Agreeing to disagree in Sheffield…?

There has been a little local difficulty following the announcement that Philip North is to be the next Bishop of Sheffield. Except that it hasn’t been little or local. Leading the charge (once more) has been the Dean of Oxford, Martyn Percy, who is quite clear that this appointment lacks integrity and that Philip should immediately withdraw. There are several things worth noting about his response, not least his own claimed ability to know what Philip’s own thinking must be, and the measure of what is acceptable in a bishop:

Sheffield is a go-ahead, vibrant, progressive city, with cutting-edge universities and research-led industries.  It is thoroughly modern.  The public will neither comprehend nor welcome this rather fogeyish sacralised sexism of the religious organisation known simply as ‘The Society’, whose Council of Bishops includes Bishop Philip North.

The measure of credibility, it seems, is whether or not the Church appears to be ‘modern’. He goes on to state:

We can’t speak with authenticity publicly, when we still sanction & sacralise sexism: CofE is just made to look like an odd reactionary sect.

It is quite striking how illiberal Percy’s liberalism is; anyone who is not as tolerant as him simply will not be tolerated: ‘Tolerating intolerance is not virtuous practice!’ The obvious response to that is that we should not tolerate Percy’s intolerance in turn, highlighting the incoherence of this position. As it happens, Philip and Libby Lane (pictured together above), the first woman to be ordained a bishop, meet regularly together and pray for one another, and attended each other’s consecrations as bishops. Such mutual respect of difference is, according to Percy, lacking in integrity and impossible to sustain.

I am not sure that I am surprised at Percy’s latest wrecking ball swinging into the Church in the public domain. (In the age of social media, are we now condemned to do all our disagreeing in the glare of publicity? Is there no longer any scope for disagreeing together in private?) But I have been quite surprised by the others who have been drawn into this. David Runcorn, so often a sane voice in discussion, comments:

 What is so hard to get about this?

That to have as your diocesan bishop a man (so richly gifted in other ways)
– who does not think you should have been ordained,
– who will not ordain those like you.
– who does not believe the sacrament at your hands is valid and will not receive it from you
is undermining of you and your God given ministry.

If causing people to ‘feel undermined’ is now the unforgivable sin, then of course there is no room for difference of views in the C of E. As it happens, Philip appears to be acutely aware of this issue, which is why he withdrew from his appointment to the See of Whitby in 2012. There are several key areas on which I would disagree with Philip, but I know from his speeches at Synod and at our last diocesan conference that he is a passionate, engaging, energetic and mission-focussed person. And what is more curious is the lack of attention given to the actual experience of women in his previous area. Mark Ireland, Archdeacon of Blackburn, observes:

I know women in Blackburn diocese who were really worried when Philip’s appointment to Burnley was announced. However in the last two years Philip has won huge respect and affection across the diocese from clergy of all traditions, female as much as male. I disagree with him profoundly about the ordination of women, but being committed to the Five Guiding Principles means seeking mutual flourishing and working together for the mission of Christ. I can only say that I have been hugely blessed to work with such a genuine, godly, wise and missional bishop, and I know he has worked really hard to listen to and support women priests in the diocese. Please give him a chance!

But it appears as though none of this matters.

Mike Higton has raised a question of the theological coherence of the agreed position, when he says:

The Five Guiding Principles don’t mandate any particular response to the question of who can or can’t become a diocesan bishop. Only an (inherently controversial) interpretation of the Principles can do that.

But a response from Church House points that the question of diocesan appointments was explored at the time of the debate:

In addition, dioceses are entitled to express a view, in the statement of needs prepared during a vacancy in see, as to whether the diocesan bishop should be someone who will or will not ordain women. In dioceses where the diocesan bishop does not ordain women he should ensure that a bishop who is fully committed to the ordained ministry of women is given a role across the whole diocese for providing support for female clergy and their ministry.

There are two important things to note about this whole issue and the questions it has raised. The first is that the real objection here is not so much to Philip North as a person as to the principle of ‘mutual flourishing’. The Five Guiding Principles make affirmation of women’s ministry both clear and non-negotiable:

  • Now that legislation has been passed to enable women to become bishops the Church of England is fully and unequivocally committed to all orders of ministry being open equally to all, without reference to gender, and holds that those whom it has duly ordained and appointed to office are true and lawful holders of the office which they occupy and thus deserve due respect and canonical obedience;
  • Anyone who ministers within the Church of England must be prepared to acknowledge that the Church of England has reached a clear decision on the matter;…

The discussion between David Runcorn and Mark Ireland highlights this as the issue. David says:

Can I make clear that I am in no doubt as to the personal qualities +Philip. The issue for me is theology and personal qualities of friendliness and graciousness do not bypass that.

To which Mark responds:

Your issue is therefore not with Philip himself but with the Five Guiding Principles and, by extension, those the diocese elected to the CNC. These are both processes approved by General Synod after much consideration. I am deeply worried by any group thinking they can cherry pick assurances about mutual flourishing given and accepted in good faith.

What this then indicates is that the agreement reached, widely seen as an early triumph of Justin Welby’s negotiating skills in holding together ‘conservatives’ and ‘liberals’ on this issue, is simply not secure. If ‘liberals’ feel happy to question and undermine both the agreement and those affected by it, it seems as though the widespread agreement reached has no standing and commands no respect.

The second issue highlighted is what it means for future difference of view in the Church. The issue of women’s ministry is actual less complex and less divisive, and in principle easier to reach agreement on than the issue of sexuality, since it is primarily an issue of recognition rather than an issue of morality. Suppose two dioceses were to take a different view on the recognition of women’s ministry. You would, at the border, then have two parishes adjacent to one another, where in one an ordained woman’s ministry was recognised, welcomed and celebrated, and in the other it simply was not recognised. That situation would be difficult and indeed painful, but it is possible to imagine. But suppose in those two parishes there were officially sanctioned opposing views on sexuality. In one, both laity and clergy could enter same-sex marriages and this would be celebrated. In the other, the official position would be that such a situation should be met with a call to repentance. Such a contrast is not sustainable, not least in law, and is completely contradictory.

One of the leading voices in the call for change in the Church said to me recently ‘We are not calling for a change in the doctrine of marriage, but just that clergy in same-sex marriages are acknowledged.’ But to do this is to change the Church’s current teaching on marriage, which is that other-sex marriage is the only appropriate place for sexual relations, and sex outside this context should be met with a call for repentance.

But the debate about Philip North highlights something much more fundamental: despite the many and repeated statements, it is becoming more and more clear that those who want to see change in the Church’s teaching are not, in fact, seeking to ‘agree to disagree’. Any future settlement (if one can be reached) will be subject to constant protest, just as this one has been. I can see the headline now: ‘Continuing homophobia cannot be tolerated in the Church’. As someone Tweeted to me yesterday:

I’m not sure that compromise/agreement is possible, or even necessarily desirable.

If the settlement on women’s ministry is not sustainable, there is no chance whatever of any settlement on the different views around sexuality. The debate really is a decision between two incompatible views.

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113 thoughts on “Agreeing to disagree in Sheffield…?”

  1. I am not sure how you can have a Diocesan who believes that in 1/3 of his churches the Eucharist is being invalidly celebrated each week. If 1/3 of the parishes introduced lay presidency, how would he react?

    • I think it’s about holding a position with humility. So +Philip seems to be clear on his own views that women should not be ordained to the priesthood which means he can’t ordain them in good conscience. At the same time he recognises that the Church of which he is a bishop does ordain women to the priesthood.

      Pride says I’m right and everyone who disagrees with me must be wrong.
      Humility says I’m secure in my convictions, but it doesn’t mean I’m right.

      I think (having met him and worked with him on a couple of issues locally) +Philip demonstrates real humility. I think from that position you can acknowledge and work well within the ‘settled view of the Church’ whilst maintaining your own convictions.

      I can’t pretend to be ecstatic that my new bishop will be a traditionalist, but I am happy it’s +Philip.

    • Hi Penelope,

      So, are your misgivings equally applicable to a Diocesan who might, in future, believe that 1/3 of the parishes are invalidly celebrating the unions of same-sex couples?

      If so, it would mean that ‘good disagreement’ would involve routinely denying episcopal preferment to anyone who simply disagreed with the ascendant position.

      And that’s not unlike the treatment meted out to Jeffrey John.

