Thursday, 6 December 2012

Women Bishops: news and comment

Sir Tony Baldry, the Second Church Estates Commissioner answered questions on women bishops and the constitution of General Synod in the House of Commons today. The full text of the questions and answers is here.

Claire Maxim has written about Righteous Anger.

One article we missed earlier is Jane Kramer in the New Yorker writing about The Fear of Women as Bishops

Chris Sugden has written this View from the Church of England (to American Anglican Council).

Posted by Peter Owen on Thursday, 6 December 2012 at 4:37pm GMT | TrackBack
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Categorised as: Church of England | General Synod
Comments

Tony Baldry M.P. reminds me of nothing more than the Big Bad Wolf in the story of the Three Little Pigs. "I'll huff and I'll puff and I'll blow your House down". He does a lot of huffing anf puffing but Parliament is going to do absolutely nothing to intervene in the Omnishambles of the General Synod's own making.

Posted by: Father David on Thursday, 6 December 2012 at 6:36pm GMT

You've misread the debate, Father David.

It was senior Conservative Anne McIntosh MP, not Tony Baldry, who said that, if Synod doesn't legislate for women bishops before the next elections in 2015, then Parliament will, in the same timeframe.

There will be cross party consensus on this and the Bishops have already been warned that their usual supporters in the Lords are not going to wait more than a couple of years.

Oh, and about the Big Bad Wolf. After his huffing and his puffing he did actually blow down the straw house and the wooden house.

The blocking minority in the House of Laity is too flimsy to withstand a united Parliament backed by a united Bench of Bishops and House of Clergy.

I agree with Jeremy on an earlier thread. The proponents of provision for opponents of women bishops need to be realistic. They have played their trump card and now they are out of trumps with Aces still in the game elsewhere. It is up to them whether they do a deal or whether the whole thing is taken out of their hands. If it is taken out of their hands, they will get less than they have so far rejected.

Posted by: badman on Thursday, 6 December 2012 at 9:08pm GMT

"Not by the hair of my chinny, chin, chin". If you read on to the end of the story "badman" you will recall that the Big Bad Wolf came to a sticky end. Indeed, the two houses made of straw and wood fell down but the house made of brick stood firm. "Well the wolf huffed and puffed but could not blow down that brick house."
Isn't there a similar parable to be found in the gospels about houses built on sand and rock? Some of us prefer to have our faith built upon the solid foundations of Scripture and Tradition which have stood the test of time and don't come tumbling down.

Posted by: Father David on Thursday, 6 December 2012 at 10:59pm GMT

I tend to agree with badman. If General Synod is unable to proceed I think the Parliament has the remit to proceed with the support of bishops and majorities in the Synod as well as at diocesan level.

Posted by: Craig Nelson on Thursday, 6 December 2012 at 11:15pm GMT

And I suppose because a backbench MP says parliament will act then it must be taken as read that parliament will act. Personally, I very much doubt it.

Posted by: Original Observer on Friday, 7 December 2012 at 12:44am GMT

Thanks, badman.

In return let me reinforce your point about Miss Anne McIntosh.

For more than 15 years she has been representing those hotbeds of radicalism the Vale of York (from 1997 to 2010) and Thirsk and Malton (thereafter). Thirsk, I might add, has been sending Conservatives to Westminster in an unbroken line since 1885.

Thirsk's current MP asked Tony Baldry this question:

"Miss McIntosh:
"May I congratulate my hon. Friend on the work he is doing? I hope that the message will go out from the House today to the Synod that we are waiting for its members to make legislation or else we stand prepared to introduce legislation of our own within that time frame."

Obviously Miss McIntosh is not stating Government's position. But David Cameron and Tony Baldry have--to the effect of "get on with it" and "this issue cannot be parked." They obviously want the issue of women bishops off the national agenda before the next parliamentary election in May 2015. And their backbenchers, such as Miss McIntosh, are more free to describe the true state of affairs, and to issue veiled threats. Or in this case, an open threat.

Both Government ministers and Tory backbenchers know--no one better--that if the Church of England (the Conservative Party at prayer) does not find a way to ordain women bishops by 2015, then Labour will delight in raising this issue at the hustings.

So this process has at least three levels--Synod, Parliament, and national electorate.

And the vote at the Synod level against women bishops has simply elevated the issue, and given it prominence, in venues that find the anti-women position incomprehensible, or worse.

Why the opponents of women bishops failed to anticipate all this, is a mystery. Perhaps they relied too much on Scripture and Tradition, and not enough on Reason.

