Comments: House of Bishops responds to report on See of Sheffield

So on the very day in the UK that we celebrate 100 years of universal suffrage, the Church of England produces a report reiterating the legitimacy of discrimination against women, as a position which all those ordained in the church must respect. It's worth recalling that, despite the involvement of numerous Anglican lay women and men, and also some clergy, in the fight for women's right to vote, the vast majority of Bishops remained silent or were opposed, even supporting the imprisonment and forced feeding (or release and subsequent arrest) of suffragettes who went on hunger strikes. Archbishop Randall Davidson, though apparently privately sympathetic, remained publicly non-committal, prompting the secretary of the Suffragist Churchwomen’s Protest Committee, Mrs Alice Kidd, to condemn the “servile attitude of the Heads of the Church". Women's suffrage was achieved despite, not because of, the House of Bishops. Plus ça change.

Posted by Revd Dr Charles Clapham at Wednesday, 7 February 2018 at 12:13am GMT

It misses the mark in so many ways.
1. Education was never the problem, so the call for more education is insulting.
2. It does not acknowledge the problem of how women and girls are to flourish with a bishop who does not see them as priests and equals in the Image of God.
3. It does not acknowledge the glaring problem of the Mawer Report - that it barely represents the voices of women, and not by name, while it went on and on about North. This omission is so egregious that the report lacks credibility. It's a man's view of Sheffield.

The Five Guiding Principals probably cannot achieve mutual flourishing. It's just fancy language for the continued oppression of women and girls. Sacrificing the well-being of girls and women in a few dioceses here and there to keep the peace amongst excluders.


Posted by Cynthia at Wednesday, 7 February 2018 at 8:42am GMT

The problem with British constituency politics is that parties or ideologies which have the support for more than one voter in 600 but less than about one voter in three get no seats; PR at a national level would give seats or representation to ideas which have very little support at a constituency level but when summed up justify something.

The issue with bishops is that hardline "no women, it's all invalid" does not have a majority, or anything like it, in any single diocese. There isn't some regional tendency: it's a minority position everywhere. What the appointment of Philip North tried to do was to ask the people of Sheffield, and more to the point the women of Sheffield, to allow themselves to be thrown under the bus for the national good. Why should they do that? What's in it for them? And once you get past that sacrificial intent, there are going to be no "no women" bishops, because no diocese has the will to take one.

That's insoluble.

Posted by Interested Observer at Wednesday, 7 February 2018 at 11:37am GMT

A "balanced" group is an interesting concept. If you compare to the balance of views among church members/attenders/adherents/self-identifiers generally this group is anything but balanced.

Posted by TP at Wednesday, 7 February 2018 at 12:42pm GMT

Thank you Interested Observer. You and Cynthia have put the issues exceptionally well. The Bible has nothing in it to support, theologically, slavery, yet it assumed that slaves exist, in both Old and New Testaments, with no judgements about whether ‘slavery’ was right or wrong. We now know that owning other people, not giving rights to a section of the human race is morally indefensible. The Dutch Reformed Church in South Africa was able to produce a theological argument for racism. There is no theological justification for making ANYONE a second class citizen. The 2010 Equality Act is also quite clear in employment that there are a number of ‘protected characteristics’ including age, race, disability, gender, sexuality to name a few. We are all capable of justifying ourselves, of looking for evidence which confirms us in our own views and ignoring evidence which suggest an alternative position. Elliott Arenson in the US has written an excellent easy to read book called “Mistakes were made, but not by me”. I often recommend it to undergraduates to read. For Sir Philip Mawer to have ignored the voices of women is indefensible, but reminds us that he was part of a patriarchal hierarchy in which women were ignored, minimalised and marginalised. He has to do better. I hope he will have the grace to produce a supplement to his report in which he shows that he is listening to the voices of women and includes these voices in his supplement.

Posted by Anne at Wednesday, 7 February 2018 at 1:09pm GMT

"Elliott Arenson in the US has written an excellent easy to read book called “Mistakes were made, but not by me”."

I have that book. I agree with your recommendation, and would recommend it to everyone interested in failures of decision-making and governance.

Posted by Interested Observer at Wednesday, 7 February 2018 at 2:18pm GMT

And the patriarchy has identified the next 'independent reviewer' - another man. Indeed, not just another man but one handpicked by the archbishops, not for his independence but, they say, because of his understanding of the Archbishops' Council.

What makes an independent reviewer independent? Is it the title? Is it a personal commitment to independence - which Sir William might possess in abundance? Or does it require someone whose background is substantially different, someone able to bring a fresh perspective?

Posted by Kate at Wednesday, 7 February 2018 at 3:25pm GMT

The former Secretary General of the Archbishops’ Council as the Independent Reviewer! What a hoot! Have the Archbishops taken leave of their senses? Ah well, whom the gods would destroy ....

Posted by american piskie at Wednesday, 7 February 2018 at 4:28pm GMT

Having read this new document quickly, I find it very disappointing and it does not seem to offer any hope of a solution. It does at least say 'mutual flourishing cannot be a zero-sum game in which the flourishing of some can be imagined as coming only at the cost of the diminishment of others', but that is exactly what happens to women priests forced to serve under a non-ordaining diocesan.