      • Hi David. This isn’t really about ‘good disagreement’. +Philip has to accept the legal and canonical reality of women’s orders, but he doesn’t accept their validilty .(And I think the debate about marriage is another huge – but separate – one since it will also reflect on whether we see marriage as involving ontological change). I see that people are already commenting saying what a fine priest and suffragan +Philip is. Of that I have no doubt.
        I am really questioning whether a Diocesan can operate if he doesn’t believe in the orders of 1/3 of his priests.
        Ian directs us to the 5 Guiding Principles. But I think Mike Higton’s point is also important. Their interpretation. Did anyone think through the implication (or theology) of these if a ‘Society’ Diocesan was appointed. This is quite different from a Parish which can opt out of episcopal oversight. A whole diocese can’t.

        • Penelope,

          This has everything to do with ‘good disagreement’.

          I’m not sure why +Philip has to believe in the orders of women priests.

          Can you unpack how his want of belief in the orders of women priests would prevent the full exercise of their parish ministries?

          Also, Principle 4 explains: ‘ Since those within the Church of England who, on grounds of theological conviction, are unable to receive the ministry of women bishops or priests continue to be within the spectrum of teaching and tradition of the Anglican Communion, the Church of England remains committed to enabling them to flourish within its life and structures.

          So, it would appear that it’s not about whether +Philip has met the statement of needs from the diocese.

          Instead, you are simply calling into question how far any bishop who is unable to receive the ministry can be trusted to ensure adequate provision for those who are.

          • Hi David. My question is: did anyone think through – practically or theologically – the ramifications of appointing a ‘Society’ priest as a Diocesan. It seems to me that Principle 4 was designed for priests and parishes who cannot accept the oversight of a woman priest or of a priest who has been ordained by a woman, or, perhaps, a priest who has been ordained by a male bishop who ordains women. It’s about opting out. But you can’t opt out of a diocese. The women and men in Sheffield who don’t agree with +Philip will be under the authority of a bishop who doesn’t believe in their orders and who thinks that the Eucharists which the women celebrate are a sham. They can, of course, still minister in their parishes, but under a bishop who thinks they are invalid, not real, chimerical. (Imagine a diocesan ‘allowing’ lay presidency in 1/3 of their parishes). This isn’t actually mutual flourishing because there is no mutuality.

          • Thanks Ian. But they don’t explain how ‘mutual flourishing’ will be possible if the Diocesan thinks that 1/3 of the Eucharists in his diocese are invalid ? I think it’s asymmetric and this is not a shot at the personality, but the situation. I believe +Philip has been and will continue to be a fine priest and bishop.

  2. At school, up to the age of 11, we played football. Even at that tender age I was struck by the way in which ten out of the eleven boys (the goaly stayed put!) in my team would tend to charge around the field after the ball in a desperate attempt to be involved with the action – few, if any, had the confidence (sense of strategy?) to stick to their appointed position on the field. Everyone had this desperate need to be in with the crowd, to demonstrate their enthusiasm for the game – in a not very clever way.

    I admit it’s not a perfect analogy, but I see this tendency ever more present in the way we adults now treat current events; we all seem to be experiencing the need to shout our instant reaction to the daily story, and this is accompanied by increasing hysteria at anything with which we disagree or which challenges our self-appointed right to feel secure on our own terms. And our point of view has ever greater conviction when we know it is exactly in line with what everyone else seems to be saying.

    And it seems as if it’s no different for us in the Christian world. Scarcely a generation ago there was a huge majority who would have been entirely convinced of (for example) the orthodox Christian position on marriage and sexuality, and most would have been untroubled that ordination in the CofE was restricted to men. Today, those who continue to hold such views are labelled ‘conservatives’ or ‘traditionalists’ despite the fact that they are four-square in line with what the church has held to be true for the best part of 2000 years and that many could give a totally rational and biblically authoritative account for why they still hold to those positions.

    But today’s great sin is not keeping up with wherever the crowd is heading. And it matters not that where the crowd is heading has nothing to do with either facts or what experience is showing us. Authority, revelation, righteousness, holiness, integrity? – well ‘good disagreement’ may just about allow some of this, but only so long as it doesn’t hold back the headlong rush to… who knows where?

    You have to hand it to liberals, they’re remarkably relaxed about being at sea in a boat with neither compass nor GPS.

  3. I think the settlement on women’s ministry is sustainable, but one on sexuality wouldn’t be (because it is such a basic biblical moral teaching, rather than a disputable point of church order). But it will require the Church hierarchy to issue clear statements countering the unhelpful public arguments from people like Martyn Percy and David Runcorn.

    I was a bit confused by your example of two bordering dioceses taking ‘a different view on the recognition of women’s ministry’, leading to ‘two parishes adjacent to one another, where in one an ordained woman’s ministry was recognised, welcomed and celebrated, and in the other it simply was not recognised.’ I wasn’t under the impression that a whole diocese could simply refuse to recognise women’s ministry? I thought any diocesan bishop taking a non-affirming view had to make provision for support of women’s ministry in their diocese?

  4. Thank you for your summary Ian.
    Could I ask that for you and other individuals commenting here that you pick up the phone or email or even talk face to face with the huge number of us in Sheffield, from all traditions, who are prayerfully trying to work this through.
    Not for a sound bite, but for an honest and supportive conversation.
    Although, with your ability to think and write clearly and logically, it might seem straightforward; the reality is a complex and painful issue.
    More than any further public debate, we urgently need your prayers.

    • Lucy, thanks for commenting. I’d be very happy to call you—though I do have quite a few friends in the diocese and visit there quite often. I would certainly not cite anyone’s view as part of the argument—though I was very interested to hear the response of women from Blackburn diocese to Philip’s ministry.

      My main question here is how helpful is it for someone from the outside to question the personal integrity of Philip’s ministry from a distance, and in doing so seeking to pull down the agreed settlement that was reached so painful not very many years ago. I would be surprised if that is helping many people; there are other ways to ask the question.

  5. The position is bananas- a leader of the diocese who doesn’t recognise the validity of the ministry 1/3 of the clergy there? Absolutely insane. But, I don’t see what can be done short of a change to the agreement passed by General Synod. We have to live with this. But it sucks- and I do think it’s fair to say so. I can’t agree with Martyn that North needs to decline the position. However, if I was him, I just wouldn’t take the job- because I didn’t believe in 1/3rd of the people I’m responsible for!

      • Yes up to a point. But it’s pretty serious when a bishop doesn’t actually believe a large chunk of his clergy are actually vicars. I think when you take a step back, that situation is actually very problematic indeed- no matter what cuddly words are uttered. ‘Good disagreement’ is not something to be sheltered behind to refuse to see the problems we face for what they are. I’ve already indicated that I’m not keen on the public berating of Philip North, however.

        • Bp. North does believe that all of the clergy of the Diocese of Sheffield are lawful vicars, rectors, curates, etc; his theological doubts as to whether the CofE’s granting of their legal and canonical status faithfully reflects the will and Sacraments of the wider Church are completely consistent with the CofE’s Five Guiding Principles and Bishops’ Declaration,, which form the canonical framework for the admission of women to the episcopate.

          • To clarify:
            Bp. North’s doubts are not about the legal status of clergy in the CofE according to its Canons but about:
            1) the CofE’s faithfulness to the Faith, Sacraments, Unity and Order of the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church in admitting women to the offices of Presbyter and Bishop;
            2) the Sacramental ontological (not legal-canonical) status of the CofE’s female clergy in the context of the wider Church (rather than just within the CofE).

          • Exactly. Women priests are lawful and canonical but not valid. What they are doing when they preside at the Eucharist is a sham. (According to ‘Society’ beliefs.) They will be under the authority of a bishop who believes in their legality but sees them as an ontological impossibility. Hence mutual flourishing will be impossible, because it would nut be mutual.

          • Right- but is the legal position what actually matters? He doesn’t believe that they are able to do what priests are there to do. If you think this is somehow unimportant then I’m flabbergasted.

          • James. That’s what
            I’m saying. A diocesan who doesn’t believe in the ontological reality of 1/3 of his priests’ orders does not make for mutual flourishing.

  6. Percy’s position’s illiberal. As a liberal, I reject it.

    As I said over at Thinking Anglicans, at the heart of liberalism is tolerance, and the test of toleration’s allowing for a position that you strongly disagree with. I passionately support equal ordination and consecration, but North has every right to dissent, and so long as he doesn’t discriminate against women on the basis of sex, to hold office in the church. Beliefs aren’t actions. Every report I’ve seen has said that he’s been a conscientious pastor to his flock, without any hints of discrimination or undermining.

