Ad Fontes

Politics, Theology and Christian Humanism


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Below is a copy of the letter I sent to the students and staff of my college on the evening of Tuesday 20 November 2012 after the General Synod of the Church of England had failed to garner support for a measure that would lead to women being ordained bishops. It is somewhat emotional, but I dearly want to clarify that the church is not a sexist organisation and that this is just a temporary failure for sexual equality in the church.

Dear all,

It is with sadness I write to you to share the news that the General
Synod of the Church of England has voted against ordaining women as
bishops.

I am a supporter of women’s ministry at all levels in the church, and
there are now slightly more women than men being ordained as deacons and
priests each year.

The vote at Synod was always going to be close as the Synod voted by
houses — bishops, clergy and laypeople — with each house having to vote
in favour by 2/3. The bishops voted 94% in favour, the clergy by 77% and
the laity by 64%. Thus, it failed to reach the required 2/3 by 6 votes
among elected laypeople on the General Synod. At an earlier stage, 42 of
the 44 dioceses of the Church of England voted in favour of women
bishops (including Oxford).

The media is bound to buzz with stories of the church being bigoted, but
the figures speak differently. In fact, some who voted against are in
favour of women bishops but against this piece of legislation because it
would have allowed those against women bishops to demand a man bishop in
way that could undermine the authority of women bishops. I didn’t think
the legislation was perfect, but I, and many, felt that the time had
come to vote for women bishops and live through the issues it raises.

Unfortunately, it may now be a matter of years before the church is
able to begin a new legislative process to ordain women as bishops. But
it will come in the end: the vast majority are in favour.

I do feel ashamed to be a Church of England priest this evening, as do most
of my brother and sister priests.

Best wishes,

Gareth.


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The way forward for women bishops

The Church of England has reached a small moment of uncertainty over moves to ordain women as bishops. It is not that the church is unsure whether women should be bishops: there is overwhelming support for sexual equality in the highest order of the church’s ministry. The debate is over how those who are opposed to the ordained ministry of women are best accommodated.

The current discussion revolves around Clause 5(1)(c), the second amendment inserted by the House of Bishops into the measure, making explicit the accommodation to be offered. It has been frustrating that this amendment was added (by an all-male body) after dioceses had discussed and voted on the measure, leaving the recent General Synod no choice but take or leave the amended measure. Thus, it was the most vocal supporters of having women bishops who led the vote for an adjournment so that accommodation could be properly debated. The talk was that we should take the time to get the legislation right.

For most of us in the Church of England, we talk compromise as if it is our mother language. However, there are real theological problems with any compromise on this issues, which is the nub of the problem. For conservative evangelicals, women may not teach or lead men, and biblical verses are beaded together to support this. For traditionalist anglo-catholics, women in sacramental ministry is a rupture from the sacramental fount of ecumenical church history and doctrine. These groups can outline their views far better than I, but there should be a theological insistence from those of us who variously use the labels ‘open’, ‘inclusive’ and ‘affirming’ that our views are strong, pure theology. I believe that the church should embody equality without discrimination, and this should insist that women have equal status throughout the church. Allowing any room for churches, groups or individuals to opt out of equality is to give acceptance to discrimination. We should make it known that the compassion in search of compromise with those who believe differently has long be lead by those in the progressive mainstream.

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Seventeen years of women in the priesthood

Woman priestOn this day in 1992 the General Synod of the Church of England voted in favour of ordaining women to the priesthood. The vote was decisive, yet the decision did not put a stop to the infighting. This was no armistice, and like St Martin’s cloak we remain riven in twain.

Seventeen years on, the General Synod has taken the inevitable vote in favour of consecrating women bishops, yet the revision committee is in breach of the trust of the synod and the wider church by backtracking. Continue reading