Thinking Anglicans

Women bishops: some more analyses

Janet Henderson Archdeacon of Richmond has written A Nettle the Church of England Can’t Seem to Grasp.

…For 18 years the Church of England has been trying out an approach that says, in effect, ‘both groups are right’. A lot of us thought we were doing this in the patient expectation that one or other group would eventually become less sustainable. How else are decisions made and people able to move forward? You pray, you argue the rationale, you try things out, you put it to the vote. In the Church of England, we seem now to be saying that however small the number of people who want to be protected from women priests becomes, we will continue to order the life of the church for their benefit and at the expense of all who want to see women in leadership.

Well, I can see that to pass legislation that is completely unacceptable to those who do not want women priests and bishops is a very hard decision to take (and not, at this point, one that is open to Synod) but let’s look at the cost of continuing with this ‘two integrities’ approach

  • It seriously endangers the coherence of episcopacy in the Church of England. The bishops will be trying to move in two directions at once over a good number of issues to do with gender and the ordering of the church.
  • It will cause arguments in parishes where there is a divergence of view about women’s ministry, particularly as the ‘supply’ (to use the bishops’ word) of clergy gets smaller.
  • It makes for a national church that treats women as second class, something parts of the church have to be protected from. How proud of that can we be?
  • It means that language about ‘taint’ and ‘the unsuitability of women having authority’ will continue to be a norm of church life. (As Desmond Tutu so famously pointed out, what you say about people in fact shapes the possibilities of your behaviour towards them.)
  • It endorses the notion of different churches within the Church of England needing different types of theological leadership – will other grounds for being able to petition for a different bishop begin to emerge? This leads to chaos!

The Church Mouse on the other hand has written So what’s changed?

…The second change (to Clause 5 for those who want to check these things) is the one which has caused the aforementioned emotional responses. This change inserts an instruction to the House of Bishops that when they are writing the Code of Practice under which arrangements for those who cannot accept the authority of a woman bishop are defined. This instruction is that the Code of Practice should include a requirement that when a diocesan bishop is assigning an alternative bishop to oversee a parish requesting an opt out from the oversight of a woman bishop, this parish’s theological convictions should be taken into account.

This was an issue for some who feared that there was a danger of Anglo-Catholic parishes requesting an alternative bishop, but being given an evangelical to do the job who may be just as unacceptable as the woman they were seeking to avoid.

This issue has been debated before, and has caused arguments to be raised on both sides. On the one hand if you are trying to respect theological integrity, you should try to do so in a genuine way. On the other, it sounds a bit like parishes being given the right to pick whatever bishop they like, which isn’t really how church works.

However, whatever the rights and wrongs of this argument, let’s just check what the draft Code of Practice already says on this issue. Paragraph 40 of the draft Code of Practice says:

it will be for the diocesan bishop to identify, in the written notice sent to the secretary of the PCC under section 1(8) of the Measure, which particular bishop should exercise episcopal ministry by delegation under the diocesan scheme in relation to any particular parish whose PCC has issued a Letter of Request after taking account of the theological convictions on the grounds of which the Letter of Request was issued.

So this amendment changes nothing. It was merely inserted by the House of Bishops to ask themselves, as the ones also responsible for writing the Code of Practice, to include something that is already in there…


  • Father David says:

    The Archdeacon to the Dales has written that – to continue with the “two integrities” approach seriously endangers the coherence of the episcopacy. But surely the opposite is, in fact, the case? For the moment the first woman is consecrated the coherence of the episcopacy will be utterly destroyed. At least at present the entire Bench is in communion one with another – that will no longer apply if the episcopal innovation comes to pass. I note that the Archdeacon, who looks forward to the introduction of women bishops, urges the rejection of the amended Measure and concludes that “we are in for a turgid time”. I think we can all agree on that!
    The current Church Times’ “Question of the week” asks – “Do you think that the amendments increase the Measure’s chances of receiving final approval in July? To date 32% say YES – 68% say NO.
    The writing is on the wall.

  • badman says:

    I think the Church Mouse is wrong about this.

    Moving what might seem a point of detail from the Code of Practice to the legislation is a big change.

    It is a change from “may” to “must”. It is a change from “for the time being” to “permanently”. If the consequences are damaging, it will, for practical purposes, be impossible to put things right.

