Women as Bishops tear at the fabric too.

I have been following the debate in the Synod of the Church of England concerning the ordination of women to the episcopate, although I have to admit without much enthusiasm. Thinking Anglicans is of course the place to go for reporting on all that has transpired here, and as usual TA does a good job of it all.

The debate is a reminder to me that the Windsor Report too easily and too quickly proclaimed the issue of the ordination of women an example of a successful reception process. The Lambeth Commission makes much of the fact that the lead up to the ordination of women was accompanied by notice and discussion and that similar debate and notice has not taken place regarding the ordination of Bishop Robinson or the blessing of same sex unions. Similar mutterings about lack of consultation with ecumenical partners have been made. Both the Diocese of New Westminster and the Episcopal Church have contested this perception.

I don’t know if consultations with other parts of the Communion have taken place and inform the current debate in England concerning the ordination of women to the episcopate. If so, it certainly has not made the front page.

It was also interesting to note that the Roman Catholics are back at it, claiming that having women bishops would be an impediment to ecumenical relations with them, as if things weren’t impaired enough already. I continue to wonder why we should be concerned about the opinion of a church that believes our bishops and clergy are not in fact bishops and clergy in the valid orders. They have determined our ordained leaders to be sectarian religious leaders rather than validly ordained catholic priests and bishops. And now they want us to take their concerns about ecumenical relations with them seriously? I think not.

It appears that the Church of England will have women bishops, but at considerable cost: Alternative oversight can be sought so that no one a woman bishop’s diocese actually has to have a woman bishop; the whole thing will not happen until 2012; and who knows what the Roman Catholic Church will say then.

It would appear that the Windsor Report was incorrect to assume that matters concerning the ordination of women had been worked out in a very satisfactory way. They have not.

There are a number of provinces that do not ordain women and where women are not welcome to serve in any priestly capacity. The same is true for Bishops. So what becomes of the notion that ordination is for the whole church?

Well, in the case of the ordination of women, it is conveniently forgotten that there is this problem. In the case of the ordination of a gay or lesbian person in a committed relationship the problem remains and is indeed shouted about with much hand wringing – he or she is not a bishop for the whole church.

The question is, why are we willing to cover up the incomplete recognition of the ordination of women bishops and hide from the brokenness of all that and at the same time bemoan the incomplete recognition of the ordination of a gay man?

I think this is a rhetorical question.


  1. obadiahslope10/2/06 6:58 AM

    The Arcbishop of Canterbury moved the motion with these words which are worth considering:

    "We are, as was said earlier this week, in uncharted territory. There is no option for not changing. A tidy vote for the ordination of women to the episcopate by something like a single clause measure is tempting but it entails the possibility of real disruption in the life of our church and, of course, forces upon us some unwelcome consideration about ecumenical consequences. We’re going to isolate ourselves from somebody in this process and the challenge is how we can minimise the damage and the risks of mutual isolation.

    ‘We are all in schism’, as somebody said many years ago; it’s not a question of legislating for schism or providing for schism or whatever; we’re there already. The question is how we handle it prayerfully, mindfully and decently and, I would add, hopefully. And the second of my concluding points all of this might mean that we’re recognising as a synod that there are circumstances where integrity needn’t mean absolute division. And we’re in the process of managing diversity and conflict we actually discover something about our unity that we didn’t know before. That seems to me what is hopeful in these proposals and in the time that lies ahead of us: a time for discovering something about ourselves as a church and about each other that we didn’t know before and thereby perhaps beginning to model something for the Church Catholic and the world at large; integrity need not mean absolute division; it can meanç

    So Mr Chairman I beg to move the motion."

    Windsor may have made the process around women's ordination seem to be smoother than it was/is. The Archbishop's words " a process of admittedly painful often untidy but finally deeply evangelical self-discovery, the discovery of what God purposes for us." are both more realistic and more hopeful than what Windsor offered.

