Right, if you’re not interested in Church of England politics, look away now. Go watch some kittens or something.
The House of Bishops has published a report recommending one of four possible legislative proposals drafted by the working group on women in the episcopate.
They have recommended Option One. Option One, most simply put, means: 1) make it legal for women to be Bishops 2) remove the statutory right of parishes to pass Resolution A (that is, a woman may not preside at Holy Communion in the parish) or Resolution B (that is, a woman may not be appointed as incumbent, priest in charge or team vicar) from the 1993 Measure. The words in the report, and the link to it, are at the end of this post.
This is a huge improvement on the current situation, but still double-edged, I think. If we’d started here when women were finally allowed to be ordained as priests, or even in earlier debates on the topic, I think it would have been the right way to go. I do not accept that the Church of England should provide legal protection against women being priests in any parish, any more than it should provide legal protection against those who don’t support the ordination of women being priests. Under current provision Resolutions A and B need to be discussed by the PCC every time there is an interregnum, which is certainly unhelpful. “Is it OK for a woman to be a priest? (5 years later) Are you sure? (8 years later) Are you still sure? (26 years later) Are you really, really still sure?” is no way to proceed. Scrapping the 1993 Measure would allow us to scrap that continuing uncertainty, which would surely alleviate some of the stereotype threat experienced by ordained women.
This gives me all kinds of hope.
But I worry that this could leave parishes discriminating against women without even going through the formality of passing a resolution and looking at the theology. It will be even more important, should this legislation be carried forward, for everyone involved in selecting parish representatives to be clear about their expectations and views, not just to assume that everyone in the parish feels the same way they do about the ordination of women. My own experience suggests that many of us would prefer not to talk about things that are difficult: I am sorry to say that I believe allowing this tendency to go unchecked will, in fact, lead to greater discrimination against women, simply because they are women, rather than because of any theology within the broad spectrum of Anglican belief. Sadly the world is generally still hostile to women. It’s true that this sort of prejudice can and does exist quite happily with the 1993 Measure in place, but I think it’s possible that without some structural provision for theological objections, all objections will be assumed to be theological.
I do not know what support, training and guidance is currently given to parish representatives involved in the process of selecting parochial clergy. I imagine it varies considerably from place to place. I would welcome intensive training for parishes on these issues. The goal of this would not be to influence the outcome either way, but to be aware of and hopefully mitigate received prejudices regarding gender, education, liturgical style, age, disability, marital status and a whole host of other variables found in ministers.
The legal barriers to women in the episcopate need to be removed, and this proposed legislation would do that. But for a church that truly accepts the ministry of all regardless of gender, we need cultural change beyond the legal provision.
My personal views on the ordination of women can be found at “On the ordination of women — a personal note”.
31. The House has, therefore, decided that the motion which it wishes to bring to the Synod in July is as follows:
‘That this Synod:
(a) reaffirm its commitment to admitting women to the episcopate as a matter of urgency;
(b) instruct the Appointments Committee to appoint this month a Steering Committee to be in charge of the draft legislation required to that end;
(c) instruct the Business Committee to arrange for the First Consideration stage for that draft legislation to be taken at the November 2013 group of sessions, so that the subsequent stages can follow the timetable set out in paragraph 141 of the annex to GS 1886; and
(d) instruct the Steering Committee to prepare the draft legislation on the basis described in paragraphs 79-88 of the annex to GS 1886 as ‘option one’ and invite the House of Bishops to bring to the Synod for consideration at the February 2014 group of sessions a draft Act of Synod or draft declaration to be made by the House to accompany the draft legislation.’
33. This motion reflects both what the House believes to be the natural starting point for the debate and what most of its members currently favour as the most desirable outcome.
34. We commend this process to the prayers of the whole Church as we seek the guidance of the Holy Spirit in the months to come.
“Option One” is as follows:
79. Many responses to the consultation document called for ‘the simplest possible legislation’. What was meant by that was:
— A measure and amending canon that made it lawful for women to become bishops; and
— The repeal of the statutory rights to pass Resolutions A and B under the 1993 Measure, plus the rescinding of the Episcopal Ministry Act of Synod.
80. It is important to note that, strictly speaking, the simplest possible new legislation would consist only of the first of these two elements since it is not necessary to repeal the 1993 Measure in order to enable women to become bishops. The simplest possible legislative approach would therefore leave in place the ability for parishes to pass Resolutions A and/or B.
81. Those who favour the ‘simplest possible legislation’ are, however, describing the state of the law that they would wish to result from the new legislation rather than describing the draft measure itself. So the simple approach described here as option one incorporates both of the elements in paragraph 79. And, for reasons discussed further under option three, it would not in any event be desirable to leave the 1993 Measure in place without making some amendments to it.
82. What then would the effect of this approach? Currently parishes know that if they pass Resolutions A or B under the 1993 Measure certain consequences must follow. If they pass Resolution A they know that a woman cannot preside at Holy Communion. If they pass Resolution B they know that a woman cannot be appointed as incumbent, priest in charge or
a team vicar. The effect of these resolutions is legally binding on everyone concerned, including bishops, clergy and patrons.
83. In the absence of statutory provision of this kind it would be for each of the various parties to reach their own view, within the framework of the general law and taking such account as they wished of any statements declarations or guidance that the House of Bishops or the Synod might have made nationally. The consequences in terms of the Equality Act are considered in the next section.
84. A decision to go for the simplest possible measure and canon – including repealing the 1993 Measure and rescinding the Act of Synod – could be accompanied by some kind of formal declaration by the House of Bishops or by the making of a new Act of Synod. Either form of instrument could include a preamble setting out the Church’s commitment to maintaining diversity and spelling out some expectations in relation to simplicity, reciprocity and mutuality.
85. Both an Act of Synod and a declaration by the House of Bishops could therefore provide a possible way of seeking to secure some degree of consistency across the Church of England. What they would have in common is that neither would be legally binding on anyone.
86. As between a declaration by the House of Bishops and an Act of Synod there would be a greater formality in embodying any national policy commitments and guidance in an Act of Synod since this would mean that the provisions would have the support of all three Houses.
87. To avoid uncertainty at the point of final approval of the measure and amending canon it would be possible for the Act of Synod to be made in advance of that point.
88. So, in summary, of the options discussed in this paper, this is the one that would rely least on law and place the greatest emphasis on trust. It would allow a diversity of belief about gender and ministry to continue in the Church of England but it would mean that how that was worked out in practice would be dependent on the discretionary decisions of individual bishops, clergy, PCCs, patrons and parish representatives.