On Monday I attended a really helpful meeting in anticipation of the Diocesan Synod vote on the motion from General Synod proposing a way forward on women bishops. This essentially proposes a ‘middle way’ between simply going ahead, and making a legally structured provision for those disagreeing. It proposes to put in place delegated (rather than transferred) episcopal oversight, accessed by a Letter of Request from a PCC, with a Code of Practice ensuring that the provision is adequate. (Having just written this, I realise how complex the whole thing is, and baffling to those who have not been following closely.)
The meeting was a good opportunity to explore some issues, but I left it feeling very concerned about the whole process.
[My own position is that I am a ‘traditionalist’, in that I think the decisions of the C of E should be shaped by Scripture, but as you will see from other posts on my blog I am quite convinced that Scripture allows women to exercise all levels of ministry in the church.]
1. As my initial comment shows, I think the issues are very complex; I spent five years on Synod, and teach in a theological college, and I find myself working hard to get my head around the issues. During the evening it became clear at some important points that we did not have all the information we needed, and I worry about how we are going to vote in the diocese without better understanding. Though I hesitate to suggest it, we almost need to understand all the reasons why General Synod voted the way it did, and in particular the arguments against the options that were rejected. I realise that GS members will be there at Diocesan Synod, but this it is a tough task to explain all that happened.
2. As I understand it,the reason why Transferred Episcopal Authority (TEA) was rejected as a way of making provision for those opposed to having women bishops was that it would,in effect, have created a parallel diocesan structure, which would imply ‘no go’ areas not only for women, but for anyone who had been associated with women. (Notice that for Catholics, it is not enough to have a man; it must be a man who has not ordained women. This has been criticised as a ‘theology of taint’; my own view is that it betrays a misunderstanding about the nature of episcopal authority—and logically it should not be an issue for evangelical traditionalists.)
3. TEA would also have created a reciprocal no-go area in the rest of the church for those under the TEA. In other words, this would be a separate denomination in all but name. This is emphatically *not* have the C of E as a ‘broad church’. Several times on Monday this was mentioned as a virtue; I don’t happen to believe this, but it is certainly clear that this sort of parallel arrangement does not preserve the broad nature of the Church, but rather separates us into different factions.
4. As another alternative to General Synod’s proposal, the idea of a Society was proposed, or rather, two Societies, one for ‘Catholic’ traditionalists, and one for evangelical traditionalists. These would operate in a way similar to the Societies of those in religious orders, so members would look to the bishops of the Societies, rather than to their diocesans, for authority and leadership.
I haven’t had a chance to look at this in detail, but I struggle for myself to see how the ‘Society’ model would really differ from TEA in creating a parallel structure. Those in a Society would relate to each other, and those tainted by association with women priests would not be allowed in the Society. So again we would in effect have a strong move towards become two (or perhaps three) denominations.
5. More generally, any ‘legal’ structure would have a similar effect, which is why Synod rejected this approach in favour of delegated episcopal authority invited by letter of request with a Code of Practice—though as was pointed out in the meeting, such a Code of Practice would in fact have legal force (as a process) without creating a legal structure.
6. What was really difficult in the whole discussion was the language used the implications of the different options. Earlier, one of the presenters had highlighted how much discussion there had been (nearly 600 pages of reports) over how many years. But the response was ‘In all these reports we still don’t have what we want, so we have not been listened to.’ But to confuse ‘being listened to’ with ‘getting what you want’ is a very dangerous thing, and it makes sensible discussion very difficult. It is clear that the whole process is going to test our patience and love for one another…
7. This led to some actual misleading presentation. Another of the arguments put forward was that the loss of the ability to vote for Resolutions A, B and C would mean an unscrupulous incumbent could invite a woman to preside in a ‘traditionalist’ parish, and there was a risk that the sending of a Letter of Request for delegated episcopal oversight could be blocked. But on questioning, it became clear that it was still the PCC who issue the letter, the same PCC who have right of veto in parochial appointments. So this argument sounded more like scaremongering than a reasoned argument. Similarly, the resolutions of CEEC were cited as a reason for caution. But as a member of CEEC I know that the formal resolution did not represent the mind of CEEC, and CEEC itself is not in fact representative of evangelicals in the C of E as a whole.
8. Quite a number suggested that the main reason we needed to go ahead was because of how the wider world viewed the Church’s attitude to women. I agree that this is important, but of course if this is the main reason for decisions it will lead us in a particular direction on the question of same-sex relations with which many would rightly disagree.
9. The Archdeacon of Nottingham expressed his view that we should vote for what traditionalists want, even if that is parallel jurisdiction, in order to ensure the measure to ordain women bishops goes ahead. I am really worried by this approach, since (as has been shown by the settlement in 1992), we will have to live with the consequences of what we agree for a very long time to come.
I am not sure I have an answer to all these concerns. Any suggestions welcome!