  • Mark Bennet says:

    I think Church Mouse is wrong about this, and I think the Clause 5 texts needs some acute and accurate analysis, because I’ve not met anyone who really understands it, or has imagined how it will operate in practice. It requires the code to provide for

    “the selection of male bishops or male priests the exercise of ministry by whom is consistent with the theological convictions as to the consecration or ordination of women on grounds of which parochial church councils have issued Letters of Request under section 3”

    So what happens, for example, if a bishop is selected on this basis, and then presides at the induction and institution of a woman to a post as incumbent? Or considers presiding, as his view of matters is changing? Bishops selected on this basis will find themselves under huge pressure to conform to a range of practices, and the leverage this clause gives has not been thought through. There will be no middle ground to be explored, reaching out to each other will be discouraged (because such reaching out would be part of “the exercise of ministry”) …

  • I too, think Church Mouse is wrong on this issue. The whole idea of ‘Flying Bishops’ and ‘Alternative Episcopal Oversight’ has been a tragic failure. It did not prevent the Roman Ordinariate from hosting C. of E. dissidents in the expectation of Women Bishops, nor will it prevent ‘theologically compromised’ others from moving out when women are eventually promoted to the episcopate.

    If F.i.F. and others are seriously concerned about their theological objections, it ought to be impossible for them to remain in the Church of England when Women are actually ordained bishops.

    Any other accommodation must surely be spurious – from their point of view, never mind that of the women they choose to exclude from God’s calling into the ministry of the Church

  • badman – the code is a statutory code enforceable through the High Court and Judicial Review. So if it is in there it is not a ‘may’ but a ‘must’. In terms of strength of compulsion it makes no difference. In terms of whether it is ‘for the time being’ or ‘permanently’, Mouse would point out that legislation can be amended by General Synod, whilst the Code of Practice can only be revised by the House of Bishops. In other words, putting it directly in the legislation puts it in Synod’s hands for the future – Mouse reckons that makes it far more likely that it would be revised than if it is up to the HoB.

  • cseitz says:

    “A lot of us thought we were doing this in the patient expectation that one or other group would eventually become less sustainable.”

    Interesting logic. Surely she didn’t think that she was waiting around to see if her own position would ‘become less sustainable’ so to what state of affairs does this actually refer?

    Conservatives presumably thought two integrities meant just that, without any sell-by date. People at TA can get outraged about this or that, but this point should at least be conceded. I just find it intriguing that the author exposes that she never thought two integrities was an actual viable notion. It was just time-buying, as the march of progress worked its political ‘magic.’

  • Charles Read says:

    Christopher Seitz accidentally reveals what one of the problems is here. Nowhere in the legislation for women priests (or deacons), nor in the Act of Synod, does it refer to two integrities. It deliberately refers to the integrity of dissenting from ordaining women being the right thing to do.

    (Likewise, the reference is to extended – not alternative – episcopal oversight. Some people still confuse the two.)

  • Perry Butler says:

    Surely there arent “Two Integrities” in the sense the Church of England holds two positions ,rather there are “two positions of integrity”.The Church of England ordains women priests, that is the canonical position. It also caters for conscientious dissent from that position.It seems to me that since 1992 the waters have become muddied..the extended episcopal care originally intended, somehow became alternative episcopal oversight, ending up with the “Diocese of Ebbsfleet”.”Its a mess” ( Michael Ramsey in conversation with me in 1974) and the mess gets worse it seems to me.

  • Savi Hensman says:

    Church Mouse, why would ‘Anglo-Catholic parishes requesting an alternative bishop… being given an evangelical to do the job’ be ‘just as unacceptable as the woman they were seeking to avoid’, whereas ordinarily many Anglo-Catholic parishes have evangelical bishops and vice versa?

  • Erika Baker says:

    “why would ‘Anglo-Catholic parishes requesting an alternative bishop… being given an evangelical to do the job’ be ‘just as unacceptable as the woman they were seeking to avoid’,”

    Especially since the ontolotical argument Anglo Catholics make has everything to do with a bishops having to be male, ordained deacon, priest and bishop by another male, and nothing to do with this bishop’s individual theology.

  • Erika Baker says:

    On the other hand, Pete Broadbent commented on another thread that this “right thinking” clause was already a part of the agreed measure.

    Is there someone here who agreed to it back then who can explain why it got to be in there?

  • Erika Baker says:

    “Conservatives presumably thought two integrities meant just that, without any sell-by date. People at TA can get outraged about this or that, but this point should at least be conceded.”

