The meeting Women as Bishops which I advertised in my last post here was very interesting. We were pleased to have about 60 people present for the discussion led by the Bishop of Lewes, Wallace Benn, and Rev Lis Goddard of AWESOME. At the request of several people on this blog and elsewhere, the meeting was recorded. The recording, over two hours long, and Lis Goddard’s PowerPoint presentation will soon be available on my church’s website, for convenience as our building was the venue. As soon as I can give you a URL I will post it here.
What follows is not intended as a summary of the meeting (I’m afraid you will have to wait then listen to the recording for that), but as my personal reflections following it.
Lis Goddard is known as a proponent of the ordination of women, although AWESOME of which she is the Chair is not a campaigning organisation and has no official position on the issue. Indeed the ordained evangelical women it supports include “permanent deacons” who have chosen not to be ordained as priests. She made clear that some of what she said was her personal position.
By contrast, Bishop Benn is a council member of Reform which takes a clear stand against women in church leadership. At the meeting he outlined briefly why he believes this: he holds a complementarian position on the role of women, as equal but different.
But the point of yesterday’s meeting was not to debate the main issue of whether women should be made bishops. It was to explore how evangelicals in the Church of England can remain united in a situation where their Church is clearly moving towards having women as bishops. On this there was a surprising and welcome unity of opinion between these people who disagree fundamentally on the underlying issue.
Benn and Goddard agreed that definite special arrangements should be made for those in the Church who cannot fully accept women as bishops – against the radical egalitarians who would make no concessions and might privately welcome the defection of conservative evangelicals and Anglo-Catholics. They also agreed in rejecting arrangements like a separate diocese for traditionalists, which would tend to divide the Church into separate camps, and would have some serious practical and financial consequences.
Their preferred solutions were almost the same. Goddard preferred a statutory code of practice whereby women bishops would be obliged to delegate their authority to male colleagues under certain circumstances. Benn’s preference was for Transferred Episcopal Arrangements (TEA) whereby this delegation would be more formalised, but would also accept a statutory code of practice.
The decision on what arrangements will be made is likely to be taken at the General Synod in July this year. It seems likely that some kind of statutory code of practice will be proposed by the committee working on this, but this solution will meet opposition from those who reject any formal concessions. So, to avoid massive divisions in the Church of England and especially in the evangelical part of it, we should hope and pray that something like a statutory code of practice will be accepted. I say this although I object to the “statutory” aspect of this, as I explained in this post.
I think it was Wallace Benn who suggested that a wrong decision on this matter might lead to the Church of England losing both its evangelical and Anglo-Catholic wings. I couldn’t help thinking of the Church as an airliner in the air – a slight change from last week’s image of flying like wild ducks. The airliner has lost power, perhaps from flying through an ash cloud, and is gradually losing height. If it wants to continue to fly it needs to restart its engines – and it can do that only by turning to God. But the worst decision it could make is to cut off both its wings. Without them it cannot even glide to a relatively soft crash landing; its only hope is to plunge straight to disaster. So please, Church, let’s avoid that, stop bickering about side issues, and look to God to regain the power to fly.