Thinking Anglicans

Women bishops: do not amend the current draft legislation

WATCH has published two documents which argue against making any changes whatsoever to the current draft legislation concerning women in the episcopate.

The first is a letter sent by Rachel Weir on behalf of WATCH to all members of the House of Bishops who will be meeting next week. This is available here as a PDF, and is reproduced below.

The second is an article by Miranda Threlfall-Holmes which has now appeared here but is reproduced below the fold in its original form. (Also available as a file here.)

Re: House of Bishops meeting 21-22 May

Dear Bishop,

I am writing on behalf of WATCH (Women and the Church) to urge you to resist making any amendment to the face of the current draft Measure concerning women in the episcopate and to resist placing any assurances into ancillary documents that would work against the spirit of the Measure as currently drafted.

I am sure that you have had a great deal of correspondence on the matter but please bear in mind the following reasons for resisting any amendment:

1. This draft Measure is the most generous compromise that is possible for those who support the ordained ministry of women.
As the Bishop of Gloucester reminded us at last February’s General Synod, this draft legislation is the compromise. It represents a very significant concession from those who support the ordained ministry of women and would have preferred legislation in the form of a single clause measure. Many mainstream Synod groupings have compromised in order to show generosity to those opposed, but this is as far as we can go. We want women as bishops but not at any price.

2. This draft Measure is the legislative package most likely to be passed by Synod in July.
Amended draft legislation, that makes even more provision for those opposed, will be voted down by women clergy and others in July. The best way to get legislation for women in the episcopate passed this summer is for the House of Bishops to throw its weight behind the current draft legislation.

3. This draft legislation commands a consensus in the dioceses and represents a basis for unity moving forward.
The current draft legislation has the support of 42/44 dioceses. It commands a consensus that provides the basis for maximum ecclesial unity going forward. There are no winners and losers here; significant compromise underpins the consensus the draft Measure has achieved across the Church.

4. The draft Measure is a carefully worded document that has been produced after lengthy and detailed consideration of the issues. Hasty amendment is unlikely to improve it.
The Revision Committee wrestled with drafting in detail for over a year. After this level of scrutiny, it is inconceivable that any genuinely new amendment could be found or given adequate consideration in the course of a 24 hour meeting. Furthermore, any amendment worth making would certainly go to the substance of the issues that were considered at length by the Revision Committee.
The two issues under consideration at present, namely ‘delegation’ and ‘maleness’ were the two issues that preoccupied the Revision Committee more than any others, as you will note from the Report of that committee. It is difficult to see, in that case, how any amendment on those points could be considered ‘insignificant’. The Dioceses considered those two issues above all others and would expect to be consulted were there to be any changes in these areas.

5. Assurances in ancillary documents will be a source of ambiguity and cause problems for future implementation of the Measure.
Please be wary of introducing ‘harmless’ explanatory wording whether in a Preamble or any other ancillary document (aside from the Code of Practice). The status of ancillary documents is ambiguous and any ambiguity will be taken to signal a lack of support for draft legislation thereby encouraging those who are dissatisfied to find ways of avoiding the intentions of the Measure in future years.

6. Please pay attention to the signals any amending intervention would send.
Any intervention to amend the draft legislation would send signals to Dioceses and Deaneries that their time and input was ultimately insignificant. It would send signals to the whole Church that the House of Bishops is prepared to overturn the careful settlement achieved after great labour and to seek to impose a new settlement on the Church.
Such an intervention would risk the House presenting itself in opposition to the will of the wider Church. For people outside the Church it would convey the clear impression that the bishops are out of touch with what is both wanted and needed. It would also do enormous damage to the morale of ordained women and those who support their ministry.
We respectfully remind you that that this legislation involves reforming the House of Bishops. Many would see it as deeply inappropriate for the very body that is the subject of reform to intervene at the eleventh hour to alter a compromise that has been so carefully negotiated.

7. Please listen to the mind of the Church and lead us into renewal with enthusiasm
We would therefore ask you to exercise your episcopal leadership by listening to the mind of the Church. The clear desire, as expressed in diocesan voting, is for this legislation, to be put to Synod in July unamended.
It sometimes easy to forget that a vote for women as bishops will be wonderful news for the Church of England. There is an opportunity over coming weeks for the House to lead the Church towards this exciting phase of renewal with enthusiasm – anticipating the great enrichment to the House that female colleagues will bring. Please embrace this opportunity wholeheartedly!

