Tuesday, 4 June 2013

Forward in Faith responds to plans for women bishops

The Chairman and Vice-Chairman of Forward in Faith have issued this statement on the House of Bishops report GS 1886 Women In the Episcopate - New Legislative Proposals. They do not like the bishops’ proposals.

WOMEN IN THE EPISCOPATE: NEW LEGISLATIVE PROPOSALS
STATEMENT FROM FORWARD IN FAITH

We are grateful for the work of the working group whose report is annexed to the House of Bishops report GS 1886 (‘Women in the Episcopate – New Legislative Proposals’). We strongly welcome the House of Bishops’ endorsement of the group’s five-point vision (para. 12 of the House’s report).

However, we are puzzled by the conclusions that the House has apparently drawn from the working group’s report.

We continue to believe that a solution to address the new reality of women bishops will need to build on the existing framework which has enabled us to live together in the Church of England over the last twenty years. We agree with the view that there can be ‘no cheap trust’. Our future can only be based on a mutually trusting relationship. The proposal of legislation which sweeps away existing legal security damages trust.

In November, an attempt to push through a Measure with legal provisions which no representative of the minority recognized as remotely adequate failed – after much prayer and invocation of the Holy Spirit. We are puzzled as to why the House of Bishops apparently believes that its new proposals, which would involve no legally binding provision at all, are more likely to gain the necessary majorities.

As an organization whose members are overwhelmingly lay, the fact that the House of Bishops’ proposals would involve a significant shift of power in favour of incumbents and bishops is of particular concern to us. So too is the fact that the proposals would expose lay representatives, as well as incumbents and priests in charge, to the risk of incurring significant costs in defending themselves against legal challenges.

We still hope that the ‘new way forward’ promised in February will involve prayer, reconciliation, mutual respect and consensus. We welcome the facilitated conversations as a means of moving towards this end. We do not believe that the House of Bishops’ preferred option (Option 1) represents the mind of the whole Church of England.

We therefore hope that the General Synod will choose a way forward which builds on the existing arrangements rather one which destroys them. Such legislation would be far more likely to secure final approval in the shortest possible time.

Our comments and questions are set out in more detail in the document which accompanies this statement.

+ JONATHAN FULHAM
The Rt Revd Jonathan Baker, Bishop of Fulham
Chairman

LINDSAY NEWCOMBE
Dr Lindsay Newcombe
Vice-Chairman

4 June 2013

The comments and questions are below the fold.

GS 1886 – COMMENTS AND QUESTIONS FROM FORWARD IN FAITH

1. In commenting on the ‘Report from the House of Bishops’ on new legislative proposals, we begin by reiterating that we are not trying to prevent women from becoming bishops in the Church of England.

2. Rather, we are trying to ensure that new legislation will provide a firm basis for those who uphold the traditional understanding of the Church and its ministry and sacraments to continue to flourish within the Church of England. We cannot see that the House of Bishops’ proposal would achieve this.

3. The Secretary General’s note about ‘a new way forward’ (GS Misc 1042), circulated in February with the agreement of the House of Bishops, reported that the facilitated conversations revealed ‘strong support for giving the highest priority to finding a solution which will enable legislation to be approved by Synod on the fastest possible timetable’ (para. 9) – involving final approval by the present Synod. We are puzzled as to why the House of Bishops apparently believes that its new proposals will achieve this.

4. The House of Bishops’ proposal would transfer power from the laity (who currently have the ability to pass the legally binding Resolutions A and B) to bishops, patrons, and incumbents or priests in charge, who would be free to take ‘discretionary decisions’ (GS 1886: Annex, para. 88) about appointments and ministry in parishes, ‘taking such account as they wished of any statements declarations or guidance that the House of Bishops might have made nationally’ (Annex, para. 83). As the great majority of Forward in Faith’s members are laypeople (including very large numbers of lay women), we note this with particular concern. We are also puzzled as to why the House of Bishops apparently believes that this new proposal is more likely to commend itself to the House of Laity than the Measure which failed in November.

