Friday 24 August 2012

Response to GS Misc 1033

In the nick of is my response to the consultation on the revision of Clause 5.1.c. 
(If that means nothing to you, don't read on!). 

Guiding Principles

1.    The purpose of the legislation is to open the episcopate to women on equal terms with men.

2.    A secondary purpose is to establish a Code of Practice to govern the implementation of this legislation, with particular reference to the fair treatment of those who dispute the validity of this as an appropriate theological development.

3.    Therefore, the legislation:
3.1  Must allow women bishops with no element of discrimination, against either them or male bishops who participate in their consecrations, or male clergy who are ordained or consecrated by them. In other words, there must be no no go areas for women bishops, as otherwise the primary purpose of the legislation has not been fulfilled.
3.2  Similarly, there must be no separate track for male clergy who have not associated with women bishops. This is important because otherwise it is possible to anticipate women bishops being effectively sidelined by male colleagues who wish to maintain the widest field of career options open to them. Such unintended discriminatory consequences are well known to occur in related fields such as maternity rights, and again would mean that the primary purpose of the legislation was not being fulfilled.
3.3  Must not give the impression, either deliberately or inadvertently, that there are two alternative views about the validity of womens ordination held simultaneously by the Church of England as a Church.  It will, however, of course recognise that individual members of the Church of England will continue to hold differing views about the validity of this development, in order to pursue its secondary purpose. But it must be clear that the Church of England as a church believes that womens ordination is valid.
3.4  Must not seek to protect or promote the theological view, as such, that womens ordination is unacceptable.
3.5  Must seek to assure all members and parishes of the Church of England that the Church is committed to their flourishing and to their growth, regardless of their views on this matter. It must do this without being seen to suggest that such growth is anticipated to come only through a change of heart on this matter.

4.    Whilst I understand the point being made in the documentation that saying this is not just about maleness is desirable to avoid the accusation of misogyny, I believe clarity is preferable to attempts at political correctness. If the opposition to women bishops is indeed not about gender, but about ecclesiology or orthodoxy, then the attempt to secure alternative bishops on that basis is little short of astonishing.
4.1 I can understand the logic though I deplore the premise of the argument that says that, if women cant be ordained, then they are just pretending to be clergy and so their sacramental acts are worthless. If you believe that, then I can understand why you would want an alternative male line. But if the argument is instead that you want a bishop who agrees with you, then this is a theological innovation far greater than women clergy (who existed in the early church), and one that has not been subject to anything like the same amount of debate and scrutiny.
4.2 Historically and theologically, it is a basic principle of episcopal churches that the bishop is the focus of unity. This does not, and has never, meant that everyone agrees with them. Similarly, it does not and has never meant that the sort of person chosen to be a bishop should be someone everyone can accept. Rather, what is has always meant is that accepting the validity of the bishop is the acceptable minimum required of any member of the church.
4.3 The Act of Synod introduced a dangerous and unprecedented innovation, therefore, when it allowed those opposed to womens ordination to choose alternative episcopal provision.
4.4 We seem to be in danger of assuming that, because the Act of Synod is extant, that is the status quo that this legislation should be protecting and extending. Nothing could be further from the truth.
4.5 Furthermore, this feels like a particular betrayal since the desirability or otherwise of the Act of Synod has not been debated in recent years precisely because we were told that this legislative process rendered such debate redundant. Diocesan synod motions calling for the rescinding of the Act of Synod have been parked for several years pending this legislative process. It is therefore not acceptable for it to be taken as the basis for this legislation, without at least substantial independent debate.

Analysis of the Options presented in GS Misc 1033

1.    I do not accept that keeping Clause 5.1.c is a viable way forward. I think it would be very unlikely to attain the necessary support in November, for all the reasons rehearsed in advance of the July Synod. In particular, I refer you to the WATCH Statement of Concerns, which comprehensively sets out the many serious reservations held about this clause.

2.    I would prefer to see Clause 5.1.c deleted. However, I accept that, given the history of the last few months, this too might make achieving a 2/3 majority difficult. I also accept that this would be politically difficult for the bishops involved.

3.    I propose, therefore, that Clause 5.1.c. is replaced with alternative wording. However, I do not support any of the alternatives suggested, though I accept that several represent minor improvements on the original wording. Nevertheless, they all continue to focus on the issue of acceptable maleness in a way which, given the guiding principles with which I began, I cannot regard as helpful.