    Percy’s claim that we shouldn’t tolerate the intolerant makes a category error about what tolerance is: allowing the existence of something, especially if you disagree with it. North would be intolerant only if he refused to allow women to minister in his diocese; since he instead puts every effort into welcoming the ministry of all, he’s not intolerant. This sloppy and inaccurate use of language is unfortunate, especially from someone of Percy’s formidable education and intellect.

    I also noted the disturbing precedent this would create for a two integrities approach to sexuality. In seeking to have North step down, Percy’s inadvertently undermining another cause dear to his heart, and mine. For those reasons, I cannot agree with him, and hope he’ll reconsider.

      • Thanks. 🙂

        Should be noted that the T.A. commentariat were largely sympathetic to North, affirmed his ministry, and said that he should be given a fair chance in Sheffield. Liberalism lives!

        • That’s interesting…and I think was why I was surprised that someone like David Runcorn (and others in a similar position) seemed to agree with Percy in identifying a problem here.

          • I understand that there is a political technique which involves gaining the relevant authority’s sympathy and then creating a crisis so that they are called upon to use their power to solve the crisis..

        • Although several posters on TA have added caveats such as resigning from ‘the society’ and/or publicly acknowledging the validity of female orders. Maybe not quite so liberal !

          • Much as on here, there’s mixed responses, from outright opposition, to conditional support with so many caveats that it amounts to the same thing. The majority of commentators do, however, appear to be in North’s favor.

  7. Do you really think it will be possible for him not to discriminate? His job involves encouraging clergy in their ministry. How can he do this for the women he doesn’t believe are really clergy with any integrity? He can give them a bit of personable friendliness- or ask other people to do his job for him, but he can’t actually do his job as far as they are concerned.

  8. If I could add something here – I am a Curate in the Diocese of Chichester where we already have the situation Sheffield is facing – of a Diocesan Bishop who will not ordain women. Whilst I of course disagree with Bishop Martin’s (Chichester) views on this, I have to say I think he has proved that it is more than possible to take a theological position on something, with integrity, and yet still recognise that other views are out there and not only support them but embrace them. I have met with him on a number of occasions both in a public sense with other Curates and privately, and I have never once felt undervalued or discriminated against. In fact I think he has gone out of his way to make sure that the female clergy in this diocese feel welcomed, supported and encouraged. As I was reminded recently during a similar conversation as is happening here, he has actually re-arranged his senior staff team in order to ensure there are more women on it (including female: Dean of SSM, Dean of Women’s Ministry, Archdeacon, Diocesan Secretary, and Director for Apostolic life – who oversees all Curates).

    So, I find this whole argument of not being able to hold the tension of two view points really frustrating. Many people, including female clergy have talked of +Philip’s ability, his support and encouragement of women despite his theological views so why are we questioning it? If of course he was rude or arrogant in his beliefs then that would be another matter – and there are plenty of male clergy out there who behave very rudely towards women Priests but +Martin and as I understand it +Philip are not in that category. They seem to be going the extra mile to be supportive of women despite their theological position.

    The CofE has come such a long way in the last 25 years. I for one am so grateful to all those who went before, who fought and battled and gained us the possibilities that now face us as female clergy, but I’d also love to see a bit more grace in current discussions. There is so much in the CofE that we can disagree with one another about, and we often cite that as a beauty of the CofE that it allows for such breadth. And yet if every different argument were won we would simply end up massively fractured and disjointed. Who knows what the future holds on that, but if we even want to consider staying together as one church we need to recognise one another’s differences in love and work with each other. +Martin and +Philip both seem to be doing a far better job of this than many with more ‘tolerant’ views…

    • Europe has also had an Anglo-Catholic Diocesan who wouldn’t ordain women but, I heard, had a good reputation for pastorally supporting women priests…

    • Jules you say you can’t understand why it’s not possible to hold two points of view in tension. The reason I do is that I believe this position is incoherent:

      1. I do not believe women are able to administer the sacraments, and I believe any male priest who has been ordained by a woman is also unable to administer the sacraments and channel God’s blessing into the world. They are thus theologically not fully or even really priests.
      2. I uphold and support all the clergy in my diocese in their ministry.
      3. 1/3 of my clergy are women

      To talk about ‘holding views in tension’ is just, I’m am afraid to say, doublespeak for incoherence and lack of integrity.

      Being pastorally supportive, welcoming and encouraging is great- but isn’t it empty, isn’t it just superficial, when deep down you have an utter lack of belief in your clergy’s status and you think they can’t deliver the sacraments to the people?

      Look, it’s his decision as to whether to take the post, but in my opinion his views mean he can’t do his job, and if I was him I wouldn’t accept it on that basis.

  9. There are those above who have argued that +Philip should not accept Sheffield because he is unable to accept the validity of a number of the clergy in his diocese.

    Does this mean that no woman should accept a diocesan bishopric where in that diocese a number of clergy are unable to accept the validity of her orders?

  10. I’m not sure I agree that the ordination of women priests is less fundamental and problematic than the issue of same sex marriage. It is less problematic in 2017 to the majority of members of the C of E, perhaps because we’ve been arguing about it for longer. If you went back 200 years, or if you compared the Scripture texts against women’s leadership verses with those about homosexuality, you might come to a different conclusion.

    • It is not just less problematic to members of the CofE in 2017: it is less problematic to the worldwide Anglican Communion, which has been quite clear ever since the issues emerged as serious issues that women’s ministry is adiaphora, a disputable matter which does not threaten communion, while sexuality is a fundamental matter which goes to the heart of Christian doctrine and does threaten communion. You may disagree with this on your reading of scripture, but regardless the collective wisdom of worldwide Anglicanism is, and always has been, that these two issues are quite distinct in their relationship to the basic teachings of the faith and their impact on communion.

      • It should be noted that, since neither Orthodox nor Catholic churches recognize Anglican orders, communion’s already so loose that it’d take an awful lot to threaten it. If no Anglican ministers are validly ordained in your eyes, laissez-faire‘s easy.

        Rome’s ruthless disciplining of theologians who so much as question the magisterium on equal ordination shows how seriously they take this.

  11. All I have heard and read about and from Philip suggests to me that he is a good man seeking to follow his faith in Christ with humility and a concern for the pastoral welfare of all. However, as a woman priest, I also know that I wouldn’t be able to minister in a diocese where the bishop didn’t believe in the validity of my orders. Others will take a different view, but it’s not something I could do.

  12. The widespread outcry against the bishop’s private views, which, by popular assent do not impact on his conduct, does not bode well for any possible future settlement on same sex marriage. Clearly there is no way a good disagreement of two integrities could hold on that far more contentious matter if so many people are willing to attempt to undermine the bishop here. Even if he survives this attempt – and I’m pretty sure he will – this whole episode has pretty much killed any confidence conservatives might have had in any attempted settlement on sexuality.

  13. It’s my turn to be reactionary.

    I largely agree with the opening paragraph of James Byron above; both that Percy’s opinion piece is unhelpful (possibly damaging) and that North has every right to dissent/express disagreement on this matter.

    However, I find myself moving against the general flow of support for North here, as I also strongly agree with the point James Edmunds is making (and Sarah, above); I simply cannot see how can North can pastorally support, build, encourage and grow the ministry and vocation (with honesty and integrity) of those he does not recognise as legitimate in that role. They are mutually exclusive positions. This is not good disagreement, it’s double-mindedness or hypocrisy.

    James nails it.

    “Being pastorally supportive, welcoming and encouraging is great- but isn’t it empty, isn’t it just superficial, when deep down you have an utter lack of belief in your clergy’s status and you think they can’t deliver the sacraments to the people?”

    • Thanks Mat. On this particular issue, I also don’t understand exactly how Philip squares that himself…and yet the testimony of women under his care, and women like Jules above appears to say ‘Somehow he manages to’. I don’t quite understand how I have the right to inhabit his mind (as Martyn Percy appears to want to) and tell him whether he does this with integrity or not.

      But the larger question, which is the point of my piece, is whether we can agree to disagree. The thrust of the debate here shares the logic of your position, which is less a criticism of Philip but simply a rejection of the settlement the Church reached. If this, actually less divisive, issue cannot be solved by ‘agreeing to disagree’ then I think it makes clear the nature of the decision we are faced with on sexuality.