5. Reference is made to the legal right of representatives of the laity to veto parochial appointments. However, we note that if the Bishop suspends presentation to the living, as happens in a great many cases, parish representatives have no legal right to veto the appointment of a priest in charge.

6. We note with concern that, as the report admits, there would be a possibility of litigation against lay representatives exercising their veto on the presentation of an incumbent, in which case they would be ‘personally exposed to having to defend (at their own cost) their decision’ (Annex, para. 133). Again, we are puzzled as to why the House of Bishops apparently believes that this new proposal is more likely to commend itself to the House of Laity than the Measure which failed in November.

7. We further note with concern that an incumbent or priest in charge who declined to nominate a female curate ‘would be in a similar position’ (Annex, para. 134).

8. GS 1042 included four propositions from the working group which ‘commanded a wide measure of endorsement’ in the facilitated conversations (para. 17). The fourth of these (paras 28-9) was that any new package would need to fulfil two objectives:

  • to produce a shorter, simpler measure than the one that was defeated;
  • to provide, through the totality of the elements in the package, a greater sense of security for the minority as having an accepted and valued place in the Church of England while not involving the majority in any new element of compromise on matters of principle.

The House of Bishops’ new proposal is to repeal the 1993 Measure (including Resolutions A and B) without replacing them with any legal provision at all. This cannot fulfil the objective of providing ‘a greater sense of security for the minority’ than the Measure which failed in November.

9. While trust and grace are obviously important elements in the life of the Church, we agree with the Church Times in noting:

  • that ‘the Church never relies on grace alone: hence canon law’,
  • that the current lack of trust can be attributed to ‘a failure to embrace the spirit of the legislation of 1992-93, compounded by the movement to repeal it’, and
  • that, in short, there can be ‘no cheap trust’.

10. The 1993 settlement included elements that are difficult for female priests and their supporters. It also included elements that are difficult for us. That is the nature of compromise. Despite those elements of difficulty, we continue to believe that the 1993 settlement has essentially worked and that only a solution which builds on it rather than destroying it stands any chance of commending itself to a sufficiently broad range of members of the Church of England and of the General Synod.

11. In November 2012 a legislative process that had begun six years earlier (with the appointment of a legislative drafting group) ended in failure. At no stage in the process had there been any evidence that the legislation would command the support of the necessary two-thirds in the House of Laity. The fact that the legislative process was nevertheless pursued to its predictable conclusion has been hugely damaging for the Church of England’s credibility. To embark upon a fresh legislative process on the basis of proposals that would appear to stand even less chance of commanding the necessary breadth of support would be highly irresponsible.

12. We continue to be committed to playing our full part in working to identify a way forward that is based on consensus and will command the necessary breadth of support.

4 June 2013

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Comments

Like so many in the church I am sick of all this. To quote Cromwell, 'In the name of God go'. Let all those who cannot support Women Bishops depart for Rome and the rest of us can concentrate on spreading the Gospel.

Posted by: John Clark on Tuesday, 4 June 2013 at 1:09pm BST

"In November, an attempt to push through a Measure with legal provisions which no representative of the minority recognized as remotely adequate failed – after much prayer and invocation of the Holy Spirit. We are puzzled as to why the House of Bishops apparently believes that its new proposals, which would involve no legally binding provision at all, are more likely to gain the necessary majorities."

That is a very good question......

Posted by: Bob on Tuesday, 4 June 2013 at 1:42pm BST

"Let all those who cannot support Women Bishops depart for Rome and the rest of us can concentrate on spreading the Gospel."
So, then, the next massive preoccupation / distraction for the Church won't be the LGTB 'rights' agenda, there will be just a concentration on spreading the Gospel? Good luck with that ... whoever is left ...

Posted by: Michael on Tuesday, 4 June 2013 at 1:52pm BST

" To quote Cromwell..."
Another good friend of Anglicanism!

Posted by: James on Tuesday, 4 June 2013 at 1:54pm BST

... because only the final approval will require 2/3rds majorities, and that is scheduled for either July or November 2015. The earlier date would involve a decision by the Synod as presently constituted; the later date would be the first sitting of the next Synod, so the make-up may be substantially different. No doubt the process could be made to move faster or slower as necessary. And this shows just how important the next round of elections to the House of Laity of GS could be.