Posted by: Jeremy on Friday, 7 December 2012 at 2:46am GMT

A further parallel can be drawn with the tale of "The Three Little Pigs" in that there were three houses - straw, wood and brick. Lo and behold our beloved General Synod also comprises three Houses - Bishops, Clergy and Laity corresponding respectively with the three little pigs houses of straw, wood and brick. Only the third house stood firm built as it is upon "Solid joys and lasting treasure"

"On the Rock of ages founded,
What can shake thy sure repose?
With salvation's walls surrounded,
Thou may'st smile at all thy foes."

Posted by: Father David on Friday, 7 December 2012 at 5:34am GMT

Fr. David, You are getting into very dangerous territory in your analogy. I seem to recall a worrying Gospel account of what Jesus is supposed to have done with pigs in order to effect healing. They perished for the sake of wholesomeness.

'What can shake thy sure repose'?

Being dead to truth and alive to lies and deceit within and without can and does cause dis-ease and wakefulness in both the sinner and the sinned against. Be aware!

Posted by: Rosie Bates on Friday, 7 December 2012 at 8:17am GMT

For some reason my post on an earlier thread didn't go up - but I've been having internet problems so it's probably a problem at my end, rather than here.

Jeremy, you asked if it could be come an issue at the next parliamentary elections. My answer, for what it was worth, was no, absolutely not, never in a month of Sundays.

I've canvassed, door knocked, got the vote out, etc, for a long time in the past; and I think we're making the classic mistake here of superimposing our own pet projects onto the national consciousness. There was a bit of an outcry at the time of the vote, then the headlines moved on to Leveson, various tawdry household names, and the royal family. That and the fact that the autumn statement points out no one's going to have any money for the next 10 years.

As far as the Westminster pollies are concerned, of whatever party hue, Anglicans are just another bunch of special interest cranks, right up there with the Countryside Alliance, and slightly less important than the National Trust (that, at least, is secular and inclusive).

I would have a gentlemans' bet with you that despite anything synod does or does not do between now and 2015, the consecration of women bishops will be precisely nowhere in anyone's manifesto, nor will it be raised by any party at the general election.

However hard it is to see, the govt has noted with disapproval the result of the vote, and will now essentially shrug and move on. They still haven't successfully completed Lords Reform, despite essentially agreeing to remove hereditary peers in principle in 1911! Whatever 1 or 2 of 650 odd say, there is no government or parliamentary appetite to get bogged down in constitutional Pandora's boxes when the issue at stake doesn't directly affect whether people have food on their table or the lights stay on.

Depressing, but there it is - pollies don't care about anything but the headlines, and don't like revisiting things that can blow up in their faces (which some of them think this might, because whilst vehemently disliking the decision, they don't understand either synod or indeed Christianity well enough to master the arguments for or against - essentially it seems wrong to them - but they can't articulate why in any other than secular "equality" terms, and don't want to look like fools).

Honestly, they won't touch it with a bargepole on any side of the house unless they have to - so the main parties have got a vested interest in ensuring that neither of them "has" to - to borrow a phrase from the 80s, Mutually Assured Destruction...

Posted by: primroseleague on Friday, 7 December 2012 at 8:44am GMT

"Labour will delight in raising this issue at the hustings"
I hardly think that this "issue" will feature in the next Socialist manifesto. "VOTE LABOUR FOR WOMEN BISHOPS" - now there's a vote winner if ever I saw one. DOH!

Posted by: Father David on Friday, 7 December 2012 at 8:50am GMT

These Parliamentary Questions and Answers are sooo much better than the ones that happen at General Synod, why is that?

Posted by: Simon Sarmiento on Friday, 7 December 2012 at 9:10am GMT

Simon: because we can't ask questions about PEVs at Synod!

Posted by: Charles Read on Friday, 7 December 2012 at 9:28am GMT

Regardless of one's views on Women Bishops, and mine don't count, I have long since left the Cof E, it seems to me that the idea of parliament intervening to tell the church what to do is the real worry. I distinctly remember the presenter of a TV programme saying recently "This is a secular society, the church should do as it is told" Now the C of E doesn't want that does it?

Posted by: ian on Friday, 7 December 2012 at 10:14am GMT

Interesting use of the word "supposed" in Rosie Bates comment. Personally I wouldn't merely suppose but would willingly affirm with unhesitating conviction that the Gadarene swine tumbled into the Syrian Sea. Fortunately the little pig who dwelt in the house made of brick lived "Happily ever after" and so my repose remains unshaken.

Posted by: Father David on Friday, 7 December 2012 at 11:32am GMT

Father David, women bishops is definitely an "issue." The Prime Minister had to answer questions on it. Tony Baldry has had to do so twice.