With our prayers and good wishes,

Rachel Weir
The Reverend Rachel Weir
Chair of WATCH (Women and the Church)

On behalf of the National WATCH Committee

Women Bishops Legislation Briefing Paper by Miranda Threlfall-Holmes

Executive Summary: The current legislation is a major compromise for all, and is the only solution with majority support. It should be put to Synod in July unchanged.

1. Theological Rationale

1.1. As a body, the Church of England cannot hold two opposing views on women’s ordination simultaneously. It is clear that, as individuals, we all hold our very different views on this subject in good conscience and with integrity. But that is very different from saying that official church policy is that both views are equally correct. A church cannot with integrity ordain people whom it simultaneously considers both validly and invalidly ordained.

1.2. Since women have been ordained to the priesthood for nearly 20 years, it is clear that the Church of England is a church that ordains women. Synod has repeatedly affirmed since 1975 that there is ‘no fundamental objection to the ordination of women’, and the recent diocesan synod voting shows that the consecration of women bishops is the will of the church. It is important that the legislation to allow women bishops is not framed in such a way as to throw doubt on the legitimacy of very thing it is legislating for. Historically, the whole point of Canon A4 was to make explicit that the Church of England has both the legal right and the ecclesiastical power to legally and validly ordain its own clergy. It would be invidious to undermine that statement now over this issue.

1.3. Some argue that it is simply impossible for a woman to be a priest or a bishop, and so wish to avoid both our ministry and that of male priests or bishops tainted by association. But this cannot be accepted as valid simply because it is a deeply held belief. The key theological principle at stake is Gregory Nazianzen’s famous phrase, ‘the unassumed is the unhealed’. If this is accepted, then Christ, as the fully representative human being as well as fully God, must be understood as essentially having assumed humanity, rather than maleness. In Aquinas’ sacramental terminology, Christ’s maleness must be essentially accidental, the substance of the incarnation being Christ’s humanity. If the maleness of Christ is to be understood as a key salvific characteristic of the incarnation, or if gender is understood as a fundamental division within humanity, then the theological implication is that women are not included in the saving activity of the incarnation. On this understanding women, to put it bluntly, not only cannot be ordained, but cannot be saved.

1.4. The Church of England must firmly and decisively distance itself from any such suggestion, and this is why the full incorporation of women into the threefold ministry of the church is of such immense theological value. It is therefore crucial that the legislation does not compromise this fundamental understanding of gender as an essentially secondary characteristic to humanity.

2. Will the Measure and Code of Practice have teeth?

2.1 The substance of what bishops will be expected to do is spelled out in the Measure, and that has full legal force. The Measure specifies that bishops must draw up a Diocesan Scheme respecting the national Code of Practice, and must respond to Letters of Request by providing a male priest or bishop as requested. Failure to abide by the Measure would be a serious breach of the law, and subject to the Clergy Discipline Measure. It is hard to imagine the archbishops not taking complaints that bishops are breaching the Measure very seriously. It may be of help for the House of Bishops to request the archbishops to set out a policy position in relation to how they would deal with such complaints, if this is a cause for concern.

2.2. The Report of the Code of Practice Drafting Group, GS Misc 1007, sets out the legal standing of the Code in paras 14-16, pp. 18-19. Several House of Lords judgements give Codes such as this significant legal weight. A bishop could only depart from the Code if able to give ‘cogent reasons’ for doing so, and decisions not in accordance with the Code could be challenged, and set aside, by Judicial Review.

2.3. In response to concerns about how these provisions may work out in practice, the Measure now includes a requirement that the Diocesan Schemes be reviewed every five years. Any complaints about the operation of such Schemes thus have a formal way to be heard and, if substantiated, the Schemes would be altered as needed.

2.4. The Code of Practice has more legislative standing than the current Episcopal Ministry Act of Synod. The Act of Synod is simply a policy statement, not legislation.

3. Will the current Measure and Code of Practice do?

3.1. This legislation is a major compromise for all concerned. For me, it is offensive because it codifies discrimination on the grounds of gender. However, because I have heard the extent of the pain and fear felt by many opponents to women’s ordination, I am prepared to make the huge compromises demanded of me in the current legislative package. Over the lengthy legislative drafting process which has produced the Measure and Code of Practice that we have before us for Final Approval in July, those who feel as I do (including groups such as WATCH, GRAS, Affirming Catholicism, Modern Church, and SCP) have given away as much as possible in the hope of helping everyone to feel able to vote for the legislation.