      • As I said over at Thinking Anglicans, how North sleeps at night’s irrelevant to the question of whether he should be consecrated. I’m baffled at how he can view women as simultaneously ordained and not-ordained — he must dance on enough pinheads to exhaust an army of angels! — but somehow, he does, and we’ve ample testimony that he can affirm and support the ministry of all.

        It can be argued that whatever mental gymnastics North endures, merely doubting that women can be validly ordained renders him incapable of being their pastor. If that position’s adopted, it not only makes windows into men’s souls, it’s a direct threat to a broad church that values freedom of thought and speech.

        The focus should be on North’s actions, and since those actions are universally praised, he should be consecrated.

      • What I’m trying to articulate is not an explicit accusation toward North’s character, but my own disbelief and consequent failure to empathise with his position. I do not understand how he can hold both together, but that doesn’t mean I can’t respect the fact he is trying and (seemingly) succeeding to do so.

        I am impressed by that as much as I’m concerned by it.

  14. I wish +Philip well in his new role as I know from people in the Diocese of Blackburn that he has been a great champion of the poor and a genuine pastor and supporter to all his priests. I would wish he didn’t hold certain views but in the end it is his actions that matter not his beliefs. Women will continue to be welcome to minister as priests and bishops within the Diocese. A genuine tolerance of theological diversity should extend as far, but only as far, as not expecting him to ordain women.

    I do not see that this is any different than extending tolerance to those who hold diverse views on same-sex marriage. The Church should extend tolerance to the varying views by allowing, but not requiring, at the very least, the blessing of same-sex unions by willing clergy in willing parishes. The action that seems to matter most at the moment is the employment discrimination against clergy couples in particular who are in same-sex civil marriages. That is intolerance and should stop.

    • The conduct is against church teaching, so why should intolerance of it stop? There is already ample pastoral accommodation in this area. Any more would require a change in church teaching. Which doesn’t seem likely to get the necessary support among bishops and synod any time soon.

      • Not ordaining women is also against church teaching – but the derogation is allowed. As for changing the doctrine of marriage, I think the doctrine of Holy Matrimony can be left as it is – a definition of heterosexual marriage, rather than as a definition that all marriage is heterosexual.

        The Church can keep its definition of Holy Matrimony intact whilst at the same time accepting and affirming couples in legally and socially accepted civil same-sex marriage – precisely as it did with couples getting remarried in a civil marriage following divioirce. The present legally excused discrimination against clergy in same-sex marriages does us no good what so ever.

        If you don’t agree with same-sex marriage you won’t be required to enter into or bless a same-sex marriage. That’s perfectly tolerant whilst avoiding intolerance to existing same-sex married couples in our society.

        • ‘I think the doctrine of Holy Matrimony can be left as it is – a definition of heterosexual marriage, rather than as a definition that all marriage is heterosexual.’

          That is indeed the doctrine of the Church at present: that male-female marriage is the only place for the ‘right ordering’ of sexual desires. All other sexual relationships should be met with a call to repentance.

          If you want permission for other sexual relationships, that is indeed a change to the Church’s doctrine of marriage.

          • I simply believe that the church’s doctrine of marriage should be changed, but if a compromise position were adopted whereby those in same-sex marriages are tolerated without discipline or discrimination, it may well find support.

            As with North, toleration isn’t approval, or even an acknowledgement that the thing tolerated is a thing indifferent. I’m not remotely indifferent to equal ordination, but I view it as my duty to tolerate those who disagree with me.

          • James – but that would involve not calling to repentance something which is regarded as sinful. That’s totally unsustainable – as I’m sure you and other advocates realise.

            And to repeat, women’s ministry is not a moral issue, so is not comparable.

        • ‘If you don’t agree with same-sex marriage you won’t be required to enter into or bless a same-sex marriage. That’s perfectly tolerant whilst avoiding intolerance to existing same-sex married couples in our society.’

          But in practice this could have serious legal implications because it would call into question the validity of the quadruple lock which exempts CofE clergy from discrimination under equalities legislation. Any vicar who denied a couple such a blessing or marriage would be in danger of facing legal action by an aggrieved couple, and who can say how our current (or future) judiciary might view the church’s de facto loss of interest in their original protection?

          Sooner or later if the Church of England keeps messing around over this issue it is going look a whole lot more stupid than it already does. There is no happy ending if we continue with this.

  15. It wouldn’t require the removal of the abominable “Quadruple Lock” which prevents us conducting not blessing same-sex marriage) – though why any Anglican should be proud of such a provision to legally discriminate is beyond me. In the long term it can and should go. In the meantime I think we should accept that the State conducts Civil Marriages – they are now a fact of life, both for laity and clergy. We should therefore offer a ‘Blessing after a Civil marriage for Same-Sex Couples’ for those clergy and parishes who think that responding to couples living in a legally and socially acceptable civil marriage with a ‘call to repentance’ is unwelcoming, unaffirming and unhelpful. In the long run again I’d like to see the Church not only blessing but conducting same-sex marriages – but tolerance pursuades me that will have to wait (for now) so long as we have the widest possible (for now) welcome for gay people in such committed relationships.

    Many laity, clergy and bishops believe that our modern same-sex marriage is an innovation which requires fresh thinking from the church and the Bishops hinted at that in their recent ‘unnoted’ report. It would be good to see an honest poll of how widespread this view is. It need not change our definition of ‘Holy Matrimony’ for heterosexual couples – but that is an irrelevancy for Christian GLBT people who can’t enter into Holy Matrimony but now have the option of Civil Same-sex Marriage and wish to have the afirmation, support and blessing of the church.

    If you don’t agree with same-sex marriage then fine, I think that view should be tolerated even though I don’t like it. However the alternative view that same-sex marriage can at least be affirmed and blessed should also be tolerated and provision made, even by those who don’t like it.

    • For many evangelicals, the stumbling block appears to be framing a model of toleration that doesn’t contain any hint of approval, since they’ve convinced that same-sex marriage is a “salvation issue.” Toleration’s gonna require some kinda cordon sanitaire.

      Regarding the issue of repentance raised by Will Jones above, although I disagree that equal marriage is sinful in the strongest possible terms, clergy and laity should have the right to voice their opposition, including calls for repentance. That’d include evangelical bishops.

      Hope may come from an unexpected source: the Porvoo Communion contains many churches that conduct same-sex marriages, yet even those evangelicals who know about it haven’t launched a campaign to break communion. If whatever institutional feature that makes that toleration acceptable can be pinned down, it could be imported to England.

      • Tolerance usually has no suggestion of approval. It just means that I’ll put up with your weird views and odd behaviour because you will put up with mine. That’s hardly a very Christian virtue.

        Personally, unlike Will, I believe that both issues are moral issues. What could be more moral than the call to uphold justice and equality? Denial of the priestly ministry of women is as much a moral issue as the denial of the possibility of long term intimate and companionable relationships to gay people.

        I find it abhorrent, and a matter of great personal sorrow, that I find it necessary to tolerate views in the Church which involve the denial of justice and equality to both women and gay people. I am thereby complicit in sin, but I see sectarianism and splitting the body of Christ to be sinful also.

        • Your puritanism in the cause of matters deemed sinful in scripture and under church teaching is duly noted. I see you go in for the non-tolerant variant of liberalism.

          The Church of England has never considered ordination to be a moral issue. It is a matter of church order. If you consult scriptural teaching on sin and morals you won’t find mention there of the ordination of women, or anything related.

          Has it occurred to you that your moral code derives elsewhere than from the Bible?

          • It’s been a long time since I was labelled a puritan…..

            I fail to see what’s intolerant about stating that I think that views other than my own in favour of the ordination of women and same-sex marriage should be allowed to co-exist in the church without any kind of discipline or sanction? That is the very essence of tolerance.

            I didn’t claim that ordination, per se, was a moral issue. I do think that issues of justice and equality pertaining to both women’s ordination and same-sex marriage, are quite definitely moral ones.

            Finally, the source of my morality? Of course being an Anglican and a fan of Hooker, tradition and reason have a significant contribution to make alongside Scripture.

      • You’re not asking for toleration. You’re asking for recognition of marriages and blessings. That’s not toleration. It’s change in teaching.

        • I appreciate that you see it that way, and as I said, I’m not insisting on you changing your view. What I am asking is that you allow a space in the Church, of both belief and practice, for those who take a different view, and that to me is exactly the tolerance we are talking about, both for those against equal ministry and those in favour of welcoming equal marriage.

