Comments: Women Bishops: Church Commissioners' questions in the House of Commons

Sometimes, Sir Tony Baldry talks a lot of sense.

Posted by Laura Sykes (@layanglicana) at Thursday, 25 October 2012 at 5:21pm BST

Would these honorable members be so kind as to raise the same questions in relation to the House of Bishops statement about homosexual priests? The Bishops stated policy on that issue has not been before General Synod nor have the Members of Parliament cross questioned the Church Estates Commissioners about it, as far as I am aware.

Posted by commentator at Thursday, 25 October 2012 at 5:54pm BST

This has a rather unsavoury, almost bullying feel to it.

The Church needs to make the decision which is right for it, for its own long term health - and that may lead to Synod saying this is not the right Measure at this time. There will be people on both sides of the debate saying that, and in good conscience.

And if some MPs don't like that, what are they going to do about it?

I feel a "Tract for the Times" coming on.

Of course, the Measure may pass, but we can't take it for granted.

Posted by Bernard Randall at Thursday, 25 October 2012 at 6:23pm BST

Isn't this what is called Erastianism?

Posted by Father David at Thursday, 25 October 2012 at 8:46pm BST


A left-field thought: exactly why, legally, don't we already have women bishops? The Appointment of Bishops Act 1533 always refers to a "persone", not to a "man". And Section 1(2) of the Priests (Ordination of Women) Measure 1993 and Canon C2.5 don't actually forbid the consecration of women - they just say they're not changing anything to make it legal.

Posted by Feria at Thursday, 25 October 2012 at 9:06pm BST

OK, let me offend pretty well every TA person from outside England (and many within) by suggesting that this sort of parliamentary exchange is an important part of the Church of England's governance.

Most private clubs and societies (including Christian denominations) are run almost exclusively by the most activist element among their membership. They inevitably over-represent the interests of that group (or its factions) where these interests fail to reflect those of the wider membership. General Synod is in no way immune from that weakness.

The two Houses of Parliament have a role in the C of E's governance, not to innovate or determine in matters of doctrine, but (especially, but not solely in the Commons) to offer a perspective from the more general body of laity that the Church is established to serve. And ultimately they can refuse to allow a Measure to pass into law. On this sort of matter the vast majority of MPs (including all those quoted in this debate) would seek to reflect what they feel is in the interests of their constituents.

Properly used, as it always has been since the 1930s, this is a good check and balance against the tyranny of the activists.

Posted by David Walker at Thursday, 25 October 2012 at 9:09pm BST

And if some MPs don't like that, what are they going to do about it?
- Bernard Randall

It may be premature to ask that question and I am not a constitutional lawyer, but with the support of the Government (and probably an amendment to the Enabling Act of 1919) the question of women bishops could be taken out of the Church of England's hands. That would be an event amounting to a constitutional crisis in Church/State relations, as hinted at in Parliament yesterday.

Posted by Anthony Archer at Thursday, 25 October 2012 at 11:06pm BST

Its not bullying it's the consequence of being an established Church. And if they don't like it then would expect them to hold it up in the Houses of Parliament.

Posted by Father Mike at Thursday, 25 October 2012 at 11:36pm BST

The talk of constitutional crisis and political intervention in the affairs of the church is nothing more than posturing and flim flam. If the Measure fails in synod it will not even reach parliament anyway; if passed, parliament will just rubber-stamp it.

In practice parliament ceded the management of the church to the church itself decades ago, and the thought that this might be reversed is inconceivable. As if politicians, few of whom would have any qualifications whatsoever to meddle in this way, do not have enough on their plate already!

Posted by Original Observer at Friday, 26 October 2012 at 12:48am BST

Unlovely Erastianism wrapped up in a note of intimidation. Clearly, traditionalist Anglicans are the wrong sort of minority.