    From an evangelical anglican perspective can I offer an outsider opinion about ECUSa - a subject that you know infinately better than I. Were DEPO closer to TEA I think the majority -not all - but the majority of those who have left (or seem about to be leaving) from the evangelical wing would have stayed in ECUSA. There are still many evangelicals still prepared to argue the traditional anglican evangelical ideal of staying in a denomination even if it is dominated by liberals.

  2. obadiah,

    The Episcopal Church position is not that henceforth, every diocese or province must elect and then have consecrated a bishop that they do not want. This is not possible, since the discernment process begins at the diocesan level and the people of the diocese select their bishop, not like in the CoE.

    The Church are not forcing a particular bishop on anyone. Nor are they insisting on a particular reading of Scripture for all, for as the Wales bishops note, we may read with integrity and yet differences in Scriptural readings may obtain.

    The issue has been that a group have been insisting that these differences in readings with integrity, are impossible, despite the fact that they have been the case all along in our church and Communion.

    As for evangelical or more conservative members leaving, if they hope to defy Church history and practice and one day wake to find the entire Church an evangelical or conservative one, they will always be disappointed, for the Episcopal Church in particular and Anglicanism in general, has never been this. It has always been broad.

  3. Mark, why are you at all surprised that the example of women bishops was treated somewhat dishonestly by the Windsor Report? The whole thing is basically a dishonest document that stacks the deck so that only certain hands can be dealt, to certain people, and thus winners and losers in the game are determined before anyone even sits down at the table.

    But enough with the poker game metaphor. Consecrating women as bishops has been no less problematic to the Anglican Communion than consecrating Gene Robinson. It's just that most people at least know (and a few like, and some are even married to) women, and it's harder to justify excluding half of the population of the world and the church from high church office on the grounds of what fills out their underpants.

    As if DEPO and other arrangements proposed and in use here in the US don't allow for the diocese of an elected woman bishop to opt out of actually having that woman exercise episcopal authority. It may be on a parish-by-parish basis, but it still happens.

    The only way to not eventually have to deal with the issue of women in the episcopate is never to ordain them to any office in the church, and that means that you can never admit there may be a genuine call to ordained ministry. If that is the case, you should not baptize girls and women, because baptism (at least in ECUSA) is the rite of full membership in the church, opening up the possibility that a baptized person may be called to any ministry.

    But oh well. The egg has been scrambled, and it is hard to undo that.

  4. I know what you mean, Mark, but wouldn't this be better framed as sexism tears at the fabric. The problem is not women bishops but those who refuse to be in full communion with women bishops, thereby showing their inadequate theology of baptism.

    We might make a similar point about the consecration of Gene Robinson. It's not his consecration but the (predictable) homophobic reaction to it that is tearing the communion apart. The WR was never anything more than homophobia masked as ecclesiology.

  5. obadiah,

    Can you explain the exact difference between TEA and DEPO? My reading of the two make them appear very similar. Is there a key point to TEA that added to or changed in DEPO that would make it more attractive to the unhappy parties? How do these differences in TEA/DEPO fit into our (ECUSA) canons and constitution?

  6. obadiahslope10/2/06 5:09 PM

    TEA doesn't fit the CofE canons either. That is why it is being proposed as a measure (CofEnglish for a change in the canons) rather than a code of practice. If you follow Mark's Thinking Anglicans link you will find that that point has been particularly controversial in the current General Synod meeting.
    (and you can find the whole Guildford repoprt online which will give you more details than I can).
    As I read it TEA provides partial jurisdiction to a flying bishop. A parish can vote to come under this sort of bishop. Their diocesan bishop then transfers some jurisdiction (eg selecting clergy) to the metropolitan (the archbishop of canterbury or york), who appoints the flyer.
    The diocesan bishop retains some jurisdiction (eg property). The parish keeps the same archdeacon, and ASFAIK the same area dean (do you have these?).
    As you can see it is a compromise. The majority in the CofE want to have women bishops. But they don't want to vote to unchurch the conservative evangelicals or the trditionalist catholics.
    As to whther it could be modified to fit ECUSA, you Bill and Mark would be better equipped to judge than I.
    It might be worth keeping in mind that it is based on the London plan. the Bishop of London has used the presence of a PEV (a flying bishop based on the scheme adopted when women were first ordained as presbyters) to draw dissenters into the normal life of the diocese. +Fulham is a suffragan bishop who looks after the catholics. Recently Sandy Millar from Holy Trinity Brompton was appointed a bishop in the church of Uganda based in London with permission of the bishop of London.
    ISTM in Britain there has been useful experimentation.
    I can see somewhere like Virginia appointing na suffragan to look after the evangelicals. In the past Bishop gray has had that informal role I understand. Why not formalise it a little. The key is clerical appointments - the guarantee that priest of say an evangelical viewpoint will always be available to conservative parishes.
    Onceagain I think this sort of scheme would keep most evangelicals in.
    If there was a credible DEPO/TEA scheme I think you might find that the primates would vote to tell the dissdents to join it and stay in.
    As an evangelical part of me is nervous about suggesting it...it could so easily happen.

