8/02/2010

Fifteen English Bishops in an anti-democratic snit.

Fifteen bishops of the Church of England have penned a letter regarding the actions of the Church of England which has begun the legislative process that will lead, barring new twists and turns, to the ordination of women to the episcopate in England by 2014.

The letter is rather convoluted, since it does not express a single mind regarding actions to be taken. Read it HERE.

Something struck me about the letter and the quandary that democratic processes present.  In the following you will see that I recast the issue as being about granting women the right to vote, and the country to the United States.  All the issues of states rights, traditional roles for men and women, justice, and sources of unity arise. The argument of the bishops letter is then nothing new.  It is the clash of values between a traditional culture of male dominance and efforts to overcome at least part of that tradition.  Worse, when stripped of its religious overtones it becomes clear that the argument is one where the minority attempts to pull rank using TRADITION as its base

Look at selected paragraphs of the text, changed to become a secular argument related to maintaining a male only electorate:

"These are grave times in the Church of England  Country, especially for those of us unable in good conscience to accept that any particular church state has the authority to admit women to the episcopate electorate.  While we certainly accept the good faith of those who wish to make this change believing it to be God’s will just,  we cannot rejoice with them, not least because of the disastrous cost to Catholic traditional male determined focus of  unity.

Our concerns are not only about sacramental public assurance of dominance,  though that is of profound importance. If the legislation now proposed passes, it will not provide room for our tradition to grow and flourish. We will be dependent on a Code of Practice yet to be written, and sadly our experience of the last almost twenty years must make us wonder whether even such an inadequate provision will be honoured in the long term.

...

We must now accept that a majority of members of the Church of England nation believe it right to proceed with the ordination of women as bishops admitting women as members of the electorate, and that a significant percentage of those in authority will not encourage or embrace with enthusiasm the traditional integrity of a male only electorate or vocations within it. Nor is it their intention or desire to create a structure which genuinely allows the possibility of a flourishing mission male only leadership beyond this generation.
 ...
Those who are not actively seeking a home elsewhere must work to defeat the currently proposed legislation. It is essential that traditionalists engage in the debate and discussion in their diocese state and are active in the election process for leading to the next quinquennium on the General Synod  Federal election when the two thirds majority super majority in each House will be required if the legislation is to pass. Whatever our individual futures, and however disheartened we might feel, the Church of England country needs strong catholic  traditionalist hearts and voices."

Now it is hard to find anyone now who would contend that this argument, as applied to the voting rights of women, have any value at all these days.  

It is surely true that once you open the flood gates to women having the right to vote the next thing you know there will be a woman governor or president, and worse, once you have started down this path it is hard to turn back, for women would not be likely to return to a male only electorate of their own volition. 

The problem that results from having decisions about changes made by the casting of ballots is that someone loses. The losers can do one of several things: work to rescind the legislation or block its completion, pack up and leave, or stay as the holyremnant.  Bishops signing this letter fall into all three camps on this one. 

One of the problems then about the decision to give women the vote in churches is that once you open the door the end of male only posts / elections / ordinations is close at hand.  More, the decisions to do this will be by majority decision, and often by slim majorities.  So over time there will be fewer and fewer of the opposition still around to vote against further inclusion. In the end a good bit of the opposition leaves, and the rest have become like the Vicar of Bray.
"And this is law, I will maintain
Unto my Dying Day, Sir.
That whatsoever King may reign,
I will be the Vicar of Bray, Sir!"

One of the grousing that takes place at that point is the complaint that majority rule is a tyranny against the integrity of the minority's position. Well, yes.  So, what would be proposed as an alternative?  Usually some form of consensus building, which turns out to be a process of wearing the opposition down by a flood of words.  And there is the always popular invoking of persecution and the equally well know calls for gracious constraint. 

But the big one, the big alternative to determining the future of the church's engagement with women in leadership by debate and vote is the invoking of the following, the last lines of the bishops letter:

"we ask your prayers for us too as we seek to be faithful to the Lord, and to the Faith once delivered."

Ah yes, "the Faith once delivered."  Jude 3 hits the trail again, brought out as the ultimate put down of all other thinking, particularly majority thinking.  It is these 15 Bishops who have the "faith once delivered, "  not the majority of the church, not the voters in Synod.  "The faith once delivered" is code for the righteous to recognize one another.

The bishops letter could have been a letter calling for revolt. As it is it called for, you know, more worry and fidget and stalling tactics, and maybe the threat of throwing the occasional shoe in the machinery of the church. 

3 comments:

  1. With the substitutions of the country for the church, the letter is quaint and 19th century, as is the entire controversy about women's ordination and women in positions of authority in the church, any church.

    References to "the faith once delivered" make me want to run away screaming, because by the rules of that faith, folks in my territory would still be owning slaves.

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  3. Thanks for this. It really puts it in perspective for me.

    PS In your first paragraph after the quote, the phrase "anyone now who would content that this argument...." could either contain 'be content' or the word 'contend.' As it currently reads 'content' does not work. It's the nit picker in me that makes me say this. ;-)
    I think that you meant to use 'contend.'

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