Posted by Nigel Aston at Friday, 26 October 2012 at 8:24am BST

Didn't John Henry Newman start the Oxford Movement because of this kind of crap? I fully support the ordination of women as bishops (I serve in what I believe is the first diocese in the Anglican Communion to elect its second female bishop in succession), but I think it's important to remember that the Church of Jesus Christ is answerable to Jesus Christ, not to a secular authority. And if there is a system in place that compromises this, that system needs to be decisively repudiated.

Posted by Tim Chesterton at Friday, 26 October 2012 at 8:30am BST

I don't recall the same comments on "Erastianism" being made when Parliamentarians were urging on the CofE what became the Act of Synod. Recent history (as David Walker seems to know) is populated by a number of pressure groups changing their views on establishment dependent on whether it delivers their agenda or not. This is not consistent ecclesiology, but opportunism.

Perhaps the elected politicians are conscious of local opinions throughout the country as expressed in Diocesan Synods by large majorities and by their constituents?

Posted by Mark Bennet at Friday, 26 October 2012 at 9:12am BST

Like Tim, I'm in favour of this development, but there is something very disturbing about this kind of exchange. Some MPs seem to be saying, rather unsubtly, that the continued presence of bishops in the Lords is somehow contingent on passing women bishops legislation. That sounds rather like a threat to me, and I hope we will have women bishops because I believe it to be a good and legitimate development on theological grounds, not because Parliament is bullying us. And I hope there is sustainable and generous provision for those unable to accept them, again on theological grounds.

I think I may just have become in favour of some form of disestablishment.

Posted by Philip Hobday at Friday, 26 October 2012 at 9:20am BST


Dear Nigel,

Firstly: when did the word "Erastian" become an insult in the Church of England? At the Westminster Assembly, there was an Erastian party and an anti-Erastian party. The Erastian party evolved into the Church of England, the anti-Erastian party evolved into the Church of Scotland (and various non-conformist Protestant denominations).

Secondly: it's somewhat ironic that "traditionalist" Anglicans become all modern and reform-minded, the minute there's the slightest hint that the relationship between church and state might return to something slightly closer to the form it took between 1558 and 1919.

Posted by Feria at Friday, 26 October 2012 at 9:31am BST

Tim
"And if there is a system in place that compromises this, that system needs to be decisively repudiated."

It's called Establishment if the church no longer finds it useful to have Bishops in the House of Lords it can, presumably, disestablish.

Posted by Erika Baker at Friday, 26 October 2012 at 9:57am BST

Dear Anthony,

I don't think any amendment to the 1919 Act would be necessary. The delegation of legislative power in the 1919 Act was always non-exclusive, i.e. Parliament always retained the right to act on its own initiative.

Posted by Feria at Friday, 26 October 2012 at 9:58am BST

Sorry, but were there shouts of "erastianism" when Parliament were making sure in 1992-4 that there was more direct provision for opponents of women's ordination? Ie the reason we have the Act of Synod?

The reason parliament can talk about these issues is because they represent the people of this country whom we serve as the Church of England. Didn't William Temple say that the CofE is the only organisation which exists for the benefit of non-members? Establishment makes it possible to do this

Posted by James Warren at Friday, 26 October 2012 at 10:42am BST

The thing is that MPs (and Peers – some of which are bishops) have every right to ask these questions and, one could argue as long as the Church of England is established, every duty. Look at this another way, members of the House of Commons are taking time to discuss the established church. On one hand Anglicans in England lament our ‘marginalization’ and ‘irrelevance’ – and then when a major institution like Parliament actually takes an interest in what we do and demonstrates that it thinks the nature and quality of the Church of England’s presence and ministry is important for the broader communities in which we serve (parochial, civic and sector), we get huffy and invoke Keble’s 1833 National Apostasy Sermon.

