The 18 January issue of the Church Times carries an eight-page supplement: “women bishops theological debate” with this introduction:
CLEARING the way for women to be consecrated bishops in the Church of England is unfinished business after the defeat in the General Synod last November. In the pause before the fine detail is discussed yet again, we thought to answer readers’ questions about what exactly were the theological objections. We commissioned four main pieces, for and against women bishops, from Evangelical and Catholic viewpoints (encountering a few refusals along the way). We invited the contributors to consult whom they wished, and most filed in time for us to show the pieces to the others, to allow emendations and additions. There are also a few other pieces we thought illuminating. These are, of course, not definitive. As Edward Dowler suggests in the final piece, there are vaster areas of theological reflection about authority and gender with which the Church ought to engage. But, for the time being, we hope that these pages might provide a useful insight into the most pressing issues in the debate.
There is also this related editorial: An issue of unity,
The nine articles themselves are behind the Church Times paywall and so only available to subscribers. But versions of two are available elsewhere: An Ordinary Radical Event is an extended version of the article by Judy Stowell, and Veni Sancte Spiritus – but please don’t tell us anything we’d rather not hear is an earlier version of that by Edward Dowler.
Rachel Weir, the chair of WATCH, has responded to this CT supplement with Last year’s words belong to last year’s language … And next year’s words await another voice…..
In an eight page feature, nine articles are printed only three of which take a positive line on the ordination of women (and only one is actually written by a woman). Many of the rest seem to assume that having women as priests/leaders in the church is an interesting hypothesis to which they would not themselves subscribe!
There is clear bias of content here but there also seems to be a wilful blindness to the fact that women are already ordained as priests in the Church of England. The theological ‘rightness’ of this reform was decided back in 1975 when General Synod decided that there is ‘no fundamental objection to the ordination of women as priests’ and that decision was enacted in 1994 in the first ordinations.
So why is it that the Church Times is running a series of articles this week that seem to be trying to re-open the debate?
The offense to women clergy is extraordinary. Since 1994, over 5,000 women have been ordained and have served faithfully in ministries throughout the land. Many already exercise considerable authority and ‘headship’. The Church of England simply couldn’t survive without her women priests.
Another response comes from Miranda Threlfall-Holmes who writes about Loyal Anglicans : A historical view.
A few years ago, the Church of England’s General Synod passed a resolution declaring that both those who agree and those who disagree with the ordination of women are ‘loyal Anglicans’.
Since then, this phrase has been repeatedly quoted by those who disagree with women’s ordination. Look here, the argument runs. We are loyal Anglicans – Synod has agreed – and we cannot be called disloyal just because we don’t support the church’s decision to ordain women. You have to let us have everything we feel we need to flourish. Separate bishops. Separate dioceses, preferably, but failing that certainly separate Chrism masses, separate ordination services, separate selection conferences. It isn’t disloyal or separatist to ask for these things, we are assured: how can it be, when we know everyone involved is a ‘loyal Anglican’?
Let’s leave aside, for a moment, the illogicality of basing your argument on a declaration that both sides are loyal, and then using that declaration as an excuse for disowning your opponents as invalid innovators who are not loyal to the inheritance of faith.
Instead, I want to consider the phrase ‘loyal Anglicans’ as a historian. Because from a historical perspective, this phrase ‘loyal Anglicans’ is a very richly evocative phrase.
It is hardly going too far to say that the entire basis of Anglicanism is loyalty. Loyalty to the Crown over the Pope, mainly. And secondly, loyalty to a prescribed way of doing things rather than to our own ideas.
But if Synod’s statements are to be taken as the grounds for argument, there is no getting away from the fact that Synod has said that women can be ordained. That women can and should become bishops, that there are no fundamental theological objections to women’s ordination. And since Synod has declared women can be ordained, there is no grounds for refusing to accept that your (male) bishop is a loyal Anglican, let alone demanding an alternative one with whom you can agree.
We should stop the creeping separation that we have allowed to infiltrate the Church of England since the Act of Synod. Let’s all go to the same Chrism masses, the same ordination services. Let’s enact unity, rather than talking about it. Or let’s stop, please, claiming to be loyal.