Sense over women bishops

For once the Church of England seems to have made a very sensible decision. The General Synod last night passed a motion (see Ruth Gledhill’s blog for a detailed account of the debate) affirming its intention to move towards having women bishops and agreeing these two important safeguards:

this Synod…

(b) affirm its view that special arrangements be available, within the existing structures of the Church of England, for those who as a matter of theological conviction will not be able to receive the ministry of women as bishops or priests;

(c) affirm that these should be contained in a statutory national code of practice to which all concerned would be required to have regard …

Thus the church has gone out of its way to make proper provision, through a binding code of practice, for those who do not accept women as bishops. What more does that small minority in the church want? The code of practice is still to be drafted, but these people are not interested in trying to make it work as well as it can in their favour. Apparently they will not accept anything called a code of practice but only something enshrined in detail in parliamentary legislation.

This is what I have condemned as Caesaropapism, putting the church under the control of the church. This is what I fundamentally cannot accept in the Church of England. But I am astonished to find this position being espoused not just by Anglo-Catholics but by the conservative evangelical John Richardson, who quotes with approval Thomas Cranmer’s argument that the apostles did not have the right to appoint ministers to churches but that the secular authorities do have this right. The problem is that this right of the secular authorities is not a God-given one but one asserted by Henry VIII, under the guidance of the same Cranmer. Henry and Cranmer did what they may have needed to do in their time, but Cranmer was wrong if he intended to elevate this to a permanent general principle. Over the centuries the headship of the sovereign and parliament over the Church of England has quite properly dwindled away to something largely nominal. Some of us would like to see even the remaining vestiges swept away. I am sure that even more of us have serious problems with the attempts of people like John Richardson to reassert and extend state control of the church. That is why the church rightly rejected the amendments yesterday calling for such matters to be enshrined in legislation and agreed on the principle of a binding code of practice.

0 thoughts on “Sense over women bishops

  1. No, John, because authentic Anglicans can and do disagree, and always will do. But I don’t accept Henry and Thomas as infallible authorities for all time, especially when they contradict Scripture.

  2. The use of the word ‘Anglican’ for Cranmer and Henry is an anachronism, anyway; that word was not used until long after their time.

    If we mean by that word ‘people in agreement with the later theology of the Anglican church – i.e. people we can use as reliable theological guides’ – does anyone really think of Henry VIII in these terms?

  3. What more does that small minority in the church want?

    One third of those in Synod did not support the motion. It is also true to say that conservatives are under represented in Synod.

  4. Hugh, the one third clearly includes not just those who have personal objections to receiving the ministry of women bishops but those who accept women bishops but think that there should be stronger safeguards for those who differ from them. Probably the number who signed a recent petition, said to be about 10% of the serving clergy, is a more accurate estimate – a small but not insignificant minority of the Church of England.

  5. Apparently they will not accept anything called a code of practice

    Maybe this is because they accepted something called a code of practice back in 1993 only to have the debate re-opened this year.

    So you can understand that they are justifiably suspicious that the debate could be revisited again once the ‘facts on the ground’ have changed.

  6. They accepted a code of practice, not a permanently binding credal statement. Is it unreasonable that the code of practice should be reviewed and updated after fifteen years? They seem to have simply assumed that the code of practice will not be favourable to them. Instead they should work on it in a positive spirit to make it as favourable as it can be – or else get out!

  7. Pingback: Gentle Wisdom » Which bishops want women to join them?

  8. Pingback: Women as Bishops: Reflections - Gentle Wisdom

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