Tuesday 22 May 2012

Swimmin with the Wimmin part 94

So what was the women bishops result? I don’t really know, of course, not being part of the house of bishops, but preliminary indications are pretty much that things can roll forward. Bishop Pete Broadbent, who sits in the House, has provided a good thumbnail summary.

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. The Bishops said “yes,” mainly because anything else would be ludicrous now. The number of people requiring alternative episcopal oversight has dipped in most of the country, very likely, below 2-3% of electoral roll members — something like 0·06% of the population. Another circuit to land in 5 years time would not yield a different result, and certainly not one more congenial to those who believe women do not belong in positions of episcopal authority.

But, some inquire, what exactly does the press release Ruth Gledhill called “the worst written since the Reformation” actually mean?

The project basically moves forward with two amendments. I will now attempt to pick through the entrails. If I am wrong, please correct me. But this is what I think it means...

(1) The first amendment expresses the slightly donnish theological distinction Rowan pushed at the last general synod between “delegated” power, a legal thing, and what could be called ordinary episcopal authority. Thus when I ordain people I am understood to derive my authority to do so from my ordination as a bishop, not from the Bishop of Oxford let alone his gene pool. This has the benefit of expressing traditional ecclesiology in the way that the flying bishops project never did.

The distinction is supposed to help on two fronts. Those who believe higher clergy need male gonads can comfort themselves in the knowledge that their guy got all of his regular authority to function from the admittedly nebulous entity called “the whole church of God,” not the XX bishop up the road. On the other front the Chromosomally Simplistic One can reassure herself that she got her authority from the same place and did not lose any of her episcopal Mojo in order to placate the XY-only people. Their arrangements were a merely legal fandango.

In itself this amendment was probably necessary to move forward at all, given the situation created by the Act of Synod from 1993. Unlike the nineties flying bishops arrangement, at least this amendment is ecclesiologically coherent, and it could help normalise perceptions from a theological point of view. The extent to which ordinary people (in the non-ecclesiastical sense of that term) know or care about it may well be limited.

(2) A second amendment requires bishops to have serious regard, when allocating clergy, to the reasons parishes require bishops or priests with gonads.

On the face of it this is common sense. If people want a male because the Eucharist must be celebrated by someone who shares Jesus’ biological gender (if not his Jewishness or Beard), they get a Real Man of the Eucharist. If on the other hand they believe that God Made Woman not to hold any authority over men in Church (unless an Archdeacon or Supreme Governor), then what matters isn’t the Eucharist, but that women don’t preach to other men. In effect these latter want a proper male preacher, having often in past times had an Oxbridge blue in some Manly Pastime. Just remember this is nothing to do with gender, and that this second amendment, kindly and sensibly, requires a proper match in this matter.

Is the Church going to remain a discriminatory organisation, with a thinning theological figleaf to cover its vulnerability? Truth compels me to say, probably yes. In Brer Rabbit terms the old deal was that the buses were not segregated, and as long as the whites who believed in segregation on biblical grounds sat at the front, they could kid themselves that there weren't blacks at the back of the bus. This has now been modified. The driver can soon be black, and those who believe in Biblically based separate development can either stare out the window sideways or comfort themselves that they only have to look on the back of the driver's head. This scheme could well be a way to bring women bishops onshore from places like Oz, New Zealand, Canada, and the US. That's progress, I suppose. Intellectually, it’s not quite desegregation. But do not underestimate the power of evolution. We wouldn't be having this discussion if Evolution didn’t work.

In the meanwhile my picking over the entrails mattereth not a pig’s burp. There is a special Group of Six Wise Ones (including one woman) who will now pick over the entrails to decide whether this is too radical a change to go forward. I wouldn’t think that's too risky a bet, but the C of E is a place loaded with surprising possibilities. If Les Six do decide this amended scheme won’t blow all the fuses on the Enterprise, everything rolls onward to York in June. Get that old ecclesiastical anorak out of the cupboard and tighten your underwear. The Monstrous Regiment is at the gates.


Stratocastermagic said...

Ovaries are gonads too, you know!

iamchristianhearmeroar said...

What do you make of the noises that the amendment to Clause 5, in particular, enshrines a "taint" doctrine in the Measure? Specifically, that for those parishes requesting it a male priest is not enough, but the male priest must be one who himself was not ordained by a women, nor believes that womens' orders are valid.

Most people seem to accept that this sort of thing would have happened anyway, but seem distressed that this looks set to be enshrined in the statute books.

What was the alternative? Not amending the Measure probably. I'm not convinced it needed changing.

Erika Baker said...

I you take the idea of provisions seriously you have to make sure that the bishop was not ordained by a woman, because Anglo-Catholics believe this ordination to be invalid.
To make "provisions" without taking that into account is pointless and doesn't satisfy anyone.

But the "right teaching" and "right thinking" is absolutely ridiculous and should have been thrown out without a second look.

June Butler said...

Alan, your post is priceless. I have not done a post on the amendments from the bishops' meeting, because I could not understand what the amendments meant from the poorly-written press release.

As I've said elsewhere, my initial reaction was that it appears that the writer(s) of the press release is trying to send out a double message to sooth both sides, and, in the process, is not making much sense.

Anyway thanks for your explication. We shall see.

Peter Carrell said...

Hi +Alan,
I am writing from NZ and have noted your comment about the proposed arrangement bringing onshore women bishops from countries such as ours. But I am puzzled as to what specifically within the amendments leads you to that observation. Was that not going to be possible without the amendments?