          My view it is a widening of the meaning of marriage. Like it or not the meaning of marriage in society has already changed, but Traditional heterosexual marriage remains what it always was within the more inclusive meaning.

          Anyway, I’m reminded this morning that Christians are called to move beyond tolerance (a rather minimal grudging attitude) to a real and genuine love for the brethren. I’ll try.

          • Love is certainly a Christian teaching. Tolerance is only enjoined within the things indifferent. It is therefore wholly misapplied to basic moral matters, where tolerance (in the sense of indifference to sin) forms no part of Christian teaching. It would be to be complicit in sin. Indifference to sin in a person’s life forms no part of loving them, and allowances for entrenched sinful behaviours can only be part of pastoral practice aimed at eventual amendment of life, in imitation of the divine forbearance, and not a general permission to continue without direction towards holiness.

            Your scenario envisages practices which, under church teaching, are still regarded as sinful being left with general permission to continue, and censure being only permitted verbally at the discretion of individuals, and without any capacity for action. Apart from being obviously unstable and unsustainable, it would also be contrary to the command to love others, since love, unlike tolerance, is not indifferent to sin.

          • Of course I don’t agree that the language of sin in respect of loving, consensual intimacy within the exclusive, loving and committed relationship of a same-sex marriage is appropriate, helpful or loving. Such a notion comes from a context which saw any same-sex intimacy as perversion which I totally reject, and indeed, I suspect that the majority of Christians do as well. Again, it would be good to have a definitive poll about this.

          • I appreciate that’s your view. But I’m explaining why the notion of tolerance in the way you’re using it is not appropriate for those who affirm church teaching on this matter.

          • My view is based on the understanding that God appears to be at least as interested in injustice as immorality, arguably even more so.

            On that basis we should be equally as intolerant of both, or, if prepared to admit we may not agree on exactly what counts as injustice or immorality, be equally tolerant where there are diverse, even if passionately held, views.

            That’s it in a nutshell – and explains why many liberals ARE being liberal and tolerant on the +North issue despite passionately believing he is wrong.

          • Your dichotomy is false since in the NT justice is the same word as righteousness, which is used in the context where we would say morality i.e. personal upright conduct. So yes, ‘both’ should not be tolerated in the sense of indifference.

            But then you say we should tolerate in matters where we disagree. That is a very different claim, and not at all biblical. The simple fact of disagreement is not a reason to tolerate, or else we would stand for nothing. Toleration is with respect to the things indifferent, not basic moral issues. We agree to disagree about women’s ministry, and we can do that because it is a matter of church order and not a basic moral issue.

            I appreciate you perceive it as a moral issue because you regard it as a matter of justice, but that is not how the church regards it or how scripture regards it. It is simply a question of proper church order, and we have found a way to coexist despite disagreeing on that – though it is now being tested. But it would not be at all appropriate to do this on a basic moral issue like sexuality, and even less likely to succeed.

          • Not surprisingly I disagree that the definition of morality is simply ‘personal upright conduct’, certainly not limited to sexual mores. Certainly sexuality is not a ‘basic moral issue’ even in the unreconstructed Church of England. It is what you do with your sexuality that matters, and even I would agree with that.

            We don’t agree what scripture says about this, and the Church has yet to come to a common mind about how we deal with the issue of same-sex marriage. Even if you believe that tradition is on your ‘side’, times and beliefs are changing rapidly, and I think not in a direction you will be happy with. The Church of England is a synodical organisation which takes seriously the balancing of the interpretation of scripture, episcopal authority and the guidance of the Spirit through individual conscience. Until this is resolved I believe tolerance is the way forward.

            When it is resolved, what will we do? Speaking for myself, I will stay in the Church of England offering tolerance even to views I disagree with, so long as the Church of England tolerates me. If it ever ceases to offer such tolerance to divergent views I think it would no longer be the Church most of us joined and love and become a sect no longer worthy to aspire to be a National Church.

          • No the church has a teaching on same-sex sex and always has done, and it is reasserted in internationally agreed documents. There are people who are seeking to change that teaching, and such a fundamental change in teaching can only spell disaster for communion. You’re now presenting tolerance as an interim arrangement pending a move to full acceptance. That is absurd: tolerance is itself a highly controversial change in teaching and approach that, if taken any further, threatens the future of the church.

            If you love the Church of England I strongly suggest you desist from pressing for change that can only be disastrous for it. The future of the Church of England should not be subordinated to the advancement of the gay rights agenda.

  16. By not recognising the sacramental validity of Holy Communion presided by women priests, is +Philip declaring himself out of communion with them. How can he be both their Bishop and not be in communion with them?

  17. Not an expert but wouldn’t “out of communion” be him refusing to *take* the sacrament with them from a third party?
    No suggestion of that….

  18. Yes indeed, sometimes liberals talk in an illiberal way. Mostly this is bluster and not to be taken too seriously.

    You seem to be saying that agreeing to disagree over women bishops is right and good, even though complicated, that agreeing to disagree over gay marriage (which is the issue, for which ‘sexuality’ is a euphemism) is even more complicated, and that therefore agreeing to disagree over gay marriage is neither right nor good. Why is an approach not right when it is more difficult?

    • Sexuality isn’t just a euphemism for same-sex marriage. The point about affirming SSM is that it requires the church to change its teaching on sex, which is massive and unprecedented.

      Agreeing to disagree on sexuality is not appropriate because it is a basic moral issue and not adiaphora, a thing indifferent. We can agree to disagree about women’s ministry because it is a matter of church order and not a basic moral issue.

      I know some regard it as a moral issue because they regard it as a matter of justice. But that is not how the church regards it or how scripture regards it. It is simply a question of proper church order, and we have found a way to coexist despite disagreeing on it – though it is now being tested. But it would not be at all appropriate to do this on a basic moral issue like sexuality, and even less likely to succeed – primarily because so many regard it (correctly) as inappropriate.

      • The Church of England found a way to agree to disagree on remarriage after divorce. This is as much a basic moral issue as same sex marriage (arguably more so). for those who think it wrong the church is condoning adultery. They could appeal to church tradition, the canons and the very words of Jesus. Yet we still agree to disagree.

        But somehow agreeing to disagree about same sex marriage is going to be impossible? I don’t see why.

        • Yes divorce is a basic moral issue. But the two matters are not equivalent at all. First, Jesus himself allows an exception to the ban on divorce in scripture. Second, the CofE began with affirmation of the principle of divorce and has always recognised it. Third, divorce is (usually) sinful and (always) regrettable, and a matter for careful investigation on the part of the priest. None of these conditions hold in the matter of same-sex marriage, since same-sex sex has never been accepted in the church and scripture is unequivocal on the matter, and so there is no scope for accommodation.

          Liberals/revisionists/progressives need to stop drawing false parallels and arguing from past issues and argue the case for this matter *on its own merits*. Women’s ministry and remarriage after divorce are their own issues with their own features and any argument that simply tries to apply the provisions in those cases to this is sloppy and lazy and, at bottom, wrong.

          • Some comments. First, I referred specifically to remarriage after divorce, rather than divorce itself. Church tradition in the West has seen this as forbidden.

            Secondly, the CofE did not begin with affirming divorce. Henry VIII wanted his marriage annulled, precisely because divorce was not available as an option. The CofE has not always recognised divorce.

            Thirdly, as I was comparing remarriage after divorce, the parallel is closer.

            Fourthly, same-sex marriage clearly has now been accepted in some parts of the church (specifically in some parts of the Anglican communion). Scripture is clearly not unequivocal on this matter, as there is so much disagreement on this (not least, I disagree with you). Saying ‘there is no scope for accommodation’ – well, people who disagree about remarriage could say the same.

            Thank you for using a variety of terms rather than just ‘liberals’ or ‘revisionists’. I also agree that ultimately every case needs to be decided on its own merits, and all parallels are inexact. However, the point here is that disagreement about a basic moral issue has not, of itself, stopped the CofE from accommodating both positions. Therefore simply saying ‘this is a basic moral issue’ is not enough. In other words, you would need to be specific about why same-sex marriage is a different kind of basic moral issue from all the others for disagreement to be impossible. I still haven’t seen anything that has addressed this convincingly.

