Friday, 25 May 2012

Cooking the Curate’s Egg

So, where has the C of E got to this week on Ministry and gender?
Assuming Les Six have done their stuff, an amended scheme will go before the General Synod in a few days time.

Down the road leading here two mantras have pullulated behind the discussion:

(1) “This isn't, of course, about gender. Perish the Thought.”
This assertion is a lie. It is, and it always was. Discriminatory is as discriminatory does. It is not for the discriminator to judge the matter, based on their intentions, but those discriminated against, based on what actually happens. All else is illusion.

(2) “This is about theology not discrimination.”
This assertion is a lie. However you tart it up, Trevor Huddleston showed us years ago, discriminating is actually a theological assertion. Imagine, as I have attempted sincerely to do, that there is a theology that justifies treating women, against their will and calling, as inferior. I can't conceive of such a thing, but let's suspend disbelief for a moment. What is the difference between that noble theology and cultural prejudice dressed in voodoo? At no time in the past five years has anyone showed me. All that unites reactionaries in this matter seems to be a cultural prejudice against seeing women in positions of authority, reinforced by a reactionary subculture. It is every bit as much drawn from the contemporary world’s values as progressive aspiration. It’s just drawn from the reactionary quarter of them.

So, for synod members, it’s what one game show used to call make-up-your-mind-time, for the next five years anyway.

If the Church needs a gender-neutral ministry, something the vast majority of people believe to be right, this scheme does not deliver that. It is fundamentally inequitable and discriminatory. The best condoms do not have holes in them, however small. There is no telling what monstrous births may take place in the various caves of Adullam this measure potentially creates. It could be a step in the right direction, but it will retain the Church’s institutional sexism in a way most people outside the bubble find puzzling and, ultimately, morally disgusting.

If what matters most is the lesser matter of allowing women to be bishops, this scheme does finagle that. In itself the eventual presence of women in the house of bishops might be able to achieve what the present set-up couldn’t for the institution, and plug the hole in the bucket. In a down and dirty world this won't be the first time in human affairs tulips were grown on dung.

As to the leadership of the Church in synod, a lifetime of pretending, whilst trying to set their course on dead reckoning and politics with only an occasional star sight, scarcely prepares them to exercise moral leadership at a critical moment. Most episcopal palaces are emitting a loud and eloquent silence now. Many of our senior men probably thought on Monday that all they were doing was giving the women what they wanted whilst being as nice as possible to the other lot. That's why you can't see them for dust now.

It’s Touch and Go, I’d say.


UKViewer said...

I'm living in hope that the measure passes and that no skulldudgery is undertaken to stop it going through.

Your points are so well made that I have to agree with them, however, the power politics which are evidently in play here, makes me wonder how synodical government in this current form can survive.

It is intrinsically unfair and undemocratic. Without a proper electoral system based on one person-one vote, it will never be fair. Currently synodical membership is made up of a combination of the willing and able and those with a political or theological agenda to strenghten their position and influence.

I hope that the measure provides a chink in the armour of discrimination which we can drive a horse and carriage through. Only when true equality for men and women is enshrined in law and in practice, will the Church be able to move forward a bit.

Off course, the other gremlin of sexuality is still bubbling away, that needs more careful handling with sensitivity, but basically, discrimination can't and mustn't survive in the churhc of God.

Ray Barnes said...

What a beautifully worded and clearly illustrated statement of what 'is', and from someone who equally clearly wishes it were not so.
You, and those like you, have the heart and mind to make the necessary changes, but sadly, probably not the means.
It surely would be better for the church to be seen to be working toward equality of opportunity, than to wait for the 'wind of change' to sweep over them when - eventually and inevitably - the law of the land makes it compulsory.

Anonymous said...

VG here. Were it not for the fact that I know how painful it is to be told "Deal with it or FOAD" I would say to the reactionaries just that - cloaked in the same polite language they use to tell me that my sex and gender are Not Correct.

