Thursday, 13 September 2012

The notion of respect

I've just got home from work and have read the Archbishop's statement on the new draft legislation on women bishops. To summarise briefly, it proposes replacing the controversial Clause 5. 1(c) with the following wording, which was suggested by the Rev Janet Appleby:

"the selection of male bishops and male priests in a manner which respects the grounds on which parochial church councils issue Letters of Request under section 3"

It is worth reading the Archbishop's words in full; his focus is not upon what the legal understanding of the word "respect" might be (more on that later) but upon the idea of respect as a moral and spiritual concept and a quality which will be essential if the Church is to move forward on this issue:

"The bishops were deeply impressed by the moral and spiritual and relational content of this word ‘respect’, and they were eager to go for a form of words that had the advantage of simplicity and directness about it.  They believed it was also very important that this had come not from themselves, but from the process of consulting the wider Church."

Well, it is simple and direct, it also has the advantage of the moral high ground - no-one on either side can really argue against the notion of respect. It also has the advantage that it cannot really be said to be enshrining in law the notion that discrimination against women is permissible or acceptable.

It disadvantage, it seems to me, is that it is vague. It is hard to know what constitutes, "respect(ing) the grounds on which parochial church councils issue Letters of Request" in actual legal and practical terms. It is for this reason that the opponents of women bishops will argue against it. We may see bitter disputes over what is meant by "respect" - oh, the irony!

I sense a certain weariness though about the whole matter. We need to move on and to find ways forward. This wording is by no  means ideal, but there is no ideal solution and I have an inkling that this will pass.

And perhaps we should pray long and hard for the ability to truly exercise respect for each other - more so when we differ than when we agree.


  1. I worry about the vagueness. Is it possible to act in a way which respects someone's reasons without effectively accepting them as legitimate? I'm not sure it is.

    I agree about the weariness - there hasn't been the rush of comment there was with the original Clause 5(1)c. Hope that doesn't mean that someone will wake up at the last minute and start shouting outrage (could be from either side).

  2. I've been mulling that - about respecting others reasons if you think they are offensive. I think we might argue that we wouldn't be expected (for example) to "respect" racist views but we are expected to respect views in the Church which could be described as sexist or homophobic. It is that, "could be" we need to look at. Opponents of women bishops deny it is sexism/ misogyny. I think at the least we have to accept that they in good conscience do not believe they are sexist/ misogynistic even if we think that that is where the roots of their attitudes lie. Is "respecting" someone's reasons the same as "agreeing" with them - clearly not. So I guess what is being asked is that we respect the fact that they hold those opinions. The church has deemed those opposed to be "loyal Anglicans", so I can't see that WATCH can baulk at that. Part of the problem is that, if you are to stay in the C of E, you need to accept that IT DISCRIMINATES! It discriminates on the grounds of gender and orientation in a way that is illegal in wider society. That is one reason I cannot describe myself as a full member of the C of E. I worship alongside fellow Christians, I'm not a member of the actual institution because I feel I can't be at the moment. But if you are going to be a fully signed up member, then with or without clause 5, you belong to a church which discriminates. It is simple.
    As for the weariness, there certainly is that. Also a lot of bitterness and those who disagree have to find ways to work together.