          • Protestant churches have always recognised divorce in some form. It was part of the disagreement with Rome. Therefore the increased accommodation of remarriage after divorce is only a matter of degree, not principle. Furthermore, divorce is always undesirable but accommodated for pastoral reasons, but no one is advocating for same-sex marriage to be regarded as something undesirable to be pastorally accommodated. They want it celebrated, and discrimination ended. Thus there is no parallel.

            Scripture is unequivocal on same-sex sex. The existence of disagreement doesn’t make it unequivocal, it just means some people can’t see what’s plain, often for reasons of their own. There are even disputes in mathematics but that doesn’t mean numbers and logic are unequivocal, it just means not everyone is seeing the matter clearly. Besides, the mere existence of disagreement does not entail the need for toleration. It is only in the things indifferent in which toleration is appropriate.

            The fact that it is a basic moral issue on which scripture is unequivocal and thus not adiaphora is a sufficient reason to regard accommodation as inappropriate. It also of course has fundamental doctrinal consequences for the doctrine of creation and for the doctrine of the church, and that only adds to the importance of not compromising on it.

            Besides, since we can’t even have good disagreement and mutual flourishing over women’s ministry because the progressives cannot tolerate adverse opinions in their leaders there really is no hope for good disagreement in this much more basic and divisive issue. So can I suggest that you let it drop if you care about your church and its future. Please don’t make the future of the CofE hostage to the gay rights agenda.

          • You write ‘protestant churches have always recognised divorce in some form.’ Well, some protestant churches now also recognise same-sex marriages. I don’t see how this helps your argument.

            The Church of England until recently expressly condemned divorce except specifically for adultery – no other reason was allowable (see Lambeth Conference 1888 resolution 4, for example). Clearly it also condemned the remarriage after divorce.

            The parallel I was drawing was not between divorce and same-sex marriage, but remarriage and same-sex marriage. People want to be able to celebrate marriage.

            You saying again and again that scripture is unequivocal doesn’t make it so. The same was said about circumcision, slavery, and the role of women. An increasing number of people (including evangelicals) disagree with your interpretation of scripture.

            I still do not see how it can be any more of a basic moral issue than blessing adultery (which some parts of the church – not me – believe remarriage to be). Particularly since remarriage after divorce is likely to be far more prevalent than same-sex marriage – roughly a quarter of all marriages in the UK.

            You claim it has fundamental doctrinal consequences for the doctrine of creation and of the church. I suppose that depends on what your initial doctrine is. But some of the doctrine I have seen flung around about creation and the church would have been deemed deeply heretical by the mainstream church. If such versions of doctrine are challenged, so much the better.

            Finally, you lump all progressives together, when it is clear even from within this thread that there is a great diversity of viewpoints from all quarters about the appointment of Philip North, with many who would happily identify as progressive supporting his appointment (including bishops, male and female). Please don’t use this as an excuse for saying ‘let it drop’ about a different issue (as you say, every case on its merits).

            I am not arguing this because of a ‘gay rights agenda’. I am arguing this because I believe the alternative is unjust, damaging to those who identify as LGBTIQ, damaging to the church as a whole, and based on a false interpretation of the Bible. Language of ‘agendas’ trivialises the issues involved.

          • There is clearly a massive difference in significance between what all Protestant churches, including the CofE, have always recognised for nearly 500 years (the possibility of divorce and remarriage) and what some churches have started recently recognising in the last 10 years. Furthermore, Anglican churches have only done so in contravention of agreed international Anglican statements on sexuality, so that hardly counts.

            God created humankind male and female to become one flesh and go forth and multiply. Humankind comes in male and female with the relevant anatomy and mutual attraction for the furtherance of the species. Any aberration from that is contrary to God’s design and thus cannot form the basis of a proper and holy union (though holy celibacy is also provided for). To affirm same-sex marriage is to deny that God created humankind male and female with mutual attraction for the furtherance of humankind. God’s design does not vary by individual.

            Marriage between man and woman is also a picture of the relationship between Christ and the Church.

            These things are clear in scripture. As is the scriptural denunciation of same-sex sex as sinful in multiple places. It really is perverse to read it any other way. The fact that some people do does not change this. Unitarians read the Bible as denying the Trinity. They are wrong.

          • Will, do I infer from this that you believe that intersex and gender dysphoria are a result of the Fall since they do not fit into this neat binary which alone can form a holy union?
            Can I, furthermore, infer that that when scientific discoveries rebut what seems to be taught in scripture, science must be wrong?
            And may I suggest that the marriage between Christ and His Church is a very queer marriage indeed.

          • Hi Penelope.

            Yes all disorders and morbidities are a result of the fall. They were not part of the world God declared good. They were not part of his original design, but a result of its dysfunction.

            Science and scripture cannot be in conflict because God is the author of both.

            And no I don’t think it is really appropriate to describe the marriage between Christ and the church as queer! Scripture does describe it as a mystery though. Maybe stick with that.

          • I meant nature and scripture cannot be in contradiction because they have the same author. Science obviously is a human cognitive activity and so subject to error (as is scriptural interpretation.)

      • “We can agree to disagree about women’s ministry because it is a matter of church order…”

        That is one of the very things that the disagreement is about. To those Anglo-Catholics who object to the ordination of women, of whom Philip North appears to be one, it is most definitely not just a matter of church order but one of doctrine. They believe not merely that women shouldn’t be priests, but that by definition they CAN’T be. To someone with such views, female priests may be CALLED priests, but they are not real priests any more than churchwardens or lay-readers are. The inescapable corollary is that a Eucharist celebrated by a female priest is no more a real Eucharist than Monopoly money is real money.

          • To an Anglo-Catholic like +Philip North, unless his theological views are quite unlike those of other Anglo-Catholics who do not accept women’s ordination, it is far more than just a matter of church order, as I have already pointed out. It is a matter of doctrine: the doctrine that only men can – not just should, but CAN – receive the sacred orders of priest and bishop, and that therefore women, no matter what titles may be given them, can never be genuine priests or bishops. If one believes that, it follows that a Eucharist celebrated by a woman priest is no more valid than if it were celebrated by a layperson like me.

            Trying to fudge that point by playing games with different senses of the word “order” simply doesn’t work.

    • On liberals talking in an illiberal way: since few if any liberals advocate absolute tolerance, some illberalism’s necessary; when’s a judgment call.

      For me, it hinges on a position’s theological merits, and its roots in Christian tradition, since both point to it being held conscientiously and in good faith. In safeguarding our moral autonomy, protecting the sincere expression of conscience is the strongest justification for toleration.

      When it comes to a male-only priesthood, I support toleration because, historically, it’s been the normative Christian position. It’s got weighty theology behind it, theology I strongly disagree with, but that I can nonetheless appreciate. If by contrast it’d been fished out thin air as the Curse of Ham was, prompted by similarly malign purposes, I’d have no time for it.

      Same goes for sexuality. I recognize that the traditional position’s been normative, and is a component of a much wider, internally-consistent theology of human sexuality. I strongly disagree, but have no wish to coerce those who hold it, and believe the church should be broad enough to encompass all.

  19. Sacramental validity? I can understand the term ‘efficacy’ which is, surely, the important thing and is undisturbed by gender of the minister or by his/her moral state…. or by what others think of our ‘validity’ to do these things? Article 26?

    • @ Ian H @ Karen Watson: I have been clumsy & hasty with my words – I personally, as a flawed priest, am grateful and often call to mind Article 26!!! What I was trying to tease out was, whether or not the Bishop would recognise & receive the eucharist from a woman priest? If he does not recognise her priestly orders, then does he also not recognise her eucharistic consecration? And if he does not recognise this, does he then think those who receive the elements from priests are not actually receiving? I recently spoke with a young man who would not receive from my woman priest colleague as he did not think she was legitimately a priest and thus the eucharist legitimately consecrated. It was this I was reflecting on and wondering how +Philip navigated.

  20. Ian
    I am grateful to know you think I am (normally) sane.
    I have come late to this (very male) discussion thread.
    What is so hard? … I am still wondering.
    Some brief responses ….