In the late 18th century when Jane Adams's husband John was sculpting the constitution of the United States, she begged and advised him to emancipate women as well as men. In the mid-19th century emancipationists were rightly keen on abolishing slavery of black people - well, black men, anyway; and women then also said "and Women". It took a world war and seventy more years of campaigning just to get women the vote.

That the Anglican Church is willing to continue to let women be at the back of the bus after more than 200 years of discussion is beyond me. Leaving aside finer points of theology, it's bad scholarship, and "demonstrates poor listening skills: needs remediation if continuing in post".

LindsaySouthern said...

Go Alan! In a week of double whammy - amendments AND pneumonia (not sure which is worse), you have achieved a small miracle and made me smile. Many thanks, I am quite cheered up.

Rev P Hamilton said...

With all due respect to your contribution to the debate. If you truly see priesthood as a 'right' and the lack of it as 'discrimination' and the exercise of it as 'authority' and the denial of it as inability to exercise authority then you are clearly explaining why traditionalists like me can not agree with you.

I would offer that it's only a proper, scriptural, traditional and theological debate on the nature of priesthood that can get to a proper conclusion on this. Your arguments are more social than theological, alas.

BTW got this from a tweet so won't be finding my way back. I'd be happy to think more about your offering if you think I've misunderstood it

Good to talk :)

Rev P Hamilton
Rector of Ingrave
Diocese of Chelmsford

Lay Anglicana said...

I pay tribute, with Ray above, to the clarity and perspicuity of your analysis.

It would have a humorous side, were it not so tragic, that the leadership of the Church of England seem so determined to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.

As any fule kno, all the CofE needs for survival into the 21st century is air and light. You and I know plenty of priests and laity through social media who between them could bring about a much needed revival.

The single most obvious first step is the admission of women to the episcopate.
I would suggest that the second step is adopting The Episcopal Church's attitude to the laity whereby they are an order of ministry, enabling the Church to keep churches open rather than closing them on the grounds that clergy cannot take weekly services.
The third follows from these two, and that is that the leadership endeavour to sup with a slightly shorter spoon whenever they are in the company of those who are not fellow members of the Athenaeum.

But it feels like being the spectator at a classical tragedy. No point in addressing the ptb, they cannot hear us and seem bent on destroying us all. I remember writing two essays: 'Eschatology and King Lear' and 'Intransigence in tragic drama'

What a pity there is no commandment against intransigence!

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Sir, if this is an attempt to keep the Evangelicals and Anglo-Catholics at the Table, I can assure you that it is a bridge which will collapse on itself, built as it is on discrimination. The E's and AC's do not want 'compromise'. They want what they want: no girl cooties.

Meanwhile, the CofE has become an embarrassment to itself and to the rest of the communion. This 'deal' smells like three-days fish. I can only imagine what young people are thinking. I suspect they and many others will thoroughly and completely dismiss the church as a place which robes hypocrisy and discrimination in legal language, legislative procedures and crowns it with good intention to "protect the integrity of the ministry of women".

These amendments are nothing more than canonical jock straps, meant to protect the men from the women whom they permit on the purple playing field. It would be laughable, if it weren't so embarrassing painful.

I know it's unlikely but I would hope that the MPs do not sign off on it in Parliament. Failing that, it's probably a childish dream to think that the Defender of the Faith, herself a woman, might have something to say, since the faith of the CofE seems to be in such peril - its own worst enemy.

I wonder if Synod will have the stomach to overturn the amendments and delay everything until November.

Alas, the church needs saving from herself. It was ever thus, I fear.

Thank you for your clarity, Sir. It's helpful in this time of insanity.

Bishop Alan for ABC!!

Grandmère Mimi said...

Hear, hear! Thanks, Alan, for your frank assessment of where the matter of women bishops in the Church of England presently stands.

It appears to me that the House of Bishops plays a game of chicken with the members of Synod, but perhaps, as you say, many of them are merely clueless. The diocesan synod votes should have put the senior bishops a bit more in touch with the rest of the church.

James said...

I suspect they and many others will thoroughly and completely dismiss the church as a place which robes hypocrisy and discrimination in legal language, legislative procedures and crowns it with good intention to "protect the integrity of the ministry of women".