Muthah+ said...

A wonderful article. Love all your digs. I write from Ft. Worth, TX where schismatics Anglo/Catholics went off with the silver, and I wonder how long it will be before the 99% of the CofE is going to stand up on its hind feet and send them packing? If you don't, you aren't going to have enough in the pews to pay your living. As it is, the churches of all denominations, established and not, are realigning and we need to be able to take the Gospel molded in the via media to them.

Muthah+ said...

Bishop Alan,
As a priest of the Church, I would invite you and your CofE House of Bishops to the Diocese of Fort Worth, TX to see what happens when you make 'nice' with the likes of those who cannot accept women in Orders. Thirty five years ago TEC tried to do the same thing that you are doing. Now we have churches meeting in shops, wedding chapels and theaters because those who cannot accept change or a via media have taken our churches, our camps and our schools. We have spent millions on the legal problems. Don't go there, Bishop Alan! Don't let the CofE allow this "matter of conscience". It will breed and fester until it finally creates schism and pain at a time when the Church cannot afford it.

Anonymous said...

The addition of the phrase "the selection of male bishops or male priests the exercise of ministry by whom is consistent with the theological convictions as to the consecration or ordination of women on grounds of which parochial church councils have issued Letters of Request" may sound reasonable. But in parishes I've seen (and I worshipped for some years in a C parish) it may drastically overstate the "theological convictions".

In the C parish I was part of standards of debate and discussion about this issue were low to non-existent, and amounted to little more than "Father knows best". Indeed, one Churchwarden refused point blank to even talk about the issue when asked gently about it! If "Father" had changed his mind, for a certainty the PCC would also have changed its mind.

So a big question in implementing this amendment would be whether the question is asked as to whether the PCC in question actually has its own "theological convictions", as against repeating those they are given. There is a reason why such parishes are known more for authoritarian than collaborative leadership...

If the PCC were actually given the chance of experiencing women's ministry and form their own opinions on this - as against being denied that chance by "Father" - it's entirely possible that the PCC might begin to wonder what the big fuss is all about. They might also, if encouraged to start thinking and praying for themselves, begin to ask the question of whether or not the Gospel would point their parish in an entirely different direction from their current one.

Anonymous said...

Thanks Alan, that is a really helpful (and witty) summary of the impasse in which we find ourselves. The detail is so detailed now we are all lost.

I reckon most of our congregations haven't got a clue about all this (we clergy certainly don't), they'll just carry on doing whatever they do. It's semantics for the OxBridge educated literary elite in the C of E with nothing better to do. On the ground on our council estate where we want to tell people about Jesus, it all makes no sense.

Samuel Denyer said...

I think that with the proposed supression of resolutions ABC many supposed the new legislation would allow the CofE to turn its back on the flying bishop set-up which makes no sense on any level.

These amendments seem to take us back to the messiness of that compromise. You say that they are more coherent, but they cannot address the fundamental problem that people who are decidedly and permanently not in communion which each other cannot in any meaningful way consider themselves to be members of the same church.

We are living a two-church solution, and look to be doing so for the foreseable future. So, dissapointment that that there is no resolution, but perhaps some relief it is not to be made any worse? SNAFU.

Lapinbizarre said...

In practice, to satisfy purists, this will require a continuing, quarantined male apostolic succession uncontaminated by "girl cooties", will it not? With the passage of time, cross-pollination may make this increasingly difficult to achieve unless a rigorously separate, men-only, Vestal Virgin succession is maintained within the Church, which I assume is the intention of those demanding alternative oversight.

Bishop Alan Wilson said...

Thanks, all for your comment. Sorry for my biological howler — sounds like Viz Magazine is not the best source for biological information. I think the "taint" amendment is unintentionally so, though that doesn't mean it isn't potentially a taint provision. My concern about this amendment is that we remain an institutionally sexist organisation when this was an opportunity to fix that. I understand the dangers of the entryist / reconstructionist method of working. I have no idea why the C of E humours that stuff so foolishly. I think may bishops simply don't have the guts or character to call a bully a bully. Peter, I don't think there's any need for these amendments to be able to bring women bishops onshore, except that politically it looks like the house of bishops weren't willing for it to be done more simply and less equivocally. Finally I have found exactly the same as Anon about the lack of theology in resolutions parishes. Most lay people simply don't get it let alone see it as a theologically driven question. IN this they are correct, because it isn't. Another case of the Emperor's New Clothes.

Erika Baker said...

"IN this they are correct, because it isn't."

Now that's an interesting comment. Most people would dismiss the theology behind it as wrong but they would accept that whether women should teach or whether whatever magic is supposed to happen at ordination happens only to men are valid theological questions.

Are they not?

Richard Ashby said...

Ovaries? Gonads? It's all b**ls to me.

Richard Ashby said...

'The number of people requiring alternative episcopal oversight has dipped in most of the country, very likely, below 2-3% of electoral roll members — something like 0·06% of the population'

An interesting statistic. I know that we probably shouldn't do theology or indeed bishops on the 'winner takes all' principle but this is really a very small tail (or mybe a tale) wagging a very large dog. The points made above about 'Father knows best' and the total lack of their experience of women's ministry are well made. One can only suppose, or indeed have confirmed, that parts of the CofE are irredeemably misogynistic to the core.

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