced by the General Synod going it alone! Clearly we disagree on this issue, but I wish that just for once she and others could hear that this is not an anti women view, but simply and directly about Church Order. Perhaps it is time that we prepared to sadly leave our beloved Church of England.

Posted by: Fr Frank Nichols on Thursday, 23 August 2012 at 6:56pm BST

Fr. Frank here demonstrates the fact that 'Church Order' seems (by F.i.F. people) not to have been undermined by the imposition of outside interference by 'Flying Bishops' into the area of jurisdiction of a diocesan bishop.

However, in the Church of England - if it agrees to the ordination of Women Bishops - this will make the issue compatible with the legal 'Church Order' of the Church of England. Presumably, anyone staying within the C.of E. would need to subscribe to the 'Church Order' of the C.of E.

You cannot be both part of the Church, and yet apart from it - on issues of your own choosing.

This is all, of course, presuming that the C.of E. will not go ahead on the basis of a two-tier episcopate (which would be non-catholic).

Posted by: Father Ron Smith on Friday, 24 August 2012 at 2:02am BST

Fr Frank
when "orthodox" believers insist that other vital aspects of ancient Church Order must be changed without any reference to Rome or the Orthodox church to ensure that individual groups of people can decide who is a bishop and who isn't, so that they can rightfully deny the validity of the sacrament of even bishops validly ordained in their own eyes who just happen to have a different opinion on women's ordination - then one has to suspect that Church Order is a bit of a smokescreen and that it is really more about keeping women out.

If that is the wrong impression, it would be helpful if someone could explain why it needs the whole of Christianity to decide that women can be ordained, but not the whole of Christianity to change the structure of the Episcopate, the whole theology of the validity of the sacraments and to create a church in which it is officially accepted that people decide individually who they are in communion with – all in the name of orthodoxy.

Posted by: Erika Baker on Friday, 24 August 2012 at 7:49am BST

Thank you April Alexander for such a detailed and cogent response. I support the view that the measure should be returned to General Synod without any amendments from the House of Bishops. My reasoning is that the measure emerged from thousands of person-hours of debate within the Synodical process. It is very far from being perfect or even satisfactory as a piece of legislation. Its legitimacy is given it by its place within the network of conversations which is Synod.
Once it is removed from its Synodical context, then it becomes an object to be redesigned within a political battlefield. Manipulative calculations are put in place: would it look prettier and more acceptable if it were round or square? Are we able to play with it satisfactorily in its more perfected shape? If we give the other team an advantage, is the game still playable? How best can we win?
It seems to me to be a choice of which process of governance to use. To me the choice between measures emerging from a network of conversations within Synodical processes or measures imposed from on-high to give greatest political advantage is a no-brainer. This is an ethical choice: do you choose to trust processes embedded in relationships or those imposed top-down to give best political advantage?

Posted by: Julia Evans on Friday, 24 August 2012 at 5:54pm BST

I'm surprised that Archbishop Runcie's statement isn't brought up more regularly. What, I wonder, have those who reject male bishops tainted by association with women's ordination, to respond to it?

Posted by: Bill Dilworth on Saturday, 25 August 2012 at 1:25am BST

I take 'western catholic church order' to mean 'as currently laid down by the church of Rome' and I find this strange for an Anglican and especially for a clergyman, since his orders are no more according to 'western catholic church order' for the church of Rome than mine are.

Posted by: Sara MacVane on Saturday, 25 August 2012 at 5:18pm BST

What happens at the September General Synod now seems pretty clearly to depend on whether, or not, the House of Bishops is willing to acknowledge its mistake in seeking to over-ride the decision of the previous G.S. which, after long discussion, decided on the un-amended Measure to empower the Ordination of Women to the episcopate in the Church of England.

If the measure fails - on account of the amendment - it will be the House of Bishops who must share the blame, for undermining the Mind of G.S.

Posted by: Father Ron Smith on Sunday, 26 August 2012 at 8:56am BST
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