latest report on Women Bishops has come from a small group chaired
by the Bishop of Guildford. Their particular brief was to look
at the issues surrounding the shape of legislation should a decision
be made to go ahead and consecrate women as Bishops. The report
was published as GS1605 in order to be discussed at the February
2006 General Synod.
The Group set out to address four questions:
- What is needed for women to be fully accepted as deacons,
priests and bishops?
- What do opponents need in order to remain in the Church
- To what extent is it possible to meet both needs?
- Would the various possible options be acceptable as a
feature of the church?
The report points out that 16% (1 in 6) of Diocesan clergy are
now women although it does not mention that between 1992 and
2002 the number of men has fallen by 24% (1 in 4).
The Group considered three main options.
1) A single line measure with a code
be the simplest approach permitting women Bishops whilst
giving some guidance on how opponents are to be treated. In reality
there would be no effective provision for opponents. However,
it would mean an end to the present mess whereby some do
not recognize the validity of the orders of others. It would
thereore restore a greater sense of unity to the Church, by driving
out those who do not accept the new orthodoxy. There would
quite possibly be a financial cost to bear, some £27million
was paid out to those who left over the ordination of women
priests. Many would also see a single line measure as the
General Synod breaking promises given to Parliament in 1992.
2) Most opponents have been pushing for a Third
or Free Province.
The report (in an Appendix) explains that there are several models
for how this might work but they do not accept it as the way
forward. They point out that it would require a lot of different
pieces of legislation and that there would be considerable costs
in restructuring. Many are afraid that a new province will formalize
schism and could lead to either a large continuing church or
two Anglican denominations in England.
3) The Group therefore opt for a half-way house which they do
a good job of explaining and defending. Their suggestion is something
called Transferred Episcopal Arrangements
(TEA). This would be
provided in legislation making it much more secure than just
a code of practice. Parishes would be able to pass resolutions
requiring the Archbishop of the Province (or a male Bishop so
designated in the event that the Archbishop was a woman) to transfer
certain Episcopal roles for that parish to a Provincial Regional
The big difference to the present system of Flying Bishops (Provincial
Episcopal Visitors) is that the new Bishops would have genuine
jurisdiction. They would not simply exercise pastoral care and
teaching but would have a role in appointments, sponsoring for
ordination, discipline and so on. However, unlike the Third Province
arrangements a parish is not opting out of all the functions
of the Diocese (synodical government for example) but simply
that their episcopal oversight comes from elsewhere.
On the face of it this is quite a clever proposal being similar
to the idea of Peculiars which have been pushed by Professor
Gerald Bray in particular. The TEA is a genuine attempt to find
a compromise, however, it is unlikely to satisfy many.
Those most eager to see full equality of opportunity for men
and women the TEA will be seen as perpetuating a two-tier ministry.
Men can go to TEA parishes, but not women. It is still likely
that the orders of men ordained by a women will also be suspect
in the eyes of some. These problems are raised in the report
but they are not going to be overcome easily.
For those opposed to the ordination of women, whether from a
classical evangelical, anglo-Catholic or traditional perspective
the TEA concept will raise both short-term and long-term concerns.
One particular problem, addressed in the report, is whether it
means that a woman ought not to be Archbishop of Canterbury.
The report says she should, but seems to indicate that it might
be best if this didn’t happen too soon. Without a new province
the Archbishops of Canterbury and York will still have jurisdiction
and authority over churches under TEA and the Provincial Regional
Bishops. This will create difficulties of headship for evangelicals
and of sacramental fellowship for anglo-Catholics.
Another major problem with TEA is how much safeguard it really
provides in the long-term. Legislation could assume that opposition
to the innovation of women Priests will die out if we wait long
enough. For opponents this is hard to comprehend. All around
we see others, whether they be evangelical churches and denominations
or the Roman Catholics or Orthodox, who reject the innovation
and show no signs of going away. On the other hand many of those
who have pushed most for change are very liberal and willing
to embrace all manner of destructive teaching which, in many
places, is destroying churches. Therefore opponents are looking
for long-term provision and TEA does not look likely to deliver
this. Whereas a new province will provide a structure able to
give proper protection and decision making bodies the TEA proposals
will make those opting for it more vulnerable in the future.
What is abundantly plain from this report, as others, is that
attempts to push through this change are going to mess up the
Church of England even further. This is inevitable. The plain
teaching of Scripture is that men should lead congregations and
this has been the almost universal practice of the Christian
church through the ages.. It can only be expected that many will
therefore refuse to accept the innovation. The obvious solution
is to turn back from this change and to look afresh at how men
and women can best minister today in ways that accord with God’s
will revealed in Scripture.
David Phillips, February 2006