Posted by: Simon Taylor on Tuesday, 4 June 2013 at 2:05pm BST

John Clark - it just isn't a case of departing for Rome. Some have, granted, but many Anglo-Catholics won't because they do not wish to leave the Church for some foreign ecclesial body.

OK, I put it in extreme terms, but the nub of it is that for those with Catholic inclinations the succession of bishops is important. In this country the "authentic" and local succession lies in the Church of England. To many of Catholic leanings, instinct and Tradition say that for an English Christian only the Church of England will do. You can't just leave the family you're born into - Christian or biological.

The sooner we all understand that, and stop trying to wish members of the family away, the sooner we can start to build the trust that will be required, going forward.

Posted by: Bernard Randall on Tuesday, 4 June 2013 at 2:10pm BST

'The sooner we all understand that, and stop trying to wish members of the family away....'

Indeed, let us stop trying to wish female members of the family away from any ordained order.

Posted by: Jeremy on Tuesday, 4 June 2013 at 3:08pm BST

Lets have an exceptional arrangement for Anglo Catholics for the interim, until 2015 and another for women in the episcopate, ie "a 45th Diocese for a woman, bishop of whitby" in celebration and in the gift of the queen. X

Posted by: Pete Budd on Tuesday, 4 June 2013 at 5:27pm BST

I'm not sure these homely Grantham Grocer analogies really help. But if one member of the family keeps shouting "You're not really my father!" and "Aunty doesn't doesn't make her boys play with girls!" then it's time for TufLuv. "Of course we'll always love you, and there's always a place for you here. But when you're in this house you do not, repeat you do not, behave the way you've been doing to your sisters."

Posted by: american piskie on Tuesday, 4 June 2013 at 5:45pm BST

There seems to be a complete lack of Christian love/charity in the comment by John Clark. Why should I be forced to leave the church of my birth because of innovations which have no basis in Scripture or Tradition?

Posted by: Father Mervyn Jennings on Tuesday, 4 June 2013 at 6:22pm BST

No one would force anyone to go. If the Bishops' recommendations go forward and people decide to leave, that would be their choice, no one else's.

Posted by: Helen on Tuesday, 4 June 2013 at 9:35pm BST

Helen, you can't seriously be saying that the bishops bear no responsibility for their recommendations? By that logic they could decide to abolish the priesthood and then hold up their hands when people leave the church - "Well it's their choice!" We have to accept that opponents of women's ordination are not opposed because they're nasty or misogynistic - many of them are women. We can't legislate for people's consciences, we have to give generous provision that gives opponents lasting security. I pray we can find a solution.

Posted by: Oliver on Wednesday, 5 June 2013 at 9:23am BST

Jeremy -
"Indeed, let us stop trying to wish female members of the family away from any ordained order."

Isn't there a difference between wishing away someone who is a member of the family, and wishing someone in the family wouldn't do a particular thing? Not saying the latter is OK, just that they are not the same kind of wishing away.

Posted by: Bernard Randall on Wednesday, 5 June 2013 at 9:35am BST

american pike - (describing the Church as a household isn't new to me, I think)

'"But when you're in this house you do not, repeat you do not, behave the way you've been doing to your sisters."'
An entirely fair point - sometimes families do have to do this. Trouble is, the rules have been changed, and most of the neighbours are living by the old rules. Nor is the head of the household who has the right to lay down rules entirely clear (both sides argue from Tradition and Scripture about the will of God). So in a family conference of equals there's bound to be confusion. The parents have gone away for a bit and left a rule book; the siblings have to argue it out.

Another analogy - Fred, Alice and Chris love spinach; but John can't stand it. In how many families like this would spinach be a regular on the meal table? Is John made to sit and watch the others eat, but go without? Is an alternative vegetable provided? Or do the others only get spinach when they go out to a restaurant?

Not comparing women bishops to spinach by the way, just trying to think about how families make decisions.

