Women Bishops – Now What?

I’m sure most of you know already the events yesterday at General Synod. Three different amendments were presented to the Women Bishops legislation, each of which designed in their own way to provide some statutory recognition and protection for those who cannot accept the theological viability of Women Bishops. The Clone has a summary over at Stand Firm which is well worth reading.

Over the course of the day, Synod voted to note the report of the Revision Committee which we have written about previously. The Committe, remember, were unable to agree on legislation to provide statutory protection for dissenters and ended up recommending a Code of Practice – a solution which both Anglo-Catholics and Evangelicals had pointed out (on numerous occassions) were simply insufficient and reneged on previous guarantees and promises made by General Synod.

Next, debate and voting moved to 3 amendments put forward by various parties. In some senses these provided a range of choices for Synod.

The first (512a), advocating for seperate dioceses, was defeated; 134 in favour, 285 against and 8 abstentions. The vote for was, perhaps, higher than had been expected and caused renewed interest.

The second amendment (513a), called for an equivalent of TEA (Transfer of Episcopal Authority) – ie a woman diocesan bishop would, at request of a parish, transfer her authority to a male bishop suitable to the parish. This was defeated in houses Bishops 10-28-2 (aye-no-abst), Clergy 52-124-3, Lay 73-118-4.

Finally, amendment 514a was put forward by Canterbury and York. This was seen as a middle ground, essentially providing for a “sharing” of authority between diocesan and alternate bishop. The mood in the chamber was, some have reported, conciliatory – on both sides, it might be noted. However the amendment was defeated in houses with Bishops (25-15-0) and Lay (106-86-4) voting in favour, but clergy voting against 85-90-5.

Further amendments lapsed through lack of the 40 members needed to call a discussion and vote.

What now? Neither anglo-catholics, conservative evangelicals or those who recognise they need protection, have got what they want. What will happen next?

I think that what is going to happen is this – the legislation will fail.

Why do I believe this will happen? Because as the legislation currently stands the current provisions of Resolutions A, B and C are torn up and even though the Measure instructs Bishops to introduce a scheme that transfers episcopal care to another Bishop, that Bishop can be anybody the Diocesan chooses (rather than the current “flying Bishops” who are agreed to be acceptable to dissenting parishes). Furthermore, the proposed Code of Practice is not a legally enforceable document so it can be safely ignored if so chosen. This means that dissenting parishes have to put up with whatever is offered to them (for example, a retired Bishop who is a liberal and happily ordains women) or shut up. Anyone can see that that is not acceptable.

And I think a number of members of Synod see that as well. They are members who are in favour of women bishops but want to see adequate protection for dissenting parishes and clergy. They are not low in number and they realise that this so called “inclusive” legislation is in danger of excluding very many people.

I want to suggest that these people will vote “no” on the final vote. The reason why the Measure might then fail is because the final vote will need a two-thirds majority in all three houses. Let’s just do some quick maths.

Take the vote on the Archbishop’s Amendment and reverse round the figures (since those who voted “yes” to the amendment are most likely to vote “no” on the final Measure).

House Yes No Abst
Bishops 15 25 0
Clergy 90 85 5
Laity 86 104 4

That’s a clear fail.

Now of course, no-one expects the vote to go like that. Many of those who voted for the Archbishops’ Amendment will happily vote for the un-amended Measure. But some won’t. Some (I hope) will see that Synod has to give more protection for traditionalists then the Measure currently provides.

This table shows you what the smallest levels of “no” are in each House to prevent the Measure passing (assuming the same people abstain).

House Yes No Abst
Bishops 26 14 0
Clergy 116 59 5
Laity 126 64 4

What does this mean. It means that it requires at least the following numbers of each House who voted for the amendment to “switch” their vote on the final measure in order for the whole thing to pass.