    That I find hard to believe because conservatives are not intrinsically dense and they would have known that it would only be a matter of time until women bishops would be discussed and eventually a woman archbishop.

    This position can only ever have been a time limited compromise, the only thing no-one knows is how long that time is.

    So I suggest both sides thought that time would tell that they were right and the other side would slowly wither away. At the very least conservatives must have thought that their integrity would remain superior and dominant so that the question of a female ABC could never arise.

  • Mark Bennet says:

    cseitz – some proponents of the ordination of women – particularly evangelical ones – have always taken the Gamaliel principle seriously – if God is in it, it will flourish; if we are mistaken, it will fail. The logic you suggest is “interesting” is Biblical logic.

  • Rosalind says:

    Erika – the phrase “two integrities” in the way it is now used (as a “right”) was a short-hand term used by opponents of WO after 1992/3. AS has been said earlier on this thread, it is not in any legislation, but began to be used to create a church within a church which was not the intention of the majority who voted for the Act of Synod – but may well have been the intention of those who were trying to find more wriggle room than resolutions A and B allowed. The 1992 legislation also provided for financial compensation for up to 10 years after the legislation was made law for any member of clergy who found he had to resign on grounds of conscience. The clear assumptions were that all clergy remaining would have the integrity (there is that word again) to recognise and act according to Canon A4:
    “…those who are so made, ordained, or consecrated bishops, priests, or deacons, according to the said Ordinal, are lawfully made, ordained, or consecrated, and ought to be accounted, both by themselves and others, to be truly bishops, priests, or deacons.”
    but they were given 10 years to work out if they could conscientiously accept the implications of this canon once women were ordained. A generous provision – though everyone recognised it was very painful for all.

    All of these demands for wriggle room are based on demanding a right of accommodation those who still do not believe that women can be lawfully made, ordained or consecrated,despite (in the case of clergy) oaths made at ordination and licensing. They have a right to this personal belief. To what extent this belief can/should shape legislation 20 years after the church of England decided that it did have a right to ordain women as priests, is at the heart of the arguments.

  • cseitz says:

    “this ‘two integrities’ approach” — a quote from the article referred to, not my own confection.

  • Mark Bennet says:

    cseitz: The “two integrities” approach is the creature of Forward in Faith, stretching passing statements on the accommodation of their views and the generous recognition of the integrity with which they are held into a (very uncatholic) doctrine constitutive of the Church of England. Janet Henderson tells us that it is unsustainable, and she is right.

  • Perry Butler says:

    “A generous provision – though everyone recognised it was very painful for all.”
    And a very financially costly one too Rosalind…wasnt it something like £23 million? Think how that could have helped the mission of the church in these financially straitened times.

  • cseitz says:

    ‘Not my confection.’

    My point had to do–and it was obvious–with the logic articulated in the original comment. Re:

    “A lot of us thought we were doing this in the patient expectation that one or other group would eventually become less sustainable.”

  • Mark Bennet says:

    cseitz; That’s the Gamaliel principle, as I put in my first response …

  • Just to answer Savi and Erika’s question, I didn’t say that any evangelical would be unacceptable, but that one “may be”. There are many reasons for this why this could be the case.

  • Erika Baker says:

    it is true that there are many reasons any evangelical would be unacceptable. Just as there are reasons why a gay bishop may be unacceptable, or a liberal one with a too free personal theology…
    that doesn’t mean that we need special legal provision to protect us from them.

    I have this vision of all bishops lined up underneath the Archbishop of Canterbury and every single parish in the land declaring its individual allegiance to a particular one depending on who most represents the mix of theological convictions of that particular parish. Lines of allegiance would be criss-crossing from the parishes up to the bishops.
    We could even have an X-Factor style popularity contest with PCCs pressing the red button.

    I still don’t understand why the “conviction” issue ever made the original Act of Synod and why it’s allowed to remain there now.
    Nor do I understand why WATCH agreed to it, then and now.

  • cseitz says:

    So those in favor of women in the episcopate thought their position might be unsustainable? That never occurred to me.

  • Erika Baker says:

    “So those in favor of women in the episcopate thought their position might be unsustainable”

    I shouldn’t think so. But everyone must have known that the interpretation of 2 integrities that began to crystallise as “living 2 equal realities at the same time” as not sustainable.

    I expect everyone thought “their” side would win the day.

    And all we’re doing at the moment is still pretending that both is possible.
    When we finally get to the question of a female Archbishop the CoE will have to grasp the nettle and settle the question once and for all.

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