Changing 5.1.c

A number of proposals for reworking clause 5(1) c of the Women Bishop’s Measure have been published. Here’s the offering by Miranda Threlfall-Holmes.

Therefore, the legislation:

3.1  Must allow women bishops with no element of discrimination, against either them or male bishops who participate in their consecrations, or male clergy who are ordained or consecrated by them. In other words, there must be no ‘no go’ areas for women bishops, as otherwise the primary purpose of the legislation has not been fulfilled.

3.2  Similarly, there must be no separate track for male clergy who have not associated with women bishops. This is important because otherwise it is possible to anticipate women bishops being effectively sidelined by male colleagues who wish to maintain the widest field of career options open to them. Such unintended discriminatory consequences are well known to occur in related fields such as maternity rights, and again would mean that the primary purpose of the legislation was not being fulfilled.

3.3  Must not give the impression, either deliberately or inadvertently, that there are two alternative views about the validity of women’s ordination held simultaneously by the Church of England as a Church.  It will, however, of course recognise that individual members of the Church of England will continue to hold differing views about the validity of this development, in order to pursue its secondary purpose. But it must be clear that the Church of England as a church believes that women’s ordination is valid.

3.4  Must not seek to protect or promote the theological view, as such, that women’s ordination is unacceptable.

3.5  Must seek to assure all members and parishes of the Church of England that the Church is committed to their flourishing and to their growth, regardless of their views on this matter. It must do this without being seen to suggest that such growth is anticipated to come only through a change of heart on this matter.

With all that in mind, I propose that Clause 5.1.c be replaced with wording along the lines of that the Code must include arrangements:

‘To promote the flourishing of, and foster co-operation between, parishes whose PCCs have, and have not, signed Letters of Request under clause 3 of this Measure’.

This was my response.

I’m afraid that new clause is practically meaningless and doesn’t address the issue at hand which is the worry that traditionalist parishes will have bishops imposed on them who do not share their theological views.

And this is the heart of the matter. You write,

“Must not give the impression, either deliberately or inadvertently, that there are two alternative views about the validity of women’s ordination held simultaneously by the Church of England as a Church. It will, however, of course recognise that individual members of the Church of England will continue to hold differing views about the validity of this development, in order to pursue its secondary purpose. But it must be clear that the Church of England as a church believes that women’s ordination is valid.”

Here’s the problem. Your last sentence is completely correct. The official view of the Church of England is that there is no issue with the validity of women’s ordination. At the same time however there is a substantial minority who do not agree. The 1994 provisions explicitly recognised this constituency and validated their inclusion as full members of the CofE.

What your preamble does, in the same manner as others like it, is strip away from this constituency any notion that their position is a valid Anglican one. That was the whole point of 5.1.c, to recognise the variant theology of the traditionalists and to formally accommodate it. Remove any reference to recognising formally the theological differences (which is part of what 5.1.c did) and you produce a situation where, despite anybody’s “best intentions” and “goodwill”, the traditionalist position can be ignored by any future bishop, male OR female.

This is the heart of the debate and the reason why even ardent Women Bishop supporters like Pete Broadbent have a huge amount of problems with erasing 5.1.c. Get rid of 5.1.c and you to all intents and purposes create a situation where traditionalists can be “constuctively dismissed” from the CofE.

Square that circle if you can.

Without wanting to sound too vain, this issue that I’ve highlighted is the crux of the matter. Under the 1994 legislation the traditionalist position was formally recognised. Including 5 (1) c was a way of continuing that recognition. Without such formal recognition there is nothing legally to stop a future bishop ignoring it and giving a dissenting parish for oversight a bishop who doesn’t actually agree with them.

And as I wrote to Miranda, this is a hard circle to square. Either you have a clause similar to 5 (1) c OR you de facto push the traditionalists out in the medium to long term. Unless of course one of you lot can come up with a better solution?

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