Let’s put this into a more recent historical context. In 1993, Parliament through its Ecclesiastical Committee had a direct influence on the creation of the Act of Synod, with individuals such as John Broadhurst appearing before it to plead with Parliamentarians to use their influence to obtain more provision for opponents than was provided in the 1992 Measure. Parliamentary influence played a huge role in the creation of the Act of Synod – and all of this is in the parliamentary public record (and examined by me in *The Established Church: Past, Present and Future*, eds Chapman, Maltby and Whyte (2011) for anyone who wants chapter and verse). I would also commend reading the debate on the Women Priests Measure in the Commons in October 1993: it is a thoughtful and as well informed as any debate I have heard in General Synod in my two and half years as a member.

Posted by Judith Maltby at Friday, 26 October 2012 at 10:47am BST

Despite the plaintive cries against what occurred in this parliamentary question & answers session at the House of Commons, I believe that it is the correct forum for such an occasion. After all, Church and State are actually united in the United Kingdom, and those who live under a different system - like for instance, the USA and Canada - may not be expected to understand the tradition. However, while the two are united, this is a good opportunity for ordinary members of parliament to challenge the status quo in the State Church.

I, personally, am very encouraged by the questions and answers reported here. They show a good degree of familiarity with the system - that obviously puzzles outsiders. Sir Tony Baldry was absolutely right when he said that - if this Draft Measure fails, it will be a dark day for the C.of E.

Posted by Father Ron Smith at Friday, 26 October 2012 at 11:43am BST

FRS says, ' and those who live under a different system - like for instance, the USA and Canada - may not be expected to understand the tradition.'

Ron, you are incorrect. I was born and raised in England, my father served as a priest in the Church of England for 30 years, and I have many close friends who serve in the system. I fully understand the system; I just think it is offensive for a secular authority to be telling the Church of Jesus Christ what it should be doing. And if this means disestablishment, then I say, it's time to end the Babylonian Captivity of the 'Mother Church'!

As for why this hue and cry was not raised in 1992/3 - well, I can't speak for others on this page, but I can give a very good reason why I said nothing about it - I was living in northern Canada, did not get the Church Times, only read bits of news from the C of E in our monthly 'Anglican Journal', and was not connected to the Internet. Modern communications technology has made the situation now very different from 1992/3, so comparing now with then is somewhat problematic.

Posted by Tim Chesterton at Friday, 26 October 2012 at 5:02pm BST

"I just think it is offensive for a secular authority to be telling the Church of Jesus Christ what it should be doing."

Pardon me while I chuckle a bit.

Ahem.

Constantine?
Henry VIII?
Elizabeth I?

It's a little late now, don't you think?

The church used secular authorities when it could count on them. So it's a bit rich for the church to now denounce meddling in its affairs by secular authorities whose support it has welcomed in the past.

Live by the sword, die by the sword.

Posted by Jeremy at Friday, 26 October 2012 at 11:25pm BST

Jeremy, you seem to be saying that the fact that we have sinned by compromising the Lordship of Jesus Christ in the past means that we should cheerfully go on doing so. The fact that this sin has a long history in our Anglican identity doesn't mean that it isn't long past time to acknowledge the fact and do something about it.

But we probably won't. We'll probably go on cheerfully accepting the State's heavy-handedness when it agrees with our own particular ideological agenda. When it doesn't, of course, we'll protest as loudly as the next person.

Posted by Tim Chesterton at Saturday, 27 October 2012 at 12:00pm BST

It's not quite true that 'parliament ceded the management of the church to the church itself decades ago'. The parliamentary veto on Measures is real, and is taken into account when Measures are drafted and amended. In 1984 Parliament refused to approve a Measure for abolishing the formal election of bishops by cathedral chapters, and in 2002 the Ecclesiastical Committee declined to certify a pensions Measure as expedient, and it was withdrawn. See http://www.ucl.ac.uk/spp/publications/unit-publications/133.pdf

Posted by Simon Kershaw at Saturday, 27 October 2012 at 12:15pm BST

Simon speaks sooth. Take, for example, Sir Patrick Cormack, MP speaking in June 2006: ‘During my 36 years in this place – for 35 of which I have served on the Ecclesiastical Committee – Measures introduced by the Church of England have on occasion been contentious. One thinks of the Churchwardens Measure 2001, in respect of which the House played an important and constructive part and of the Priests (Ordination of Women) Measure 1993, where as a result of what the Ecclesiastical Committee said, safeguards were built into the Church of England’s legislation to protect traditionalists: the Act of Synod. So there is a very real role for the Ecclesiastical Committee and for this House.'

