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.