Posted in Church of England, women bishops

Pleading the second amendment

I rather suspect that the House of Bishops’ amendments to the legislation on women bishops have had a ‘last straw’ effect. I don’t think it’s the content (see below), but the fact that, yet again, ordained women are seen as the problem, and the solution is to try to find yet another way of placating those who are opposed. There’s only so long that that can go on for before it all gets too much. That’s by way of saying that I can see why emotions are running so high – and I don’t expect many thanks for trying to get all rational about it.

Miranda Threlfall-Holmes – who I count as a friend, and I hope she will continue to think so of me, says of the second amendment ‘This says that the bishops and priests to be selected to minister in parishes that won’t accept a woman (or a man who ordains women) must be people who will exercise their ministry in accordance with the theological convictions about women of the parish concerned.’ Now, I think the Measure and Draft Code of Practice do say some of that (though not all), but I don’t think this amendment does. The additional clause in the Measure adds nothing, except reassurance to conservatives – and alarm and despondency to the rest. The problem is that the wording has been read as declarative (this shall happen) when in fact it is setting out a process.

As Church Mouse points out, the draft Code of Practice already placed an obligation on each diocesan bishop to take theological convictions into account when appointing alternative bishops – that’s a bit different from doing whatever petitioning parishes ask. The amendment places into the Measure a requirement that there be guidance in the Code as to how alternative bishops be selected, consistently with the theological convictions of parishes petitioning. So diocesan bishops will now have guidance in the Code as to how to do something they were going to have to do anyway. The amendment doesn’t state what that guidance should be – that’s all still to play for.

Miranda thinks the amendment says ‘whatever your particular views about women, however offensive, the hierarchy will support you in the consequent discrimination’ But the amendment can’t do that – it only directs that there should be guidance in the Code. If the Code of Practice were to say that, I would certainly not support it. But a) I don’t think that’s likely to be proposed and b) if it were, Synod would not approve it. It’s a separate process. The Church’s view as to what is consistent and reasonable is not a hostage to every extremist viewpoint.

In sum – if we were content with the draft legislation as it was, I think we should still be now. And that’s the problem: lots of people weren’t really content, but were putting up with it. Patience has been exhausted. So in the fallout, I think we might end up with the irony of members of WATCH voting against the legislation because they believe Forward in Faith’s propaganda, while members of FiF vote against because they don’t.

And – the damage to the church’s mission if the measure fails – for whatever reason – would immense. If the Measure fails, even if it’s voted down by those in favour of women’s ministry,

a) the message will be ‘the church rejects women’ – that’s what the public will hear. No number of press releases explaining that people voted against because they wanted more inclusion will (I predict) interrupt the convenient ‘misogynist church rejects women’ narrative,

and b) we will continue to fight over the issue, as the Southwark motion to rescind the Act of Synod comes up for discussion, and so on for years to come.