Yesterday the Church of England's House of Bishops released their draft legislation on the next steps to ordaining women priests to the episcopate in England. There's been a great deal of comment overnight. Not much of it has been favorable.
Women and the Church released this statement
"WATCH (Women and the Church) is deeply disappointed to hear that the all male House of Bishops has, in a closed meeting, decided to make two amendments to the draft legislation on women bishops that had been so carefully crafted after years of debate and scrutiny from all sides and had commanded the support of 42/44 dioceses across the Church of England.
They have failed to listen to the voice of ordained women and those who support their ministry and been swayed by those who are opposed into making concessions that can only undermine the ministry of women in future years.
Their decision to intervene in this way will significantly undermine the credibility of the House of Bishops both inside and outside the Church."
Thinking Anglicans has the full statement here.
This is beginning to feel like the most drawn-out decision in history. Will the Church of England finally allow women to become bishops on an equal footing with men? You tell me – after yesterday’s press release, no one has been able to decide what it really means in practice. Nancy Wallace has blogged about it, and recommends Unshaun Sheep’s (very creditable attempt) at translation into plain English.
So far, the inference which I draw (possibly mistakenly of course) is that the obfuscation is deliberate. There is an interesting paper on the use of ambiguity in peace treaties, which perhaps the cogitating bishops are aware of. And there is the image of the duckrabbit, which can be seen either as a rabbit, or as a duck, but not both simultaneously. So is the Church’s new position that of a duck or a rabbit? You decide. But bear in mind that your neighbour may decide it means the opposite, and will have every bit as much justification for his or her point of view as you do yours.
So I think what we've done is send out a message to opponents that they're still part of the CofE, but without undermining the ministry of women bishops. Others are free to disagree. The important thing is to get this legislation through and get to the next stage.
Bishop Alan Wilson writes, of what he characterizes as a "curate's egg":
Is the Church going to remain a discriminatory organisation, with a thinning theological figleaf to cover its vulnerability? Truth compels me to say, probably yes. In Brer Rabbit terms the old deal was that the buses were not segregated, and as long as the whites who believed in segregation on biblical grounds sat at the front, they could kid themselves that there weren't blacks at the back of the bus. This has now been modified. The driver can soon be black, and those who believe in Biblically based separate development can either stare out the window sideways or comfort themselves that they only have to look on the back of the driver's head. This scheme could well be a way to bring women bishops onshore from places like Oz, New Zealand, Canada, and the US. That's progress, I suppose. Intellectually, it’s not quite desegregation. But do not underestimate the power of evolution. We wouldn't be having this discussion if Evolution didn’t work.
In the meanwhile my picking over the entrails mattereth not a pig’s burp. There is a special Group of Six Wise Ones (including one woman) who will now pick over the entrails to decide whether this is too radical a change to go forward. I wouldn’t think that's too risky a bet, but the C of E is a place loaded with surprising possibilities. If Les Six do decide this amended scheme won’t blow all the fuses on the Enterprise, everything rolls onward to York in June. Get that old ecclesiastical anorak out of the cupboard and tighten your underwear. The Monstrous Regiment is at the gates.
Reform seems as disappointed as WATCH:
[W]e are disappointed that none of the very many compromise options that we and others suggested has been acted upon.
"While we recognise that these small amendments could be helpful, we are dismayed that the assurance for our future ministry within the Church of England will rest on what a Code of Practice says. Not only have the provisions of this Code yet to be agreed, but also, as we all know, Codes of Practice are frequently changed over time. This means that we are being asked to base our futures on a shifting foundation. In particular we are concerned that those considering ordination in the future could be discriminated against because of their views on the difference between men's and women's ministries.
"We will now take further counsel as we consider the exact wording of the revisions."
Ah the Church of England. We can't tell exactly what has happened and neither can the English. Any of you want to take a crack at sorting this out?