If this issue is not solved by 2015, that will mean that the CofE will have tried and failed again. The morning-after headlines, and the ensuing political firestorm, will be even greater.

"Vote Labour for women's equality." Does that sound a bit more like a Labour manifesto? "Vote Labour to end discrimination." This issue fits comfortably into Labour's equalities agenda.

The Tories say they won't tell the CofE what do do, but they also insist on a solution by 2015. Why is that, I wonder? Perhaps they know quite a lot more than any of us about the politics of this issue.

Besides, what should really worry the CofE is that Labour might well win in 2015. In which case Labour gets to try its hand at Lords reform. Including ridding the chamber of any seats that are reserved for men only. It would be an easy first move. "Vote Labour for Lords reform."

Again, the opponents of women bishops are failing to understand the political vulnerability of their position.

Let's see what happens to Frank Field's bill at second reading next month.

Posted by: Jeremy on Friday, 7 December 2012 at 12:52pm GMT

As an addendum to my earlier post, where I picked the Countryside Alliance out of the air as an organisation of parity with the CofE (although clearly the CA isn't established!), I've been thinking about it and actually the comparison might well be apposite in terms of the folk memory of Parliament with regards to "quick" lawmaking.

It took 750 hours of Parliamentary time to ban foxhunting, causing a procedural snarl-up which was only broken through use of the Parliament Act, at a time when most of the Commons was in full agreement that it should be banned. Interestingly, thanks to the rules of Westminster debate, opponents of the measure were able to use all sorts of techniques that aren't available to Synod, such as running out the time available for debate, so it can't be voted on AT ALL, etc. BUt the more important point was this was something which didn't affect most people in Parliament, or the man in the street beyond a vague feeling that a country with legalised foxhunting wasn't the sort of country they wanted to live in - comparable to a country where most people don't go to church but can't see a problem with women priests.

OK, then ban it, so they did, but so ineffectually that it still goes on, because Parliament gave up trying to legislate properly and just put in place a ban you could drive a coach and horses through in order to be able to announce that they'd done something, draw a line, and move on. Parliamentary involvement in this, for parliamentarians with an eye on actually getting more important things done, and who sat in the 2001-2005 Parliament, has got foxhunting written all over it...... Whilst I don't want a single clause measure, I believe that there's more chance practically of getting a single clause through synod than through parliament.

For a more up to date example, have a look at Conservativehome today on the legal advice latest for legislating for gay marriage - apparently they can't find a way of drafting the bill that would provide any exemption for religious bodies (not just CoE, but RC, Mosques, etc), so the PM has now said that churches should be allowed to do it. That's great news (I broadly support it), but my political antennae are telling me this is something else that people on all sides of the house are starting to wish they hadn't started - and will probably end up failing to complete if this advice is right..... If they can't privilege the CofE, despite saying they would, then how likely are they to genuinely want to pick a fight with the Vatican and the world's muslims as well?

Posted by: primroseleague on Friday, 7 December 2012 at 1:17pm GMT

@ David "Some of us prefer to have our faith built upon the solid foundations of Scripture and Tradition which have stood the test of time and don't come tumbling down."

Oh, but it did and has time and again, growth and evolution has happened. Minor events for instance like the Reformation, etc. You may have missed the memos.

Posted by: Randal Oulton on Friday, 7 December 2012 at 3:27pm GMT

Fa David wrote: Isn't there a similar parable to be found in the gospels about houses built on sand and rock? Some of us prefer to have our faith built upon the solid foundations of Scripture and Tradition which have stood the test of time and don't come tumbling down.

My favorite bits of scripture include Mary Magdalene as the first witness to the Resurrection, all the bits where Jesus breaks taboos and hangs out with women (teaching, healing, talking), and I especially like the bits where Jesus lambasts the established church for excluding and demeaning people. I also like that bit in Galatians about how we are all one in Jesus Christ, there being neither Jew nor Greek, male nor female...

Those "solid foundations that have stood the test of time..." Over time, some really nasty things have come out of the church. Support for slavery, oppression of Jews, women, "heretics," etc. One mustn't view the past with rosy glasses. The fact that the church has oppressed women for two millennia is not Wisdom. It is Shame. Same as siding with Nazi's, same as oppressing native cultures in the Americas. Scripture, Tradition, and Reason. God gave us reason, and we are obligated to use it.

Posted by: Cynthia on Friday, 7 December 2012 at 4:31pm GMT

Jeremy:

"The Tories say they won't tell the CofE what do do,"

Indeed.