Posted by: Bernard Randall on Wednesday, 5 June 2013 at 9:42am BST

Bernard
the CoE has a very clear decision making process which it has painstakingly followed. That does not mean that everyone will agree with the decisions it makes, but the "how families make decisions" question is not in doubt.

Posted by: Erika Baker on Wednesday, 5 June 2013 at 10:10am BST

Erika,
indeed there is a clear process, and we're in the middle of it on this question. As it stands, the decision is that women can't be bishops. One might argue that bringing the question of women bishops back in the lifetime of this Synod is breaking the rules of the process - certainly the spirit, although not the letter. It is interesting to wonder whether the Church would have proceeded again so soon if Parliament had kept out of it.

Anyway, the point which is in doubt, judging by the "depart for Rome" type comments (and other unpleasantries, including from those opposed), is the tone of and attitudes towards the debate rather than the rules. In the spinach example, Fred, Alice, and Chris could vote to have spinach-based dishes at every meal with no alternatives, following a clear democratic process. The question is whether they should. It's not very loving towards John, who either starves, has to eat food which he cannot abide, or goes elsewhere to eat. I can't believe that any self-respecting family would behave that way.

Another analogy is to marriage. At the time of the ordination of women as priests, promises were made about the provisions for "traditionalists" being for as long as they were needed. It is doubtful the Measure would have passed without these promises. One could see the effect of his as being like a marriage of the two sides. Now one partner regrets that the promise was made, and would rather not have entered into the marriage, although it was freely made at the time.

What is the Christian response? To say, "oh well, never mind, promises aren't that big a deal," or "if at all possible you must keep your promises, even if there is a personal cost to that." Wider society might think divorce would be the obvious thing to do. Surely Christians should have a different standard. And this applies whether it is reasonable to regret the promise or not.

Posted by: Bernard Randall on Wednesday, 5 June 2013 at 11:04am BST

Bernard
"As it stands, the decision is that women can't be bishops."

Indeed, and there are no women bishops because of that.
But the current decision does not mean that the CoE has any theological objections to women as bishops. It is simply a matter of finding the right provisions before the first women bishop can be consecrated. That, and only that, was what the Draft Measure in November was about.

And the CoE is planning to keep its promise to traditionalists. There will be provisions.
What there has never been are promises that every single traditionalist will get 100% of what they might personally require to feel "safe" from women.
Promises will be kept but emphatically not at the expense of instituting a second class of bishops specifically reserved for women.

Posted by: Erika Baker on Wednesday, 5 June 2013 at 4:35pm BST

John Clark is in essence correct. The problem is that 20 years ago the message which probably won the day was that without women ministers the church would decline. Unfortunately that has not been true and the decline has carried on and in lots of places accelerated. Just how many more people need to be alienated before some sense is brought to bear?

Posted by: Joseph Golightly on Wednesday, 5 June 2013 at 5:41pm BST

'Not very loving towards John who has to eat food he cannot abide or starve.' Really? My kids eat spinach regularly whether they love it or not because essentially it's very good for them. Jus' talking dietary needs.

From a clearly cruel Mum

ps They also love junk food, but I don't dish it up that much, I think its called being a responsible adult.

Posted by: Lindsay Southern on Wednesday, 5 June 2013 at 6:20pm BST

I'm saying Oliver that you have a choice, just as I do. How you exercise that choice is your responsibility, no one else's. As for the bishops, the scenario you paint is ludicrous.

Posted by: Helen on Wednesday, 5 June 2013 at 10:54pm BST

"the decline has carried on and in lots of places accelerated" Joseph Golightly.

True, but correlation is not the same as causation. Without a control group there is no way of knowing what the level of CofE attendance would be had women not become priests.

Posted by: Laurence Cunnington on Thursday, 6 June 2013 at 9:25am BST

Erika,
"But the current decision does not mean that the CoE has any theological objections to women as bishops."
I'm not sure that's strictly true. If there were "not ... any theological objections" then presumably we'd have women bishops. There are just enough theological objections within the CofE to prevent it. The trouble is that the CofE isn't a uniform block, nor does it have a magisterium to say what its theology actually is.

