This debate is due to take place on Monday 7 July.
There are four separate but related issues which have to be resolved in the process:
1. Is it right to have women priests and bishops?
- The Rochester Report explored this question in relation to bishops.
- The majority of General Synod members have said yes to women bishops.
- There remains a minority, including a large number of evangelical clergy, who say no (see also open letter).
- Evangelicals oppose it because of the role relationships established by God in creation, the explicit instructions given in Scripture about who should be appointed as elders (including that they be men) and the appropriate role of women in the mixed assembly. We believe all these instructions continue to be authoritative for the Church and that interpretations which reduce their authority or relevance open the door to dismissing other clear Scriptural teaching.
2. Should this be legislated for?
- Again the majority of the General Synod have agreed in principle to produce legislation.
- But, the final hurdle is Final Approval at General Synod and then Parliamentary consent.
- Parliament will approve the change on the grounds of equality but may, as in 1993, require certain standards of provision for those who cannot in conscience accept it.
- Final Approval at Synod requires a 2/3rd majority in each of the houses of Bishops, Clergy and Laity. Many have indicated that whilst they agree in principle they would not wish to go ahead without provision for those who cannot accept. The level of provision is likely to affect how many support the legislation and therefore it is impossible to know whether a Final Approval motion in 2 or 3 years time would gain the required majorities.
3. What provision should be made for those who do not consider it right?
- This was explored in the Guildford Report last year, and rejected by the Bishops.
- The Synod therefore called for a further report, the Manchester Report, which was set before General Synod on Saturday.
- However, the House of Bishops has opted to bring to Synod a motion providing only limited provision and crucially not to put this in legislation and at the same time to remove all current legislative safeguards for those who cannot accept women priests.
- The House of Bishops are not representative of the wider Church and in particular there are no classical evangelical members of it.
- The Forward in Faith new province proposal was not explored in depth and The Third Province Movement were not allowed to make a personal submission. The joint submission from Church Society, Reform and Fellowship of Word and Spirit was close to the Manchester Group proposal for ‘transferred authority’ but some of the other creative proposals were not explored in the report.
4. What should opponents do if legislation goes ahead without adequate provision?
- This question is important to consider because it will illustrate the cost for the Church of England of going ahead.
- The Synod has not been asked to consider “no provision”. But the code of practice, which is being considered, is in no sense adequate in the eyes of those who have requested provision.
- Some evangelicals will adapt to any new environment and continue to muddle along despite their personal dislike.
- Some will retreat into their parishes, where, unless the Lord bring revival, they will gradually die out.
- Some will leave as happened after 1992.
- Others will see this issues alongside the breakdown in the Anglican Communion and new ways of doing things and new structures will emerge.
- It is likely that the same will happen with Anglo-Catholics although as in 1992 it is likely that far more of them will leave.
David Phillips, General Secretary, Church Society
Initial motion before the General Synod 7/7/2007
‘That this Synod:
(a) reaffirm its wish for women to be admitted to the episcopate;
(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 national code of practice to which all concerned would be required to have regard; and
(d) instruct the legislative drafting group, in consultation with the House of Bishops, to complete its work accordingly, including preparing the first draft of a code of practice, so that the Business Committee can include first consideration of the draft legislation in the agenda for the February 2009 group of sessions.’