A positive proposal for a replacement Clause 5.1.c

1.    Ideally, we want to find wording that brings joy and trust back into the process for all parties.
2.    With that in mind, what are the main fears around? Conversations in synod on Monday afternoon, and of course speeches, suggest the main fear for both evangelical and catholic opponents of womens ordination is of becoming marginalised and being expected to wither away. For evangelicals, the qualification of maleness is not really an issue (except in so far as this issue is being conflated with sexuality), but they appreciated the amendment somewhat because it gave some assurance of their viewpoint being regarded with some respect in the future. For catholics the qualification of maleness was more important, but the main underlying fear is the same - that they are being deliberately pushed out or will be marginalised.
3.    From a personal point of view, I need to confess that there is some truth in this. I would indeed like their view to wither away. Interestingly, though, when I really think, our underlying fear is exactly the same - that women (not just ordained women) will continue to be marginalised and oppressed by the legitimated continuation of a permanent question mark over the validity of our orders.
4.    Since fundamentally, therefore, we all fear the same thing, it seems possible that we could all be made joyful by wording that commits us all to the alleviation of that fear. That would mean all of us being prepared to give up our hope that the other would eventually be eliminated.
5.    Since this is about theology, though, we need to get away from speaking in the legislation of the rightness of the different views. They can't all be right, and it is nonsensical to protect in legislation views directly contradictory to those the legislation is enacting.
6.    However, we could shift the focus to the people concerned. Not in a patronising way promising to protect minorities: those who feel themselves to be the minority (which sometimes seems to be everyone in this debate!) would then rightly continue to feel afraid that the safe space demarcated for them might shrink in the future. But what if we turned this round, and committed ourselves to helping each other flourish and to co-operating? That is what everyone in the debate has been saying they want to achieve (well, mainly!), so why not address it head on? This might be the one thing that could put the joy back in the process for everyone - and potentially enjoy not just a 2/3 majority, but near- unanimity.
7.    Pragmatically, too, the key votes needed are not those of people who are convinced that women should not be ordained at any price, but those in the middle who believe women should be ordained but don't want to upset anyone. I think their greatest fear is of the guilt they would feel if they thought they had not behaved kindly to all. This could address that head on, too.
8.    On a more detailed note, I think point 6 above could be addressed by not trying to describe theological convictions (one of the problems with the proposed 5.1.c was the prospect of legal challenges of definition, on whether the specific grounds were being catered for sufficiently, and even the potential for the invention of new, spurious grounds in order to get the bishop desired!). If instead we speak simply of parishes whose PCCs have or have not signed letters of request then the legal question of definition is much simpler - there is just a matter of fact, not of opinion - and the issue of whether the views behind the letters are being legitimated is removed.

9.    With all that in mind, I propose that Clause 5.1.c be replaced with wording along the lines of that the Code must include arrangements:

'To promote the flourishing of, and foster co-operation between, parishes whose PCCs have, and have not, signed Letters of Request under clause 3 of this Measure'.


  1. GO, Miranda. For the General Synod to undermine the intention of its July Meeting - which, in itself, was a concession to would-be dissenters against the ordination of Women Bishops - in order to enshrine such opposition in law; would be a disaster for the Church of England.

    If the legislation to allow the Ordination of Women as Bishops fails - for any reason at this juncture - the house of Bishops must be prepared to take the blame for the consequences, which could end up with a two-tier episcopate in the Church of England. Surely this reality would hardly be accounted acceptable to those who protest on grounds of putative'catholicity'

  2. I'm afraid that new clause is practically meaningless and doesn't address the issue at hand which is the worry that traditionalist parishes will have bishops imposed on them who do not share their theological views.

    And this is the heart of the matter. You write,

    "Must not give the impression, either deliberately or inadvertently, that there are two alternative views about the validity of women’s ordination held simultaneously by the Church of England as a Church. It will, however, of course recognise that individual members of the Church of England will continue to hold differing views about the validity of this development, in order to pursue its secondary purpose. But it must be clear that the Church of England as a church believes that women’s ordination is valid."

    Here's the problem. Your last sentence is completely correct. The official view of the Church of England is that there is no issue with the validity of women's ordination. At the same time however there is a substantial minority who do not agree. The 1994 provisions explicitly recognised this constituency and validated their inclusion as full members of the CofE.

    What your preamble does, in the same manner as others like it, is strip away from this constituency any notion that their position is a valid Anglican one. That was the whole point of 5.1.c, to recognise the variant theology of the traditionalists and to formally accommodate it. Remove any reference to recognising formally the theological differences (which is part of what 5.1.c did) and you produce a situation where, despite anybody's "best intentions" and "goodwill", the traditionalist position can be ignored by any future bishop, male OR female.

    This is the heart of the debate and the reason why even ardent Women Bishop supporters like Pete Broadbent have a huge amount of problems with erasing 5.1.c. Get rid of 5.1.c and you to all intents and purposes create a situation where traditionalists can be "constuctively dismissed" from the CofE.

    Square that circle if you can.

    1. Thanks Peter. I think the issue is exactly what you say in your first sentence - the worry that parishes might 'have bishops imposed on them who do not share their theological views'. My point is precisely that this is not a reasonable demand. In an episcopal church, the bishop is the bishop - there is no 'imposition', that's just the way it is. The novelty here is the expectation that a parish should be able to choose a bishop who does share their theological views! Why? As I say, I can understand, though I dislike, the view that if you don't believe women are genuinely ordained then you would like a bishop whom you believe to actually be a bishop. That is a pretty major and very distasteful concession in this legislation, and many of my colleagues think we have gone too far in conceding that. But saying you can choose a bishop who agrees with you? As a historian I maintain that is a far greater and more radical innovation than women's ordination. If we want to go down that route we should do so on the basis of considerable debate and study on the episcopate, not as a quick and dirty way of avoiding women clergy.

  3. Thanks so much for stripping the question down and building a proposal on clear thinking. Stepping back to consider how good law is made, the best approach is to put the principle clearly, puposefully succinctly in the measure (primary legislation), and the application as economically as you can into the statutory instrument (code of practice). The trouble is, lobby groups want as much as possible in the statute to secure the ground for the future, when courts begin to interpret the legislation. Therefore the number of statutes multiplies, and the detail in them mushrooms and becomes more specific — remember the dangerous dogs act? Thus we got by in the UK from 1944-1988 on one education Act. Now we need one most years, sometimes two or more. The irony is whilst minor points of policy get enshrined in primary legislation, and politicians feel they've done something, the whole system just kludges up and falls over under the weight of its own complexity. Applying that observation to this, what the measure needs is a simple statement of what it is trying to achieve, and the code of practice a clear idea of how.

    The more of what Harry Potter (yes, there is a real Harry Potter) calls "legislative diarrhea" goes into the measure, the closer we are to creating a new animal called a "woman bishop."