As for the promised provisions, I think that was taken at the time to mean Resolutions A, B, and C (C exists because the Bishops wanted to reassure Parliament enough for women's ordination to passed there). It would not be reasonable to expect these to be wholly unchanged when women become bishops (the report identifies problems with A & B in rspect of cathedrals, for example), but sweeping them away entirely (Options 1 & 2) certainly looks like breaking promises. There are enough tales of A & B parishes being leaned on to change for a discretionary system rather than a legally binding one to be well short of trustable by those it is designed to help.

But you're right that 100% protection for each and every individual's "needs" was not promised, and shouldn't be on the table.

There are real questions about whether the promises made were sensible (probably not), but made they were, and I for one think they ought to be kept.

Posted by: Bernard Randall on Thursday, 6 June 2013 at 12:17pm BST

That's true but I don't think you can divorce the choice people make (which is their own) from the decisions made by others that force them to make that choice. I'm afraid the bishops point stands- you can't make life intolerable for one section of the church and then act all innocent when your decisions have essentially forced them out. If I burnt your house down, it would be facetious of me to simply call your decision to move "your choice", as if me burning it down was of no import.

Posted by: Oliver on Thursday, 6 June 2013 at 1:02pm BST

Laurence. The "control" you seem to want is borne out in the parishes who do not have women ministers where there is growth both in Reform and FIF set ups. Perhaps looking at the USA you will see the same result. What else do you require?

Posted by: joseph Golightly on Thursday, 6 June 2013 at 5:13pm BST

Laurence. The "control" you seem to want is borne out in the parishes who do not have women ministers where there is growth both in Reform and FIF set ups. Perhaps looking at the USA you will see the same result. What else do you require?

Posted by: joseph Golightly on Thursday, 6 June 2013 at 5:14pm BST

I hope that CoE can hold the family together.

Innovations??? God created male and female in God's image. Jesus was indeed the great innovator on behalf of women. He said "don't judge," he broke taboos to teach and heal women. Women were the first witnesses to the Resurrection.

It is man who has resisted the innovations of Jesus. And he has done so with cruelty.

Catholic. The sacraments are just as potent when administered by the women priests and bishops whom God has called. But what do you mean by Catholic? Do you mean Rome? I don't.

Using tradition, scripture, and reason, we can appreciate wisdom of the ages while noting the sins of the church, such as slavery, racism, misogyny, and homophobia. We can grow in spirit and wisdom as we note the progression of justice and God's love in the work of MLK and Demond Tutu.

There perhaps should be provisions for those who can't fully accept the innovations of Jesus. After all, Jesus calls us to radical love and none of us can fulfill it in every area. But pastoral provisions seem appropriate, not institutional, as time seems to be up on subjecting women to further indignity at the hands of the institutional church.

Posted by: Cynthia on Thursday, 6 June 2013 at 5:52pm BST

"There are just enough theological objections within the CofE to prevent it."

Seeing we have had women priests for 20 years and there is no difference between priests and bishops in terms of authority (the headship problem) or sacramental assurance, the objections that a group within the CoE still hold are not the objections of the church as a whole. All it promised was to recognise the integrity of the minority's views, it did not actually say that it shared them.

And among those who voted against the Draft Measure in November speaker after speaker explained that they did not believe that women could or should be priests, but that they accepted the CoE would be having women bishops and that the only question were the provisions.

To that extent, the question has been answered.

As for Resolutions A, B and C - it would really help to know what actual promises were made and what people implied or wanted to hear.

And times change. I'm not even sure that the kind of legal certainty people are now calling for would be accepted by Parliament. The November proposals went as far as possible, I think.
We should not forget that the CoE has been given time to sort itself out but that Parliament is very happy to intervene should it fail to do so.

Posted by: Erika Baker on Thursday, 6 June 2013 at 6:04pm BST

In what sense is life being made intolerable for one section of the church Oliver? This kind of inflated language ("forced out " is another example) is becoming increasingly tedious. Those who use it are not victims, despite all their protestations; they are people who need to grow up.