[‘Third Standing Committee on Delegated Legislation’, Hansard, HC, 27 June 2006. The Churchwardens Measure would have given bishops the right to deprive a churchwarden of his or her office ‘apparently at will’. As Monica Furlong observed ‘just occasionally a bit of state interference can offer a useful intervention’. Monica Furlong, CofE: the State It’s In (London: Hodder and Stoughton, 2000), p. 256.]

Posted by Judith Maltby at Saturday, 27 October 2012 at 2:31pm BST

Tim C: 'I just think it is offensive for a secular authority to be telling the Church of Jesus Christ what it should be doing.'

Dear Tim,

There are plenty of denominations in England, of every theological stripe, that agree with you on this. If you relocated (back) over here, you would be spoilt for choice. On the other hand, for those of us who believe it is right for the episcopacy and the church executive to be accountable to a Parliament elected by all the people, there is only one place to go.

Posted by Feria at Saturday, 27 October 2012 at 3:56pm BST

Feria, you are entirely correct that I would find it very difficult in all good conscience to be a member of a church which is ultimately accountable to a parliament composed largely of non-Christian MPs, rather than to the Lord of the church (and I know many English Anglicans who struggle with this too, not just us pesky foreigners). You would however be wrong in implying that it would be easy for me to leave the church of my birth and join a 'free' church. The Anglican way of following Jesus has done a good job of nurturing me. Perhaps, if I were to relocate to England, I should petition for alternative episcopal oversight from a bishop who is not compromised by accountability to a secular government. :)

Posted by Tim Chesterton at Saturday, 27 October 2012 at 6:20pm BST

Tim
"Perhaps, if I were to relocate to England, I should petition for alternative episcopal oversight from a bishop who is not compromised by accountability to a secular government. :)

That would be someone from a free church, presumably :-)

Posted by Erika Baker at Saturday, 27 October 2012 at 8:24pm BST

Tim - the problem you have is that if you came back to England to take up a post in the CofE you would have to make an oath of allegiance to the queen, whose sovereignty is exercised through parliament (and your bishop would have had to do the same):

Canon C 13 Of the Oath of Allegiance

1. Every person whose election to any archbishopric or bishopric is to be confirmed, or who is to be consecrated or translated to any suffragan bishopric, or to be ordained priest or deacon, or to be instituted, installed, licensed or admitted to any office in the Church of England or otherwise serve in any place, shall first, in the presence of the archbishop or bishop by whom his election to such archbishopric or bishopric is to be confirmed, or in whose province such suffragan bishopric is situate, or by whom he is to be ordained, instituted, installed, licensed or admitted, or of the commissary of such archbishop or bishop, take the Oath of Allegiance in the form following:

I, A B, do swear that I will be faithful and bear true allegiance to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, her heirs and successors, according to law: So help me God.

It was a former version of such an oath which the non jurors made to James II and would not repudiate in favour of William and Mary (1688). (See also Romans 13).

There is a "Free Church of England" (www.fcofe.org.uk), but I think its essential concerns may be different from yours.

Posted by Mark Bennet at Saturday, 27 October 2012 at 8:34pm BST

"The Anglican way of following Jesus has done a good job of nurturing me. Perhaps, if I were to relocate to England, I should petition for alternative episcopal oversight from a bishop who is not compromised by accountability to a secular government. :)"

Then, Tim Chesterton, I would suggest that would not be the Anglican way of following Jesus. :)

Posted by James Warren at Saturday, 27 October 2012 at 10:20pm BST

Yes, Mark Bennet, I'm somewhat familiar with the system, having been raised in a vicarage!!!