House Num % of House

% of those voting
for AB’s Amd

Bishops 11 27.5% 44%
Clergy 26 14.4% 30.6%
Laity 40 20.6% 38.5%

I suggest that the chances of the vote failing at the last hurdle are greater then some might think, especially given the fact that the most conservative amendment (separate dioceses for dissenters) received the support of 32% of those who voted (remember it needs just over a third – 33.3% – to say “no” for the whole measure to fail). Given that the votes don’t always fall equally in each House, the chances that the final vote will fail in one or more House (I would suggest in the House of Bishops or Laity is most likely) is not insubstantial.

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9 Comments on “Women Bishops – Now What?

  1. I'm mostly in agreement with you here Peter.

    As someone who does accept the theological viability of women bishops, but recognises the validity of the argument against, I was disappointed the the revision committee had not come up with a proposal that was acceptable to all.

    Having said that, I'm not sure that there is one, and someone somewhere will have to give ground, as the two positions are mutually exclusive. I would have voted for the Archbishops amendment, not because I think it's right, but because I think it's the least wrong and those of us who agree with women bishops are the ones who are able to give ground in the way that episcopal oversight is given 'on the ground' without moving theologically.

    We may be uncomfortable with this, but holding together is important, more so I believe than the 'rightness' of the issue.

  2. Peter,

    Didn't see this until I had posted my own. You could very well be right in your analysis, but don't forget that whatever we send out to Dioceses for ratification only has to be passed by simple majority – and only by houses if someone calls for the vote. The final 2/3 stage vote will be taken by a new Synod, so it's difficult to predict how that will go.

    My thoughts at: http://dodgyliberal.blogspot.com/2010/07/and-next

  3. Better if it fails now than after 2 years discussion in diocese.. and a better chance too (I imagine GS will be reluctant to vote down something approved by the majority of dioceses?) It could just become a slow motion loosing game to minimise the numbers of conservatives and their supporters that react strongly.

    If it doesn't fail on Monday I expect FiF, Reform/Church Soc and some supporters may immediately divert parish shares and ordinands somewhere they are respected.. That would "concentrate minds"!

    ps I loved the statement by WATCH suggesting that this was a vote *for* equality of women bishops with men bishops (though as male bishops have pointed out, they would also have to share their ministry, and many men are excluded from FiF churches already!). In fact it was a vote *against* the equality of the traditional belief – that is supposed to be equally honoured.

  4. There seems to be a double standard in operation here.

    On the issue of women's ordination and women bishops, conservatives are expected to just "suck it up", as the Americans say. We will have a single regime throughout the entire church, with no room for dissent.

    But on the issue of homosexuality, we have to operate in the shiny new "both/and" paradigm, where we have to "live into the tension" and try and not care about whether theological propositions are actually true.

    Captcha: came discords. Ha!

    • ———–

      There seems to be a double standard in operation here.

      On the issue of women’s ordination and women bishops, conservatives are expected to just “suck it up”, as the Americans say. We will have a single regime throughout the entire church, with no room for dissent.

      But on the issue of homosexuality, we have to operate in the shiny new “both/and” paradigm, where we have to “live into the tension” and try and not care about whether theological propositions are actually true.

      —————

      No double standard at all. And “both/and” not a shiney new paradigm. It's the old paradigm for woman clergy.

      To get to be able to have women clergy in the first place supporters had to agree to “both/and” so that supporters and those who felt it was unbiblical would have provision made for them…

      Then a little while ago supporters of woman ordination said that “both/and” REALLY meant “both/and” for supporters of female ordination AND those who disagreed… as long as they weren't ordained after women clergy were accepted…

      And now it's neither "both" nor "and" and those who disagree with womans ordination just have to accept it because the supporters of womans ordination made (to quote one person) "a terrible mistake" by consenting to make provision for those who disagreed! This of course totally ignores the fact that they would never have got female ordination through in the first place if they hadn't made the "a terrible mistake" of comprimising on what they wanted!

      To be honest, I don't really mind female clergy theologically. I don't even mind about female Bishops… what I DO mind is the way that their supporters have acted and effectivily are trying to force their theological beliefs onto the entire church after being allowed a "both/and" position.