Actually, no. Some of us are thinking "at least it isn't Rome, or Chorleywood"...


J. Michael Povey said...


Many thanks

Michael Povey

Muthah+ said...

I have to agree with Elizabeth+. If you can't learn from TEC's mistakes, what is an Anglican Communion for? The CofE can't afford to continue the discrimination that the majority of English folk can see. The majority have already found the CofE as irrelevant. This is just one more case of it.

If Synod does not vote an unhindered female episcopacy, it will truly hinder any continuation of the Communion. Any ABC chosen does not need this albatross around his neck.

disasterarea said...

From your previous post: "The result, in true C of E fashion, is a curate’s egg, but probably not such a rotten one as to send the whole process around again in five years time. "

Still think this?

It's obvious that on reflection you are not so ambivalent about the HoB proposal, so just curious...

Bishop Alan Wilson said...

Thanks, D/area. I'm still ambivalent enough for my question in this post to be a genuine one. If getting a woman ordained is the vital next step in an evolutionary process, it may be good to hold the nose and do it on these terms. For those of us who believe gender is irrelevant to exclusion from senior positions in ministry, this is not that and in some ways it's worse than the present arrangements. I'm also really impatient with the way dealing with this issue the way we have makes it impossible, for some reason, to celebrate the pure joy and privilege of the ministry of, (in my episcopal area) over a hundred (mainly) superb colleagues because it is supposed in some way to be impolite to those who believe they don't exist as priests. It is so completely obvious that God is calling, raising up, equipping and blessing these ministries that I am becoming increasingly impervious to the view that either God is off his Rocker to be doing this, or that the whole idea God does any of these things to anybody's ministry is an illusion. I don't find either option pleasant to contemplate or very likely.

Bishop Alan Wilson said...

Amidst thanks to all for your kind words, may I just pick up, Mr Hamilton, some of your points. The gift of priesthood is a gift not a right for anyone called to that holy order. What I don't understand is why you seem to think that there's a difference between men and women in this regard, such that women automatically cannot be called, but men can. I'm especially bemused because the evidence of thousands of faithful fruitful ministries in this country is that women can and are called to this holy order. Before the 10th Century the Church did admit women to holy orders. It stopped because of the culture of the middle ages. What I wonder about is why you wish to absolutise high medieval secular anthropology, especially given the barmy grounds that were given for it at the time (cold semen etc.) I believe in servant ministry but it does have something to do with authority, as I know having been ordained according to the traditional rite in which the bishop said to me "take thou authority..."

James said...

Having just caught the end of The News Quiz, maybe this is what will happen...

Justin Brett said...

It's at times like this that I wish you were on Synod...

You're right, of course. What we have in front of us now is the inevitable consequence of pursuing the goal of getting women into the House of Bishops. The amendments haven't changed anything, but they have pointed out the reality of what we are about to do.

July is not going to be fun.

Mark Bennet said...

When the Revision Committee met it took huge amounts of evidence and considered a wide range of perspectives before reaching conclusions. One issue was the difficulty of reducing worthy intentions to legal rules (Measures being laws, and their interpretation being a matter of law not of intention). The House of Bishops has produced no report suggesting that it has had a similarly wide ranging and detailed consideration of legal consequence, nor have interested parties had much time to get to work on the convoluted wording of the amendment to Clause 5. As one colleague said "they have turned a measure I could vote for into a measure I don't understand". As well as bringing the interpretation of "theological conviction" into the legal realm, this also brings a new concept "exercise of ministry". It is notable that the Archbishops have stressed intentions in their statement and are very thin on legal or practical analysis.

I value this blog as a place where sharp and intelligent comment might actually disclose meaning, rather than concealing it. I would have thought the experience of the Act of Synod might have indicated the dangers of wishful thinking without adequate analysis. The danger is that people will be so keen to get this behind us that the curates egg will yet again become reality, to the detriment of what we are really about ...

Bishop Alan Wilson said...