3.2. We can’t find a better compromise than this. This has been debated extensively for many years, and options either to have simple legislation without any provision for opponents, or to have more legislative ‘safeguards’ against women’s ministry, have consistently failed to achieve the necessary 2/3 majority. Several commissions and revision committees have repeatedly investigated the implications of all the options. It is almost inconceivable that a last minute ‘tweak’ could improve the legislation.

4.2 This legislative compromise has, in contrast to all the other options considered over the years, commanded widespread support. It has been scrutinised at deanery and in many places parish level throughout the country, and debated in detail at diocesan synods. 42 out of 44 dioceses have approved the current legislation. Following motions calling for some amendment to the existing legislation to be considered were passed in 10 dioceses, but lost in 30 dioceses (GS 1847).

3. This is a compromise package. But we can’t compromise away the entire point of having women and men together in the threefold ministry, or the theological integrity of our church. There is no point having this legislation just to get women bishops at any price. If the House of Bishops can’t bring itself to wholeheartedly endorse women’s ordination, I think I will feel I have to vote against the Measure at Final Approval, rather than vote for enshrining theological incoherence and gender discrimination in Canon Law.

M. T-H April 2012

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12 years ago

How can this be considered wonderful news for the Church of England? Unless one is a liberal Protestant. What about fulfilling our Lord’s desire that all his children should be one? What about our fidelity to the ancient three-fold order and the faith delivered to the Saints? What about our reunion with Rome and the East, and our tragic separation from the ancient seats, descended from the Apostles? What about our Sacraments and Apostolic Succession? Maybe you think that all of these are meaningless, and that the brave new world stretches out in front of you. But, in prayer, I… Read more »

Father Ron Smith
Father Ron Smith
12 years ago

“If the House of Bishops can’t bring itself to wholeheartedly endorse women’s ordination, I think I will feel I have to vote against the Measure at Final Approval, rather than vote for enshrining theological incoherence and gender discrimination in Canon Law. – Miranda Threlfall-Holmes April 2012 – The Rev. Miranda Threlfall-Holmes in her article on this thread, makes very plain her feelings about the importance of the House of Bishops not altering the ‘Draft Measure’ that was passed by the last General Synod Meeting. As Chaplain of Durham University, Miranda – together with many other academics in the Church who… Read more »

Martin Reynolds
12 years ago

Tristan reminds us very clearly why:
“the Church of England cannot hold two opposing views on women’s ordination simultaneously”
From all blindness of heart; from pride, vainglory, and hypocrisy; from envy, hatred, and malice, and all uncharitableness,
Good Lord, deliver us.

12 years ago

I find the tone of Miranda Threlfall-Holmes’ piece unattractive. I don’t believe that comment is sexist, because I find the tone of many men unattractive. On the other hand, I also strongly believe that the likes of ‘Father David’ have to give us more, not in the sense of agreeing with us, but of acknowledging the legitimacy of our positions within the broad church C of E. In the same spirit, I also disagree with ‘Tristan’. The alternative to ‘international Catholicism’ (which doesn’t actually exist) is not ‘liberal Protestantism’, it is ‘reformed Catholicism’. That’s what we – most of us… Read more »

12 years ago

“From all false doctrine…(etc)”

Back atcha, Tristan.

JCF who, the Lord being merciful, would see my Catholicism compared to that of the Bishop of Rome.

12 years ago

Dear Tristan, you are living in some 19th century Roman Catholic fantasy world. I pray that you will repent from your heresies and follow Christ, rejoicing that our sisters will finally be welcome as equals.

12 years ago

Tristan, I laugh. I really do.

I would think that making some women bishops would end division.

It would _help_ make all God’s children one.

And let me let you in on another secret. The faith was not delivered once. It is still being delivered.

And there are Saints today who are receiving it.

12 years ago

We are one, Tristan. Through Christ. If Rome and the Orthodox refuse to accept this, that is their heresy and hardness of heart, and I *do* pray for their delivery from it. Christ decides communion, not us, not scripture, not tradition, not even reason, just Christ.

Would love your thoughts, please comment.x