Treading carefully over women in the episcopate

Oxford is where the House of Bishops of the Church of England will meet on Wednesday this week. They will all be men. There are no bishops who are female in the Church of England. It is illegal in England (but not now in Scotland) for a bishop to be a woman. I find this fact more and more shocking every time I think about it. How can this be so in a country where it is generally illegal to discriminate on grounds of gender in relation to job appointments? 

The C of E is legally exempt from this in relation to bishops. The reasons behind that are complex, rooted in ecclesiastical culture and traditions that cling to male power in leadership, usually disguised in theological terms. This is odd when all deacons, priests and bishops in the Church of England swear an oath of allegiance to our supreme governor, HM Queen Elizabeth II. Yes, I know she is the temporal and not the spiritual leader of the church - but all the same - it is odd.

The Church of England decided about 12 years ago that there is no theological reason why women should not be bishops. It's the how and when women may be admitted to the episcopate that has been the focus of the agonizing struggle since. Within the church the process has been painful both for those who believe it is wrong (or 'impossible') for women to be bishops and for those who see no reason why a bishop should not be either a man or a woman. For observers outside the church the whole matter is just another example of the hypocrisy of Christians who say they believe all people are made in God's image.


I have posted many times previously on this issues. Here's just one example 'Like a Mighty Tortoise'. 


On Wednesday 12 September the House of Bishops will meet in Oxford. They will consider the options available as a result of the matter of women in the episcopate having been referred back to them by General Synod on 9 July. The House of Bishops were asked to reconsider the amended Clause 5(1)(c) which has caused the most problem and was not part of the draft legislation that won the approval of 42 out of the 44 dioceses. Since then the House of Bishops Standing Committee has received submissions responding to the discussion document GS Misc 1033 and the consultation period for this ended on 24 August. The Standing Committee issued their report on 5 September which sets out the next steps and the amendments suggested for the House of Bishops discussion on Wednesday 12 September. The option I prefer is 'delete Clause 5 (1) (c).

WATCH (Women and the Church) released a press response yesterday. I couldn't find it on their website. Here it is as reproduced by Thinking Anglicans

WATCH is very encouraged to see that complete withdrawal of Clause 5(1)c received the most positive response in the Church of England’s summer consultation process (see GS Misc 1033).
Clause 5(1)c, was inserted by the House of Bishops in May and has caused widespread dismay. We are hopeful that the House of Bishops will realise, from the overwhelmingly negative response to this amendment, that Clause 5(1)c cannot stay in the legislation as it is, if they wish to see the legislation pass through General Synod in November.
We also note that, although groups representing those opposed are lobbying to keep the existing proposed amendment, they have not said they will vote for the legislation even if the current Clause 5 (1)c remains. If 5(1)c was insufficient for those opposed, then any diluted form of wording is even more unlikely to gain their support for a General Synod vote, whilst remaining potentially problematic for those who welcome the episcopal ministry of women.
We continue to urge the House of Bishops to adopt a cautious approach and not to introduce new and untested wording into the draft legislation at this late stage. The consultation period was extremely brief and the various options considered have not therefore been subject to any sustained scrutiny.
WATCH therefore considers that the wisest course is to return the legislation to General Synod in November in a form that is as close as possible to that approved by 42/44 dioceses; removing Clause 5(1)c and offering Clause 8(2) as reassurance to those opposed 
The Reverend Rachel Weir, Chair of WATCH said, “We very much hope that whatever emerges from the House of Bishops on Wednesday will unequivocally affirm the ministry of ordained women and avoid any suggestion of a question mark hanging over their orders.”

What will the bishops decide on Wednesday? They need wisdom and grace. Pray for them.



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