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…