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Now, now ladies, don’t bother your pretty little heads

Now, now ladies, don’t bother your pretty little heads

The Archbishop of Canterbury and Archbishop of York have issued a statement write to those who are enraged about the additions, by a small group of bishops, to the legislation on women in the episcopacy:

The bishops have listened to a great many diverse voices in the process of finalising these amendments, and they are aware that their decision to reject some amendments and accept others may be difficult for a good many people on all sides of the argument, for very different reasons. They were painfully aware that whatever decision they came to would surprise or disappoint some, but they believed that some helpful modifications could be made without sacrificing any aspect of the Measure’s main purpose or changing any of its fundamentals, and so allowing the legislation to command a wider degree of support and welcome.

So they hope that the new wording now presented will be considered carefully and dispassionately by the Church at large. We have tried to keep in view what might be for the good of the whole Church’s mission, and we commend these amendments to the Church’s reflection and prayer over the coming weeks as the moment of decision approaches

Andrew Brown, writing in The Guardian, says that with these two changes the church is writing a suicide note:

I wrote disparagingly about the last-minute tinkering that the Church of England’s bishops have done with the measure to allow female bishops. Now I have had time to think properly, it’s clear that one of these little tinkerings could be a really historic mistake.


I suspect that a certain discomfort about the naked gender discrimination implied here led some bishops who should have known better to suppose they could get round the problem by allowing parishes to discriminate against men who have the wrong views about anything the parochial church council believes and not just about gender roles. But, actually, that doesn’t help at all.

To give parishes the legal right to choose their bishops is wholly incompatible with the way the Church of England has always worked before, so it’s a nice irony that it should be brought forward by “traditionalists”. It’s also incompatible with the Church of England functioning as any kind of organisation in the future. It’s no longer one church if every parish can choose any bishop.

There is a reason why conservative evangelicals care about laws so much. It’s not just a temperamental fondness for clarity and firmness. There are also huge advantages to controlling and manipulating the rules book and often it is the tiny and apparently insignificant changes that have the greatest effect in the future. Two recent examples are the 1998 Lambeth conference resolution condemning homosexuality, which supplied American conservatives with a decade’s worth of ammunition in their war against the liberals; and the apparently minor decision to allow people to celebrate their marriages pretty much anywhere they wanted to, which hugely damaged the Church of England’s position as the national provider of ceremonies and ritual.

Giving parishes the legal right to specify the theological tests that their next incumbent must pass, which is what the proposed amendment does, ensures that Reform and similar movements will never wither away. There will be institutionalised schism.

One might note that we in the Episcopal Church have been told a lot lately about how voting creates winners and losers and we need to find another way forward. This is the other way forward. Small groups in small rooms deciding who will pay the price to mollify angry minorities.


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Nicole Porter

Well, there has been schisms going on since 1054. That’s the only thing us Christians do best, split and create more reasons to split again. We’re great at it, and most likely we’ll continue until Christ comes back.

tobias haller

I’m sorry, but giving a portion of the electorate the right essentially to dismiss the duly elected and consecrated leader, who in their private judgment is unworthy is not something I can support. In certain circumstances this would simply be called mutiny, in others, perhaps anarchy. I can see the use of the DEPO strategy as a temporary move, but as JCF says, if it doesn’t sunset you’ve just created a conventicle or a schism. And I don’t think that is healthy spiritually for anyone.

But I’ve said enough on this. A good night to all…

Bill Dilworth

The problem with DEPO for gender reasons seems to be twofold: first, you’ve got to start keeping rolls of bishops who were ordained priests and bishops by male bishops who were ordained by male bishops who were – well, you get the picture. It’s like the lists that are kept in some ultra-Orthodox Jewish communities of who’s “really Jewish” for purposes of marriages. Eventually, it seems to me that the prospects for those who won’t accept the validity of women’s ordination is untenable in a Church where it’s practiced everywhere – you couldn’t go to Communion in another Episcopal parish without checking out the ordination pedigree of the celebrant. It hardly sounds practical, or like a functioning Church.

It gets more complicated with the British, it seems. From what I’m able to gather, not only do those seeking DEPO (or whatever) have a problem with the validity of women’s ordination, but also with the validity of ordination by anyone who has ever ordained women, or is in favor of women’s ordination in even an abstract way. It seems to be a terribly advanced case of Donatism, and I don’t see why the CofE is encouraging it.


I believe that it is ultimately bad for a bishop who isn’t wanted to begin with.

Isn’t wanted by whom? A bishop may have overwhelming majority support of his/her diocese, and still unwanted by a particular parish. That bishop MAY delegate an alternative bishop, but that’s still not the same as letting that parish pick their OWN bishop.

FWIW, if *I* were bishop—let everyone “TBTG!” that I am not 😉 —I would only supply DEPO with a clear sunset in the policy. No parish should get an indefinite time period to say to their bishop, “No, you won’t do”: that’s how one institutionalizes a schism (IMO)

JC Fisher

Thank you for your email, Nicole.

Nicole Porter

How can one be ruled by one who they don’t feel is fit to rule in the first place? And in the case of it not being good for the bishop, I believe that it is ultimately bad for a bishop who isn’t wanted to begin with. How can one effectively minister in that environment?

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