  7. A parish can vote to come under this sort of bishop.

    The key is clerical appointments - the guarantee that priest of say an evangelical viewpoint will always be available to conservative parishes.

    A fine, noble Christian tradition, obadiah: the tradition of congregationalism. If the CofE agrees to this, will its Anglicans (as opposed to congregationalists) eventually be forced to seek a flying bishop . . . oh from, say, ECUSA? (I hope not: I don't think Americans should be bishops to Brits, any more than Ugandans should be bishops to Yanks!)

    +Fulham is a suffragan bishop who looks after the catholics.

    Anti-female-Imago Dei-aligned-with-the-Papists, you mean? (asked the catholic Episcopalian! ;-p)

    The whole thing is basically a dishonest document that stacks the deck so that only certain hands can be dealt, to certain people, and thus winners and losers in the game are determined before anyone even sits down at the table.

    You're so right, Wendy . . . and even WITH the stacked deck, they still try to "import" other cards of their choice into the game! :-0

  8. J.C.--thanks. Maybe the poker analogy is not so bad. There have been places in the world (still are, perhaps?) where, if you cheat at cards, you get summarily SHOT.

    Hmmm. Not necessarily a bad thing.

  9. There is precedent for establishing bishops who care for a certan population or group, but these have later been absorbed into the greater life of a diocese and the Church.

    More importantly, none of these groups hoping to divide the Church on this matter, have suggested that this is acceptable, quite the contrary, they have called for the entire Church to move to their commands, or be called apostate.

    They have not acted or spoken in a way suggesting they wish to remain in the Church, in fact everything they have said is to the contrary and is coupled with hopes that the Church be damaged.

  10. obadiahslope11/2/06 5:50 PM

    It is realtively easy to find extreme rhetoric from all sides in this debate. For example it is not hard to find progressive voices wanting evangelicals to leave the church, comparisons to Nazis, Stalin etc etc. and the same, sadly the other way around.
    In my opinion we can't rely on the heated rhetoric of "the otherside' to form our response.
    From the conservative side of the debate for me to project the views of say Spong on all who disagree with me is an ultimately dishonest tactic.
    There are congregations and individual in ECUSa who seek an assurance that they can continue to be evangelicals in that church without being forced to change their views, and be able to have conservative priests in the future.
    It would be a gracious act for the progressive wing of ECUSA to practce hospitality at this time.

  11. obadiah,

    What you say about people being accepting of evangleicals, must also obtain for evangelicals and conservatives who have more liberal members, esp. in network parishes and dioceses. In some of these places the record of pastoral care for liberals and moderates and others, has not been good.

    People have been pushed out, or have left after being made to feel unwelcome, and there have been attmepts to try to alter canons so as to unilaterally take churches out of the Church.

    I'm sure what you suggest is a possible course but at every turn I am sure the Church will insist on the integrity of Church holdings, canons, and institutions.

    Now what within those sctrucutres can be done to ensure pastoral cares and responses, is a new conversation.

    I daresay that is the kind of conversation that has historically characterized the Church.

  12. obadiahslope12/2/06 1:36 AM

    Stragely enough it will be Britain, that s discussing changes ti its structure and canons to look after minorities that will be worth watching. They are having the conversation, and are preapred to discuss changes as a result.