Thanks, Mark. I think this is an additional weakness and the perennial problem of amateurs dabbling in the drafting of law — the dangerous dogs act comes to mind. What degree of theological alignment is intended? It's plain the commonsense high to high and low to low is intended by their Lordships. But once this has been chewed over and interpreted by a court or two, given the undefined nature of the reasons PCC's may come up with for wanting their own bishops apart from gender, something this measure as amended unintentionally opens the door for, who knows? This was the nub of Andrew Brown's point in yesterdays Grauniad, I think. WE would be uch wiser not to try and incorporate this sort of thing in legislation, but to incorporate what we actually intended at the floppier and more commonsensical "Guidelines" level in the process.

Grandmère Mimi said...

While fully acknowledging my limited understanding of practice in the Church of England, I thought that no priest would be forced on a parish if the PCC did not want the person to serve. If that is the case, it seems extremely unwise to enshrine the practice into law, where judges may be led down the path of interpreting the law in various and perhaps surprising ways.


There is a critical difference between feeling excluded because you are disagreed with and being excluded because of who you are. Anglicans are called to live with the former in the service of our commitment to historic Anglican comprehensiveness and to challenge the latter until there are no strangers left at the gate.

Anonymous said...

The presiding Bishop of the US is a female and when setting with the other 39 bishops she is oft left out of decisions due to the fact that her "peers" refuse to acknowledge that she equal, quite the opposite unfortunately. Some feel that she should not even be ordained. The rift will grow larger before it unites and many smaller diocese will suffer most from this rift. A decision is not fast coming but more likely a split.

Erika Baker said...

Mark and Alan,

I'm a bit confused about this theological conviction issue. I think it's appalling that it is in there, because FiF are interested in Apostolic Succession, and that is not affected by the conviction of their bishops, while the conservative evangelicals are interested in not having a woman "teach" them, yet I know no other case where a bishop to evangelicals has to have all the right "teachings" himself.

And yet, on Thinking Anglicans, Pete Broadbent comments:
'The "on grounds of theological conviction" phrase which people are complaining about references what is already in the Measure at Clause 3 (1). Interestingly, the phrase was inserted there during the Revision Committee precisely to prevent parishes passing a resolution for a letter of request on grounds other than their convictions that women should not be priests. It was part of the series of amendments which was drafted by the Archdeacon of Lewisham and Greenwich. So, supporters - you're arguing about something which was already in the Measure that WATCH and others urged us to pass. The House of Bishops amendment seeks to elucidate what might be required by a parish who submitted such a letter of request.'

How would you respond to that?

Bishop Alan Wilson said...

Susan, thank you for a fundamental aspect of this issue that explains some of the passion people feel on this, especially where for years they have patiently borne being on the wrong end of "taint" theologies.

Anon, how very sad if this should be as you say. What it shows me is that equality is the base concept of all this, and if people don't get it about equality they will almost certainly not get it about anything else that follows from that basic orientation.

Erika, Pete speaks as an insider whose technical and detailed knowledge I think deserves great respect. If what is proposed here is already in the measure, what need to amend it? the x factor is possible to account for as an attempt to strengthen the provision of which Pete speaks. Unfortunately if it does go beyond what was there it leads further into the woods that Mark described above. I think the unhappiness about the amendment is the permanence it seemingly offers to being a discriminatory Church, and the unintended consequences that may follow its being used for other purposes if new groups bring their own needs and definitions to its interpretation by courts. Unlike Pete, however, I'm no expert, and would be interested to know in more detail what it brings to the measure that wasn't there before that I may have missed, as that's the ground on which it has to be judged.

Mark Bennet said...

The point about "theological conviction" is that it is now in the measure in a different way. Previously it was the subject of the code, now it is there in a context where the lawyers can get involved - and even if they don't it gives political leverage to a group which says "we have a theological conviction, we need a compatible bishop". There has been no thought as to what theological convictions might be claimed - just thought as to how to make it sound good for the most obvious ones.

I am coming to the conclusion that it is the "practice of ministry" phrase which is the biggest problem. Can you imagine anything so loose getting anywhere near something as tightly drawn as the Clergy Discipline Measure? A clever lawyer will run a train through it.

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