    Firstly, Martyn Percy is one of those voices who can be guaranteed to raise the blood pressure. He does mine too at times. But I think he is right on this one and I think you are reacting to the man not what he is writing. But a very wide range of (usually sane) voices are expressing the same concerns so let’s stay on the topic itself.
    Secondly, I observe that no ordained men on this thread, including me, will ever have the experience of being expected to promise obedience to and work faithfully under the authority of a woman bishop who does not believe our ordination is valid, and therefore does not believe our sacramental ministry has reality either – solely on grounds of gender. And we would even be expected to flourish under this arrangement!? Really? This is sane?
    Thirdly, you quote Mark Ireland – a respected colleague, normally careful to ground his views in scripture and doctrine – who posted on my fb page listing +P’s undeniable qualities and saying ‘give him a chance’. Well if this is mean to be mutual what chance are ordained women being offered at this point?
    But I am curious how often this line of argument is happening in this debate. Evangelicals do not usually allow appeals to experience over teaching do they? When the ordination of women was being debated the appeal to the evidence of gifted women ministers was a quick way to be shot down. Likewise the gifts of clergy who happen to be gay.
    Well let us note that the undoubted personal qualities and gifts of women clergy in Blackburn and his fellow (women) bishops have not persuaded Bishop Philip to base his convictions on anything other than theology and doctrine. Fair enough. So why should anyone else?

    • The possibility of a conservative on this issue becoming a diocesan was anticipated as part of good disagreement and mutual flourishing. You are therefore questioning the sanity of the settlement the CofE reached on this issue. It’s a bit late for that. This is the settlement, and to seek to undermine it now is a betrayal of the conservatives for whose sake it was made.You ask ‘what chance are ordained women being offered at this point?’ Well, the chance to be ordained women, something which is wholly unaffected by the private beliefs of their bishop. What the bishop might happen to believe about their ordination does not affect their ministry in any practical way at all.

      (Also, do we have to criticise things for being male? So many things these days try to make people feel like their contributions on issues are not valid if they are male/white/old/heterosexual and it’s really not on. Men of all kinds are capable of rational thought, too. And since it is the prospects of men of a certain theological persuasion which is really at stake here (namely their advancement to be a diocesan) it really doesn’t seem appropriate to question the validity of male contributions to the debate.)

  21. “What the bishop might happen to believe about their ordination does not affect their ministry in any practical way at all.”

    Whatever the rights or wrongs of what has led to today’s news that’s nonsense Will. Suppose the chief accountant of an accounting firm said that the women accountants couldn’t actually add up and that everything they audited was false. How do you think they’d practically do their jobs?

    And why would a bishop want to appoint people who can’t offer the sacrament he holds so dear? What’s the theology that allows for that?

    • ‘How do you think they’d practically do their jobs?’ The same way everyone does. By turning up to work and getting on with it. It’s obviously not an ideal scenario. But it’s not an ideal scenario for conservatives either. That’s why it’s called good disagreement. Or was.

      The theology which allows for this is the theology which sustains the Anglican church (or tried to) in a state of good disagreement where people minister in a church which does not precisely accord with their own views on matters. Come on Andrew, wake up to the realities of toleration.

  22. I am grateful Ian thinks I am usually sane.

    Martyn Percy is part of much wider debate. He winds me up too at times – but on this issue I think he is right.

    Will. Andrew has responded to one of our points. You do not seem aware that all clergy must promise ‘due obedience to their bishop’ if they are to ministry in the CofE. Bishops authorise all ministry.
    As to ‘this is what we agreed’ – well that is the issue. A significant number of synod members are saying the details of the Principles were not clear at the time they were voted on. Some say the response from the bishops to questions was ‘ trust us to work on the detail’. There is at least disagreement about this.
    This is the first time the Principles have been significantly tested in practice. I think we are discovering they need revisiting.
    My comments on the male dominance on this and other discussion threads is not that we men cannot think straight (we have our moments) – but that, very obviously, we are not hearing all sides of the debate here. And men telling women what is good for them and what they should put up with goes nowhere. Men would not put up with that, why should women?

    Of course +P has now withdrawn. It is terribly sad. I am desperately sorry that he has put up with highly personal attacks. That is inexcusable. But the discussion threads I have been following have not been personal at all. Quite the opposite. We were clear than in every other way he would be an exemplary Christian leader. The real debate was around issues of theology and ecclesiology. I am sure of man of such integrity had a clear theological understanding of how this could work. How can a bishop who does not believe women can or should be ordained be their bishop and be a focus of unity and flourishing? It would be nice to think that the Bishops who put the principles together had thought this through too. But we have yet to hear from any of them what that thinking was. It is needed if the Principles are to work at the level of diocesan leadership.

  23. I am grateful Ian thinks I am usually sane.
    Martyn Percy is part of much wider debate. He winds me up too at times – but on this issue I think he is right.
    Will. Andrew has responded to one of our points. You do not seem aware that all clergy must promise ‘due obedience to their bishop’ if they are to ministry in the CofE. Bishops authorise all ministry.
    As to ‘this is what we agreed’ – well that is the issue. A significant number of synod members are saying the details of the Principles were not clear at the time they were voted on. Some say the response from the bishops to questions was ‘ trust us to work on the detail’. There is at least disagreement about this.
    This is the first time the Principles have been significantly tested in practice. I think we are discovering they need revisiting.
    My comments on the male dominance on this and other discussion threads is not that we men cannot think straight (we have our moments) – but that, very obviously, we are not hearing all sides of the debate here. And men telling women what is good for them and what they should put up with goes nowhere. Men would not put up with that, why should women?
    I would welcome your response to what I actually wrote Will. Points 2-4?
    Of course +P has now withdrawn. It is terribly sad. I am desperately sorry that he has put up with highly personal attacks. That is inexcusable. But the discussion threads I have been following have not been personal at all. Quite the opposite. We were clear than in every other way he would be an exemplary Christian leader. The real debate was around issues of theology and ecclesiology. I am sure of man of such integrity had a clear theological understanding of how this could work. How can a bishop who does not believe women can or should be ordained be their bishop and be a focus of unity and flourishing? It would be nice to think that the Bishops who put the principles together had thought this through too. But we have yet to hear from any of them what that thinking was. It is needed if the Principles are to work at the level of diocesan leadership.

    • ‘Very obviously, we [men] are not hearing all sides of the debate here. And men telling women what is good for them and what they should put up with goes nowhere. Men would not put up with that, why should women?’

      You speak in the language of identity politics and so you will be trapped by that and it will cloud all your thinking. I disagree that men are not hearing all sides of the debate, and certainly any implication that they cannot. I rather feel that those who are only concerned for the flourishing of women’s ministry are not hearing all sides, and in particular they are forgetting that it is *mutual* flourishing to which we are committed, and that includes the flourishing of those who disagree with women’s ministry.

      Those in authority, whether men or women, need to be able to set down the framework of right ordering for the church, which we have determined includes mutual flourishing on this issue. To speak of this in terms of ‘men telling women what is good for them and what they should put up with’ is to recast it in the extremely unhelpful terms of gender and identity politics and skews the whole debate away from the rational and universal to a conflict between the sexes.

      But since it is clear you are not committed to mutual flourishing and want it now overturned in favour of the exclusive flourishing of one of the theological positions, we are not going to be able to make any progress in this discussion as we are aiming at different goals.

  24. Andrew – a more precise analogy with the chief accountant is not that he thinks women can’t add up. He may well believe the evidence of his eyes – and agree that in every other way they are gifted accountants. But he believes they should not be there simply because they are women. Meanwhile the firm allows this situation, sees nothing incongruous about it and expects the women to accept the situation, be fully supportive and loyal to their chief accountant, to personally flourish in their careers and to contribute in every way to the growth and development of the firm.

    • Your analogy is forgetting the most important point in this whole affair: that the church is committed to *mutual* flourishing. That is, to the flourishing of women’s ministry and the flourishing of the ministry of conservatives who disagree with women’s ministry. That you forget the mutual part and shift simply to the flourishing of women in their ministry is why you keep going wrong in your understanding of this situation. Under mutual flourishing, women can be diocesan bishops, but so too can men who disagree with women’s ministry. To deny the second is to abandon mutual flourishing and renege on the settlement reached intended to respect all so far as that is possible.

      • “Under mutual flourishing, women can be diocesan bishops, but so too can men who disagree with women’s ministry. ”

        Well yes they both can and still may. The fact remains that +Philip North was put forward for Sheffield and withdrew. I supported his nomination and I support his withdrawal. I’m sorry that he felt bullied into withdrawing but that was his decision, which we have to respect. I think there is also a kind of bullying going on about the 5 GPs which certainly DO NOT mean that questions can’t be asked about how to apply mutual flourishing in certain places – we have no way of knowing how well this was done in deciding on the nomination for Sheffield but the fact that it took place after the decision suggest that something could have at least been done better.