      I had started the journey toward (what I was hoping) was ordination- visting the vicar, was about to talk to the DDO. My Father is a very liberal clergyman, my Grandfather a slightly conservative middle-of-the-road country parson, both with CofE.

      I'm very, very close to stopping the whole exploration of ordination process because of what's happening! With an increase of clergy and Bishops talking about a need for an "both/and" approach to the gay issue, I'm very worried about signing up to a church where all this could happen again, forcing activly gay clergy on the rest of the church. It would be hard enough to accept "and/both" let alone for the liberal position on the gay issue to be the dominant one.

      I'm not so scared of CofE turing into TEC. It's more that I'm worried it'll turn into the Swedish State church!

      http://www.touchstonemag.com/archives/article.php

  5. Hi Peter,

    I'm an atheist who is trying to understand the current dilemma facing the CoE over women priests and bishops.

    I've been looking at this link:
    http://www.reform.org.uk/pages/bb/objections.php

    Is that a fair reflection of the position from your point of view? Does it cover the theology adequately? Can you direct me to any sources you have that might enlighten me?

    Thanks,

    Ron

    • Hi Ron,

      The short answer is "yes and no". I disagree with Reform on some things (and agree on others). My position draws from the Evangelical argument but also from the Anglo-Catholic position.

      The key questions (and my responses) are:

      i) Can a woman teach in a church environment?

      My answer is yes. I'm clear that the few references to women not teaching are contextual and refer to specific incidences. At this point I diverge from my evangelical colleagues.

      ii) Can a woman preside at communion?

      My answer is, I'm not sure and I'd prefer to be cautious. My position here draws more from the anglo-catholic argument and it is based in what we think is happening at the Eucharistic table. Is the priest's sex important to the Eucharist? I think the argument put forward in Consecrated Women is a good one and I've need read a reasonable response yet.

      iii) Can a woman be the head of a Christian community?

      Ultimately I think this comes down to the interpretation of the Greek kephale. I can't get round the traditional understanding that man is the head of the woman as Christ is the head of the church.

      • Hi Peter,

        Thanks for the book link. Some good value copies on Amazon, so I'll add it to my next purchase.

        I've seen Ephesians 5:22-30 quoted as one reason. It compares the love of Christ for the church with the love of a husband for his wife. And, in that passage the husband-wife relationship of the time is used simply as an analogy for Christ's relationship with the church. In this sense I see this analogy as a means of explanation, so that the reader can understand the target (Christ-to-church-relationship) in terms of the analogue (husband-to-wife-relationship). So though it might be that Christ's relationship is ever lasting in that mode, it doesn't mean the husband-wife relationship has to remain in that mode, and nor is it saying anything about the change in man-wife relationships today: one of equals.

        But, Ephesians 5:22-30 says nothing about the ministry of the church.

        Given the degree of symbolism in the church could it not be accepted that women priests and bishops are men, for the purposes of ministry? Or, in another sense, couldn't the issue of leadership in th church be interpreted as more broadly human leadership, without reference to gender – so there are not male of female bishops, but just bishops?

        Unless there is unambiguous scripture on the issue I don't see why some such couldn't be interpreted, just as you explain the interpretation of the Eicharist, "So the Anglican position is actually rather clear – what happens at the Lord’s Table is neither simply a memorial nor the magical transformation of the elements into Christ himself, but some other mystery somewhere between these two rejected heresies." – So, bishops are neither men nor women, but some other mystery between these two.

        • Given the degree of symbolism in the church could it not be accepted that women priests and bishops are men, for the purposes of ministry? Or, in another sense, couldn’t the issue of leadership in th church be interpreted as more broadly human leadership, without reference to gender – so there are not male of female bishops, but just bishops?

          I think a read of the book I linked to would outline a traditionalist response to that question much better then I could manage in a few paragraphs.

          As for your last sentence, it reminds me of a number of Spitting Image sketches of Paddy Ashdown in the early 90s, including the famous one from the 1992 Election Special after his affair. "I neither touched her left leg, or her right leg, but somewhere…"

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