Saturday, 9 February 2013

Women Bishops and new ways forward

The Church of England has published, for those who still have the heart to engage with it, a consultation document called Women in the Episcopate: a new way forward.
It acknowledges that a way to admit women to the Episcopate must be found as a matter of urgency and that outcome of the 20th November vote has left the Church of England in a profoundly unsatisfactory and unsustainable positionThe majority of the rest of this document set out the considerable problems faced in resolving the differences over the proposed legislation.It was only published on Friday and I've already read frustrated comments that the working group don't seem in a position to get things any further. One section did really make me sit up and read more carefully though. It was this line:
"It was recognised in those conversations (of the new working group) that a different mode of discourse was now needed, to avoid the mistake of expecting Synodical processes to be able to carry all the weight. "
It is quite clear that whatever legislation is placed before Synod will be unsatisfactory either to traditionalists opposed to women bishops or to those in favour and so will be in danger of not being voted in. Perhaps the Church will say, "We have to have women bishops. These are the three proposals on the table. One is more suited to traditionalists, one more suited to those campaigning for women bishops, one is a middle way. You can vote for which you prefer, or you can abstain. The way with the most votes wins. Period."

Such a solution would, of course, have its own serious pitfalls, not least the danger of split votes, very close votes and of something voted in that the majority in the church had not agreed to. Really a simpler option might to change the way Synod works and not require a two-thirds majority and I wonder if this is what is being considered? One thing is sure and that is that creative and genuinely new ways forward need to be found if there is not to be a repeat of November's fiasco.


  1. its been said many times before but i guess the next time elections come up for synod lay reps they'll be a mite more interest in what their position is on various issues

    although I'm puzzled as to why we can't lose the whole house of laity thing and replace it with a one member one vote approach administered and reported back to HQ to collate via 3 or so p.a. parish level apcm like meetings

  2. I have heard talk of a one member one vote system and I think there may have been some petition about it possibly? I've no idea what their solution will be or if there really is one given the divisions that exist.

  3. It is odd that if we look at the fledgling Church for guidance we find that such an idea as democracy was rather absent in the New Testament. Indeed the whole notion of the ‘One Catholic and Apostolic Church’ is at odds with democracy. The belief is that bishops and priests are the successors of the apostles via apostolic succession – the authority they wield is rooted in tradition and (to some degree) a mystical belief that in the process of hands being laid on heads, the Holy Spirit is decanted into each succeeding generation of ministers. In 1 Timothy we see that it is only men that are talked about – whereas elsewhere Paul talks about women also ministering in the church. It appears in 1 Tim 3 that men offer themselves up for the role of ministry – elsewhere important decisions are made by lottery (e.g. the replacement of Judas with Matthias). Whatever, the New Testament is rather hazy on role of women and on the governance of the Church.

    There is an interesting quote in the film ‘The Mission’ ‘we are a brotherhood, not a democracy...’ – and as anyone will know who has lived in a religious community, this is a common notion in the religious life. Yes votes are taken to choose a new superior, but in the main, the running of the community is by a mutual consent, where the superior’s role is to discern the will of the Holy Spirit as opposed to tell everyone what to do. As the monastic Rule said in the community where I was a novice ‘no brother should remain silent in community meetings because he fears the consequences of what he has to say...’ and on several occasions I can remember even a member of the lay-community or a novice speaking up and changing a decision in a community meeting. The aim of any community meeting was to discern the will of God in this or that situation, not to boss people around or that democratic power should win through with every decision.

    Religion, as James Beckford (and a good portion of the closing chapter of my thesis) states does not exist outside of social action. It tends to align itself with social movements and it copies the wider world in terms of its means of organisation and dissemination of authority. We live in a highly bureaucratic, differentiated society, where democratic power elects officers into positions of legalistic and bureaucratic, as opposed to traditional, authority. The Anglican General Synod is a clear example of this. Therefore it comes as no surprise that new ways are being sought as to how Synod can be cajoled into getting the consecration of women as bishops to become part of Anglican canon law.

    Perhaps the way forward is to take a step back and allow the bishops themselves to decide on this matter? The problem is of course that liberals/pro-women bishop members of the Church would leap at this and traditionalists would baulk at thought (I’ll let others bathe in the irony of such a situation...). But I think it is time for bishops once more to lead – and it is a pity that many within the Church who claim to be Traditionalists are only Traditionalists as long as it is a means of the Church doing what they want it to do – they do not want apostolic authority if it doesn’t give them what they want. But just perhaps, we have bishops who have sought the guidance of the Holy Spirit and can see that the New Testament is ambiguous on the ministerial role of women? But this is not what some want to hear...

  4. Hi Peter,
    I wrote a long response and lost it! Sadly, I'm not even interested enough in my own post to write it again. "There's no easy solution and it's a bit depressing, but heigh-ho" sort of sums it up!