  13. Mark--

    Thanks as ever for your comments. Since I know you're a fellow reader of Thinking Anglicans, I imagine you've already seen the CofE document entitled "Some comments on Ecumenical Responses to 'Women Bishops in the Church of England?'"

    It may not be precisely the kind of consultation you're looking for, but it looks like a good faith effort to address the issue you raise ("I don’t know if consultations with other parts of the Communion have taken place and inform the current debate in England concerning the ordination of women to the episcopate.")

    It's at:


  14. There are congregations and individual in ECUSa who seek an assurance that they can continue to be evangelicals in that church without being forced to change their views, and be able to have conservative priests in the future.

    This a very difficult question, obadiah.

    From the time of the Elizabethan Settlement, Anglicans have prized NOT "making windows into another's soul": I'm sure we ALL want this to continue...

    ... at the same time, when you say conservatives want to "be able to have conservative priests"---do you mean, priests who might reject the authority of their bishop should he or she be gay? (or merely consented to/consecrated a bishop who is gay?)

    The area where "views" slide into actions is going to be fraught w/ conflicts. :-/

  15. obadiahslope said...
    There are congregations and individual in ECUSa who seek an assurance that they can continue to be evangelicals in that church without being forced to change their views, and be able to have conservative priests in the future.

    But in most dioceses, conflict only begins when one of these congregations is simply required to be in communion with a bishop they disagree with. My own diocese (PA, led by the notorious Bishop Bennison) has several battles raging, but no congregation has been asked to "change their views" and no conservative priests have been troubled so long as they are willing receive a regular visitation from the bishop.

  16. obadiahslope12/2/06 8:56 PM

    Dear Anon,
    I could not be more ignorant of ECUSA on the ground if I tried. I live half the globe away. But even from here it strikes me that there is something odd about what you just said. In most of the dioceses there have been liberal bishops and evangelical parishes for some tine: so why have relationships broken down now?
    I can think of some reasons.
    1) To survive evangelical parishes need priests. Conservative are finding it harder to send postulants to conservative seminaries. I don't know if Bennison will let people go to TESM for example. I know some bishops ban it.
    2) Whatever their view of women's ordination, conservatives have observed that opponents of it have a hard time. It is said that it would be virtually impossible for an anti WO bishop to be approved. In some dioces being anti WO is a barrier to ordination. They wonder if in the future the same will apply to clergy views on gay issues.
    3) Foreign bishops offering refuge will be attractive to some evangelicals.
    4) Views have become polarised following GC03. Instead of seeking to give each other room - as the ABC's speech I quoted in an earlier speech call us too - there is a winner takes all approach. Conservatives know they are in a minority.

    I take your point about your own diocese. It is interesting that not all dioceses are affected by defections, and that some of the most conservative bishops have defections and some of the most liberal bishops do not. Personal style, or the general atmosphere of the diocese could have a lot to do with it. If you have worked out how we can live through this conflect and repair relationships, please bottle it.

  17. 1) To survive evangelical parishes need priests.

    obadiah, I still don't get the impression that you make ANY distinction between "surviving as a parish" and "surviving as an evangelical [note, I would prefer "conservative") parish".

    If the exactly the same BCP liturgies continue, regardless of the priest (and what seminary said priest attended), do you define "survival" merely by what comes out of the priest's mouth at sermon-time?

    I'm really confused about what you're getting at. :-/

  18. Interesting question JCF.
    You may have guessed i am especially concerned for the survival of local evangelical churches. I don't hide that do I.
    Evangelical parishes generally put an emphasis on preaching. Here in Sydney the average sermon is 30 to 40 minutes. We believe that preaching and teaching the Bible is a key way that we are built as living members into God's temple.
    So I unashameably seek to promote the expositional bible preaching, because it helps people to follow the Lord Jesus.
    Because I am an evangelical I do think that it is better for a parish to remain or become evangelical i(in the broadest sense). Why? because I believe that is the best fishing boat. As to liturgical style - whatever works best for the people. as high as you like if it communicates clearly. I must confess that I am not sure it does.


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