What would be the point of appointing a non-ordaining diocesan? Would it be to create a ghetto of ecclesiological purity to which traditionalists would move and from which women priests and liberals would flee? What else would it achieve, apart perhaps from ticking a box in some misguided mutual flourishing checklist?

As Interested Observer clearly points out, no diocese is going to want to be the one forced to accept a non-ordaining diocesan, and no diocese should be forced to do so against its will. So it is, in those terms, insoluble.

The whole sorry edifice appears to be founded on the mistaken belief by the HoB that there is some sort of equality between the case of a PEV put in place to provide alternative oversight to traditionalists in a diocese with an ordaining diocesan, and the opposite case where an ordaining suffragan is supposed to meet the needs of women priests in a diocese with a non-ordaining diocesan. There is no such equality - in the first case, there is no suggestion that the diocesan believes that traditionalist priests in his or her diocese are not really priests at all, but that is exactly what a non-ordaining diocesan thinks of the women priests in his diocese, even if he is forced by the 5GPs to concede that they are true and legal holders of their office. The latter case is ontological and insupportable.

Posted by Malcolm Dixon at Wednesday, 7 February 2018 at 6:24pm GMT

The lesson we all need to learn from the sorry tale of the Diocese of Sheffield is that when the Diocesan profile is written during an episcopal vacancy that it MUST say that the new Bishop should ordain women. I understand that in Sheffield it was felt that this was so obvious is didn’t need saying. It does. This arose in another Diocese in the C of E in 2015. When it was suggested in the Vacancy in See committee that it needed to be put in the Diocesan profile that the new Diocesan should ordain women, there was an outcry from all those opposed to women’s ordination that it was not necessary to include the statement. The suggestion was put to a vote and fortunately won, so the Diocesan statement did include the fact that the Diocese wanted a Bishop who would ordain women. Interestingly the preferred candidate was a woman, but without the necessary majority, so she wasn’t appointed. An opportunity missed. The Diocese concerned now has a male Diocesan who ordains women.

Posted by Anne at Thursday, 8 February 2018 at 9:54am GMT

Post-North, no diocese is going to even consider appointing someone who won't ordain women, no matter how intricate their argument that they can hold this position and still support women priests in their diocese. Most dioceses will use the profile to exclude any non-ordainer from the short-list. But what if they by some implausible sequence of events short-listed and went on to appointed someone who won't ordain women? Then the media and political reaction, both inside and outside the church, would make both the nominee's and the diocese's position impossible.

Justin Welby completely misjudged the mood of both Parliament and the Lords over SSM, and didn't realise that he had no support. He clearly assumed that he was self-evidently right, and all he had to do is say "down with this sort of thing" and "obviously none of us support these crazy radicals" and it would all be OK. He's going to get an even bigger surprise if he pushes parliament into a position of having to take a line on sex discrimination in the established church.

Posted by Interested Observer at Thursday, 8 February 2018 at 11:23am GMT

The church reached s decision about how to enable women to become bishops. The 5GP are part of the arrangements. Mutual flourishing means traditionalists can expect more than toleration. Their position must be treated with honour and respect, as an entirely legitimate theological view reflecting majority opinion within the great traditions of West and east.

Traditionalists ought to be able to be free from discrimination in the appointments process, and just as eligible for senior posts as any other. As long as at least one Bishop in the diocese will ordain women, there’s no need for the Diocesan to do so.

Posted by Londoner at Monday, 12 February 2018 at 10:36pm GMT

No, Londoner, you (and I fear the HoB) just don't get it. It's not about functionality but about ontology. The reason a SSWSH bishop won't ordain women is that he doesn't believe women can or should be priests, even if he is required by the 5GPs to accept that they are true and lawful holders of their office.

Therefore, such a bishop appointed to a diocesan post requires all the women priests in that diocese to swear canonical obedience to him, even though he doesn't believe that they are priests at all. What's mutual about that sort of flourishing?

Posted by Malcolm Dixon at Friday, 16 February 2018 at 6:04pm GMT

I find it interesting that the original House of Bishops Declaration ran to just 8 pages of text. The resulting Forward in Faith “Advice to Parishes” comprised 32 pages, and this latest official publication is over 60 pages, to say nothing of almost 300 pages in Sir Philip Mawer's 3 formal reports, and extensive media articles with differing interpretations of the Declaration. The Declaration served its purpose in being an integral part of the “deal” which has enabled the entry of women into the episcopate. (The fact that the Archbishop felt it necessary to deny to parliament that there was a deal is perhaps significant in itself!) However, all this resultant paperwork and debate would suggest that, as a piece of quasi-legal regulation – because that is how it is being treated by protagonists on both sides of the debate – the Declaration is not fit for purpose. No amount of theological reflection, education, or publicity is going to change that. The Declaration itself needs reviewing - properly - and I suspect the debates and arguments will continue until the HoB grasp this nettle firmly and adjust the Declaration into a workable and unambiguous form.

Posted by David Smith at Sunday, 18 February 2018 at 5:24pm GMT
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