"but they also insist on a solution by 2015."

No they don't - some individuals might, but where has HMG given a view?


"Why is that, I wonder? Perhaps they know quite a lot more than any of us about the politics of this issue."

True, although I'd query "any" - certainly I know far more about secular party politics, through involvement, than I do about ecclesiastical politics. But given that they're not "insisting" on anything by 2015 I think we can take it that they have recognised the reality of THEIR position yes.

"Besides, what should really worry the CofE is that Labour might well win in 2015. In which case Labour gets to try its hand at Lords reform."

Labour started Lords Reform (post 1911), wherever you stand, it's them that hasn't finished it (for whatever reason, but probably because their position at the time was it should be fully appointed, ie a chamber entirely of political placemen. Despite electoral expediency, that's probably what both sides still want....)

"Including ridding the chamber of any seats that are reserved for men only."

As I've said before, that would include the 90 odd hereditaries which Labour left there the last time round simply because nobody could agree how a reconstituted Lords should be reformed. Those seats are also reserved for men. That position still stands.

"It would be an easy first move."

Highly questionable.

"Vote Labour for Lords reform."

Now that really has got no chance whatsoever - have you got any idea how many people are going to go to the polls on Lords Reform? Like I said, don't make the mistake of thinking anyone outside the CofE genuinely, and I mean genuinely, cares. As a point of interest, Labour are STILL behind on trust with the economy, even after this week. That should really worry them and please the Tories - the Liberals have always gone hard on campaigning for consitutional reform and look where they are....

"Again, the opponents of women bishops are failing to understand the political vulnerability of their position."

I totally agree, but the proponents run the risk of overstating the strength of theirs **outside synod** through failing to grasp the realities of REAL party politics.

"Let's see what happens to Frank Field's bill at second reading next month."

Indeed, but I'm not holding my breath.

Forget my position on OOW, I hope my disillusion with Westminster politics is showing through, because I DO understand Westminster politics. Horse traders and dealers in expediency, with a rapier grasp of what is good for them.

I think you might ask why so many are making such a fuss now? Tactically, it's probably *because* it's over 2 years til the election, so they feel they can get away with grandstanding. No one will be talking about it come the election. It may well be one line in one party or other's manifesto, but whether that line gets implemented will be entirely down to whether the voters trust that party with the economy, their jobs, and their families' future.

Posted by: primroseleague on Friday, 7 December 2012 at 5:22pm GMT

"Maybe the real question, in politics as in religion, should be: Why is the right so much better at stealth than the rest of us?"

If I might attempt an answer to your question, Canon Maltby: "Once Saved, Always Saved." If the Evangelical soteriological understanding is that the Ends are guaranteed, there's less need to trouble your conscience re the Means?

Posted by: JCF on Friday, 7 December 2012 at 7:39pm GMT

I trust that primroseleague will have taken note of today's debate in the Commons.

Diana Johnson (Kingston upon Hull North)(Lab) said, "I hope that the House will support the one-clause Bill that I intend to bring forward in the spring to introduce women bishops."

Frank Field (Birkenhead) (Lab) announced that he has introduced another bill that will have its second reading on January 18--this one to enable "senior women deans" to take bishop vacancies in the House of Lords.

This prompted Tony Baldry to say, in his summing up, "The right hon. Member for Birkenhead (Mr Field) is a very distinguished member of the Church of England and chairs a number of relevant committees and when he finds it necessary to present Bills to the House on the nomination of bishops to the other place, the Church of England should take account of that and listen."

Indeed I thought Tony Baldry was fighting a bit of a rearguard action--assuring Members that Justin Welby is equally interested in moving swiftly. Baldry did not say why he thought swift movement is feasible. He said the incoming Archbishop wants to move swiftly too, but he did not say how that might happen.

Note also Baldry's statement that "an important point made [***]by both Front-Bench teams[***], and by many in this debate, is that we cannot square the circle by creating second-class women bishops. If we are going to have women bishops—everyone has agreed that we are going to have them—they have in every regard to be treated the same as, and have the same powers, rights, privileges and disciplines as, their male counterparts. One cannot have a category of second-class women bishops or in some way create a church within a Church to accommodate this matter."

Lastly, Baldry said that "this is not whipped business."

To summarize, Parliament might let the Church of England try to fix the problem. But Parliament is getting ready to fix the problem itself if the Church does not. And the Tories have again indicated that they want this resolved before the next election.

This (backbench) debate was fairly gentle. If the next measure fails, the mood in the Commons will be fiercer.

Posted by: Jeremy on Thursday, 13 December 2012 at 11:25am GMT
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