Ad Fontes

Politics, Theology and Christian Humanism


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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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Alternative Vote and other animals

Visualisation of electoral outcomesIt seems that our new ConDem government will be offering us a referendum on changing the electoral system used for general elections from First Past The Post to Alternative Vote (FPTP → AV). The pre-election manifesto status was that the Tories wanted to keep FPTP, the Lib Dems wanted proportional representation (PR), while it was Labour who were the party suggesting a move to AV. A few times the BBC made the mistake of suggesting that AV is a proportional system, but this is not surprising from reporters who are more concerned with personalities than electoral geekery.

There is some self-interest in the parties’ various stances. On the basis of votes cast in this last general election, the Tories would probably lose seats given any of the other systems, Labour would probably gain a few seats under AV, and the Lib Dems would probably gain around a score of seats under AV and over a hundred under PR. Of course, these are hypothetical results, because we can’t be sure how a different system might change the way electors cast their votes (for the data, see this Grauniad article). All the different systems would still have resulted in a hung parliament, but oddly both AV and PR might have made a Lib-Lab coalition more appealing with a stable majority (mainly because the Lib Dems would have more seats). The ConDems offer of AV is a compromise in that the Tories would possibly lose seats but not as many as under PR, and the Lib Dems would gain seats but not as many as under PR.

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Persecution or privilege: the Church Defensive

Not PersecutedDuring Holy Week, I had a couple of episcopal moments. On Palm Sunday, six bishops signed a letter in the Sunday Torygraph that didn’t use the word ‘persecution’, but the resulting headlines did, and one sermon I’ve heard since has. Archbishop Rowan felt it necessary to say publically that they should get things in perspective in his Easter Letter: hear, hear!

The next day, on Maundy Thursday, the Bishop of London felt it necessary refute ‘persecution’ claims in his chrism sermon, but then he went on to talk about how Christians have to fight against the discrimination aimed at us and battle the tide of secularism (this clunkily segued into the twice-repeated materialist motto ‘love is not an emotion’).

On Easter Sunday evening, Nicky Campbell brought out a TV documentary asking whether Christians are persecuted. The show gave fairly free reign to those who wanted to ramp up the persecution fears, but also got the sane voices of the Bishop of Oxford and Theos think-tank in there. I quite liked the clear outline of why the persecution fear exists: that it is based on

  1. the complex secularising of hegemony,
  2. increased non-Christian immigration
  3. and human-rights legislation.

Whereas the fearmongers, like Bishop Michael Nazir-Ali, would point to the secularisation of society as the cause, and crusade for the re-Christianisation of our public spaces, the documentary’s outline gives us more substantial handles for what is happening.

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