Reform says Women Bishop Proposals may bar many evangelicals from parish ministry
New proposals for introducing women bishops run counter to the Church’s desire to see those on both sides of the debate flourish in the Church of England, according to Reform, the evangelical Anglican campaigning network.
Speaking after a meeting of the Reform trustees, chairman Prebendary Rod Thomas said today (5th June) that the paper which will be considered by next month’s General Synod, contained some very encouraging sentiments, but these were not reflected in the substance of the proposals.
Preb. Rod Thomas welcomed the vision articulated in the paper for mutual flourishing; the re-iteration of the Lambeth1998 statement that both those in favour of women bishops and those who had theological objections to their introduction were loyal Anglicans; and the recognition that it would be wrong to make such meagre provision for opponents that they would see themselves as being treated on sufferance. He said that Reform members would also be likely to welcome the proposal that provision for opponents should be consistent across all dioceses and that there should be a clear process for dispute resolution.
However, by presenting a motion to next month’s General Synod that committed the future legislative process to the least generous of the options outlined in the paper, the legitimate concerns of many evangelicals were likely to be overlooked. In particular, the proposal for unqualified changes in both legislation and canon would leave many evangelicals in an impossible situation. Clergy who believe the Bible teaches male headship would be unable to take vows of canonical obedience to female bishops and this would effectively prevent them from undertaking much parish ministry.
Other concerns identified by Reform were:
- The requirement for General Synod to vote on a way forward without having sight of the proposed provisions for those who were opposed on theological grounds to the Episcopal oversight of women;
- The insecurity of the proposed methods for making provision (ie either an Act of Synod or a declaration by the House of Bishops) which can be changed at any stage in the future by a simple majority vote of the General Synod or House of Bishops; and
- The proposed removal of the current legislative provisions by which parishes can request the appointment of male priests. This could leave them vulnerable to legal challenge under Equality legislation in the future.
Prebendary Rod Thomas, who took part in the facilitated discussions with the House of Bishops Working Group earlier this year, said that the Church’s synodical process left little room for substantive changes to the proposals. The majority, who favour the introduction of women bishops, are likely to vote the proposals through by simple majority until the time comes for a vote on final approval. Only then, when the majority required in each House of Synod is 2/3, will the views of the minority really count. ‘I have to hope that Synod agrees to amend the motion before it in July’, Preb Thomas said. ‘Failure to do so will make our efforts to find an agreed way forward very much more difficult to achieve.’