        Perhaps it’s time we started to elect our Bishops in the Church of England……?

        Anyway, personally I do hope and pray that +Philip North gets a suitable higher appointment – just as I hope and pray the same for Jeffrey John.

  25. ‘Focus of unity’. Does this mean that now a bishop must agree with the doctine of all those they serve or that they must serve them all with loving even-handedness, whatever their individual beliefs are? These might be the edge markers of the issue. Part of this is because I’ve served ‘under’ bishops who didn’t seem to be on the same page when it came to salvation-doctrine. But they were the bishop and I just got on with it. It seems that we are in danger of an narrowing down of the definition of ‘focus of unity’.

    I quite realise that this is a new and sensitive stage of the development of the Cof E. The need for enough common doctrine notwithstanding, surely we’ve got to look at practical outcomes as being highly (exclusively?) significant? ‘Am I treated equally?’But then I’ve never been over bothered by how a bishop sees me! The wider church recognised my calling as from God not the passing occupant of a seat.

    I’m struggling here with the opposition to Bishop Norh….and as a supporter of women’s ordination).

  26. Will – this analogy has everything to do with mutuality. An arrangement is only mutual if both sides are honoured equally. How can it be mutual if one side simply doesn’t believe the other side even has existence? How can it be mutual if one side has been given very generous provision to opt out and choose to live under alternative bishops if their conscience requires, but the other side is expected to work under whoever the Church appoints – even someone who does not believe that they are validly ordained?

    • Your argument is against the whole idea that mutual flourishing is possible between people who hold to these two views. The church has always been committed to the idea that it is. So again, if you are denying that then we are not aiming for the same end so will not be able to progress this discussion.

      You seem now to be suggesting that the need is for women to have alternative episcopal oversight when their diocesan is conservative on this issue. Well, that is an interesting idea – but one that perhaps should have been raised a long time ago if it was deemed to be necessary for mutual flourishing. Clearly though it wasn’t deemed necessary, and it was felt that relying on suffragan bishops was adequate. So let’s not confuse this debate with side balls like that.

      • Will – thank you for engaging but we continue to talk across each other. I am not suggesting women need their own bishops. I am challenging the notion that this present arrangement is actual mutual in practice. It plainly isn’t. I am not alone in questioning whether how many really thought this would be an outcome of what they were voting for in 2014.

        • But your question was: ‘How can it be mutual if one side has been given very generous provision to opt out and choose to live under alternative bishops if their conscience requires, but the other side is expected to work under whoever the Church appoints – even someone who does not believe that they are validly ordained?’

          So you do seem to be saying the lack of mutuality consists in the fact that women can’t opt out of a conservative diocesan (when conservatives can). But no one raised that as an issue when mutual flourishing was agreed so it is really not helpful to raise it now. I’m sorry, it just looks like people deciding they don’t like what they agreed to and wanting to go back on it, under a cover of ‘but we didn’t mean that, we didn’t realise’. But that isn’t how agreements work. That’s just reneging on pledges. And it’s very poor form.

          • OK Will, I don’t think I make myself any clearer here. I might add the context of mutual flourishing was the abolition of the Act of Synod – and anything looks like an improvement after that. This debate needs setting in the wider story. And every yes or no vote has a precise context. The pressures were considerable. But that is it from me. I don’t get any saner I’m
            afraid – ask Ian. But a weekend beckons … have a good one.

    • David, if the mutual flourishing agreement is so unbearable, why on earth did supporters of equal consecration sign up to it just two years ago?

  27. They signed up to ‘mutual flourishing’ not ‘equal consecration’ James. The present outcome suggests the two are not the same at all. There are people (not all – but seasoned Synod participants nevertheless) who were part of 2014 debate saying that how mutual flourishing would worked with episcopal appointments was never made clear at the time but left as part of the small print for bishops to tidy up later.

    • David, if it’d been made clear in 2014 that traditionalists would, in future, be discriminated against in episcopal appointments, d’you believe the motion would ever have passed General Synod?

      • One for Charles? I wasn’t there. Think there is an evolving understanding here and if we have discovered that this needs clarifying more precisely – which it plainly does – then this is where we start from. It is no use telling everyone ‘the is what we agreed’ – plainly a lot of people didn’t feel they did and if the details then were not clear then we should not be surprised that the first time any weight is put upon it it collapses. The issue for me is whether you can have a non-ordainng diocesan. I don’t see how you can.The Principles never addressed episcopacy so no agreement was broken. I think it can work for a suffragan (or PEVs). But a diocesan needs to fully support, in practice, what the CofE agreed and states in the Principles that gender is not a factor in any way to ordained ministry. So surely, by default, anything a non-ordaining bishop breaches that principle?

  28. And might I add – as one who voted for the ‘deal’ in 2014 and now might regret doing so – that the assumption (on both sides) has been that to flourish a group must get what it wants. Sometimes to flourish we need to be told ‘no’ or confronted with how others receive us. Anyone who has any significant experience of pastoral care knows this. The most difficult conversations I have with ordinands and trainee Readers is precisely where I am having to tell them it is not all about them getting what they want. We needed a theological comment in 2014 on what flourishing means and entails – but asking theological questions is out of favour just now, it seems.

  29. I don’t think when the Act of Synod was passed it was imagined that “extended episcopal care” would somehow turn into “alternative episcopal oversight” and end up with web sites talking about “the See of Beveley “etc as if these were somehow quasi dioceses with bishop,priests,chrism eucharists and so forth. To many this inevitably looks like a “church within a church”.
    Also the language of “two integrities” is often used in an imprecise way. There are two positions OF integrity. The C of E according to its canons and constitutions ordain women to the threefold order of ministry. That is what ministry in the C of E now is. However people may dissent from that and remain in good standing. That also is a position of integrity…but this doesn’t mean the C of E believes in two different understandings of who can be admitted to holy order.
    The Society draws a distinction between legality ( according to C of E canon law) and sacramentality. Women are legally holding the office but not priests or bishops of the one,holy, catholic and apostolic church as they understand what the catholic church is.I do wonder whether that distinction has ever been used in the period since the Elizabethan Settlement…perhaps someone could tell us.
    Inevitably it is an uncomfortable position not least if a traditionalist bishop says to a woman whose orders he regards as at least doubtful “receive the cure of souls which is yours and mine”. in what sense is that woman when celebrating the eucharist acting as the bishops delegate…..We live with a great deal of unclarity in the C of E and seem to largely try to muddle through….but to quote one of the chief architects of the Elizabethan Settlement it is something of a “mingle mangle” and it often seems to me we often shirk theological discussion in depth when it comes to issues of Anglican identity.

    • ‘Mingle Mangle’ indeed – from a sermon by Martyr Hugh Latimer: “Germany was visited twenty years with God’s word, but they did not earnestly embrace it, and in life follow it, but made a mingle mangle and a hotchpotch of it, I can not tell what, partly popery, partly true religion mingled together.’

    • Very helpful reflection by Perry Butler – thank you. Just underlines that this is not about one thing supposedly agreed one way at one time. We need to wider story to grasp how we got here.

      • This all just sounds like a mealy-mouthed way of justifying bad faith. All we have above is a brief comment from Perry about what he thinks was imagined by those who framed and voted for the Act of Synod. Does he have any reason for thinking that? He doesn’t tell us. So why should this count as any kind of basis for argument? Certainly the arrangements have been implemented without much opposition so far.

        You seem now to be extending your argument into criticising the alternative episcopal provision for opponents of women’s ministry. Is there any agreement which you don’t see as open to ‘reinterpretation’ in light of how people subsequently feel about it? But perhaps we shouldn’t expect any different from people who twist scripture to make it say what they want, that they wouldn’t shrink from applying their revisionist logic to agreements carefully worked out for the sake of mutual respect. Did synod really say that traditionalists can be bishops? Let’s revisit that one shall we, I’m sure there’s a way of making it say something different. Why after all should anything stand in the way of the advancement of progressive values?

  30. Will If you wish me to continue is discussions with you here I need to ask you to change your tone. I have been courteous in response to you. I ask for the same respect.

  31. My post was offered as a reflection; a desire to know whether the distinction between office and sacramental standing had ever been made in the post Reformation Church of England; and a plea that questions of Anglican integrity and identity be aired with greater theological seriousness given Anglican identity is contested.I am personally sad Philip North has stepped down. I served with him in the South Camden Chapter.


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