Posted by: Helen on Friday, 7 June 2013 at 12:06am BST

Helen, life is being made intolerable because traditionalists are being told that if they wish to stay in the church of their baptism they must subscribe to a doctrine of the priesthood which they believe is contrary to revelation.

Posted by: Oliver on Friday, 7 June 2013 at 10:52am BST

Erika,

I think it would be better to say that the question is "being answered." We are still in the process of working out what we think, although it seems that the final answer will be the one we're heading towards. The answer won't actually be given until a Measure is enacted - which seems to be implicit in GS 1886 - once a Measure is passed anyone ministering in the C of E "must then be prepared to acknowledge that [it] has reached a clear decision on the matter."

And yes, times change, but that doesn't mean we break promises (cf marriage). If Parliament were to interfere that would give me the heebie-jeebies, and no mistake.

Posted by: Bernard Randall on Friday, 7 June 2013 at 11:17am BST

Bernard
I think that it is truly important to realise that the CoE has decided that women can be bishops. The Draft Measure was about how to achieve that aim and it was rejected because the Provisions offered were deemed to have been inadequate.

Some individuals may still be making their minds up on this but the church has a whole has.

As for breaking promises - I would still like to know what firm promises were given. Whether they mean that we cannot now have women bishops on an equal footing as men, never ever. Can you point me to those promises?

Like you, I would be deeply troubled if Parliament intervened. But it will. If we don't manage to put our own house in order it will.

Posted by: Erika Baker on Friday, 7 June 2013 at 1:28pm BST

Erika, this is precisely why traditionalists feel disenfranchised. You are saying we must back women bishops or parliament will force it through. Well in that case why back the legislation? If it quickened disestablishment then that's all to the good, since establishment has become a golden calf of the bishops that needs destroying.

Posted by: Edward on Saturday, 8 June 2013 at 1:50am BST

Edward
I don't think that Parliament will force through women bishops. But it will say that it cannot continue to have established ties with an organisation that is so discriminatory.

Already, there is a growing number of charities who can no longer work with the CoE because its own anti discrimination rules prevent it from working with organisations that do not afford women and gay people full equality.

You cannot have an organisation like that as part of the Legislative in your country.

Parliament would not "quicken" disestablishment, it would set it in motion.

And although I agree with your view about establishment I would be very surprised if the CoE as a whole did.

Posted by: Erika Baker on Saturday, 8 June 2013 at 10:55am BST

Edward. Parliament exempted the Church of England from the provisions of the Equalities Act. What they gave can be taken away. It will be if they (Synod) do not get on and get those women as bishops.

Posted by: Joseph Golightly on Saturday, 8 June 2013 at 11:21am BST

Thought is still free in the Anglican Church, Oliver; there is no window into men's souls. So I'm not sure in what sense you use the word "subscribe". Self styled traditionalists will certainly be asked to accept that the rest of the Church of England has accepted women's ministry and that bishops are bishops, no matter what their gender. If that's intolerable, well I'm sorry, but perhaps you should try engaging with the theology that has occasioned the change, and look at the history of the priesthood rather than accepting it as "revelation".

Posted by: Helen on Sunday, 9 June 2013 at 9:14pm BST

Helen, what you've just written says it all. You speak of thought still being free, yet in the same breath demand that traditionalists accept that "bishops are bishops no matter what their gender". That is precisely the issue at hand - we don't believe women are or ever can be bishops at all, and any system that asks us to treat them as such would be contrary to our genuinely held beliefs of God's wishes for our church. I would accept that the Church of England tells its people that women can be bishops, but I would maintain that this was a falsehood and error. Your inverted commas on revelation are also very sad, you clearly think the priesthood is a human construct that is functional rather than ontological in character and therefore at the mercy of human decisions about its nature. This is something that Anglo-Catholics fundamentally disagree with to our very core, in fact it is one of the reasons for our existence in the first place.

Posted by: Oliver on Sunday, 9 June 2013 at 11:42pm BST
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