Posted by Tim Chesterton at Sunday, 28 October 2012 at 12:25am GMT

Actually, Tim would probably be able to get an exemption from taking the oath of allegiance under section 2 of the Overseas and Other Clergy (Ministry and Ordination) Measure 1967.

Posted by Feria at Sunday, 28 October 2012 at 12:20pm GMT

Feria,
yes, but that would not really help because the bishop he would have to swear allegiance to has, in turn, sworn allegiance to the Queen. You can't really get away from it.

Posted by Erika Baker at Sunday, 28 October 2012 at 4:37pm GMT

' "I just think it is offensive for a secular authority to be telling the Church of Jesus Christ what it should be doing."

Pardon me while I chuckle a bit.

Ahem.

Constantine?
Henry VIII?
Elizabeth I?

It's a little late now, don't you think?' (Jeremy)

Don t forget Putin, Jeremy.

Posted by Laurence Roberts at Sunday, 28 October 2012 at 5:23pm GMT

Tim the 'heavy-handed State' is headed by the committed anointed Queen and SG of the Church of England.

Church and State are One, not two.

Posted by Laurence Roberts at Sunday, 28 October 2012 at 5:29pm GMT

I seem to recall being told that 30ish years ago the Registrar of the Diocese of Oxford advised the then vicar-designate of Littlemore that the Oath of Allegiance imposed no new obligation on those taking it ie we ordinary subjects have the very same obligation of fidelity and allegiance as is articulated in the oath.

Posted by american piskie at Sunday, 28 October 2012 at 5:56pm GMT

Dear Erika,

Indeed... the Bishop, in addition to the oath of allegiance, will have taken the oath of supremacy, which I guess would _really_ upset Tim. Since 1871, the exact text of the oath of supremacy has not been specified by law, but Jack Straw says the version he used to administer to bishops when he was Home Secretary was the Elizabethan one:

'I, A. B., do utterly testify and declare in my conscience, that the queen's highness is the only supreme governor of this realm, and of all other her highness's dominions and countries, as well in all spiritual or ecclesiastical things or causes, as temporal, and that no foreign prince, person, prelate, state or potentate, has, or ought to have, any jurisdiction, power, superiority, preeminence, or authority ecclesiastical or spiritual, within this realm; and therefore I do utterly renounce and forsake all foreign jurisdictions, powers, superiorities, and authorities, and do promise that from henceforth I shall bear faith and true allegiance to the queen's highness, her heirs and lawful successors, and to my power shall assist and defend all jurisdictions, pre-eminences, privileges, and authorities granted or belonging to the queen's highness, her heirs and successors, or united and annexed to the imperial crown of this realm. So help me God, and by the contents of this book.'

Posted by Feria at Monday, 29 October 2012 at 11:30am GMT

Feria,
that sounds not very different from the Catholic ordination oath to the Pope.

Posted by Erika Baker at Monday, 29 October 2012 at 2:00pm GMT

Unless it becomes the modern equivalent to calling Caesar Lord - as opposed to just acknowledging the government that the Lord has allowed.

Jesus Christ must always be our Lord

Posted by david wilson at Monday, 29 October 2012 at 5:24pm GMT


Dear David,

That's why the oath I quoted spends three syllables saying "governor" instead of one syllable saying "head". (The Henrician version did say "head").

Posted by Feria at Tuesday, 30 October 2012 at 11:55am GMT

Laurence, I do not forget Putin. Or more to the point, Stalin.

There is no question that the Church of England has been relatively fortunate in its secular influences.

As for not acknowledging the lordship of Jesus, the pattern of turning to secular authority to resolve church disputes runs throughout church history, all the way back to the Council of Nicaea.

As others have said, the Church of England is established, has special privileges, and must therefore accept some meddling by Parliament, and thus society, in its affairs. There cannot be one without the other.

Which is not to say that I'm against disestablishment....

Posted by Jeremy at Saturday, 8 December 2012 at 2:07pm GMT
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