Single Clause or Code?

The Revd Dr Miranda Threlfall-Holmes, member of General Synod, explains her own understanding of the value and difficulties of a Code of Practice


In this article, I've been asked to explain both why I'd prefer a Single Clause Measure (hereafter SCM) to a Code of Practice (hereafter CoP) in the women bishops' legislation, and also why - that being the case - I'm now prepared to support the Code of Practice option. As a member of General Synod, I proposed the unsuccessful amendment in July of 2008 that we should choose 'option 1' (a SCM allowing for women bishops, with no formal provision for opponents). In Synod this February, I asked that the sacrifice I, and others who share my views, are prepared to make in going along with a CoP be recognized, and that those of you who cannot accept women's ordination be prepared to meet us halfway.

In commissioning this article, your editor pointed out to me that we both would prefer a SCM. However, it is clear to me that whilst that is indeed true, we prefer it for very different reasons, albeit with some substantial overlap. I think we all agree that a SCM would be a much more theologically and ecclesiologi-cally coherent solution, and for those reasons alone is much more desirable.

However, it seems to me that the other reason many of you would prefer a SCM is in order to make the decision to vote against the legislation in its entirety a much easier one to take, and one with the potential to receive more sympathy from the wider church. Whilst I can appreciate the reasoning behind this position, it is very different from my own view that a SCM would provide much better legislation, enabling our church to literally go forward in faith, hope and love.

As I said in the debate last July, my reasons for supporting a SCM include it being more coherent than the alternatives. A SCM wouldn't create any new categories or types of bishops, or distinctions between bishops, and thus would maintain the historic understanding of the episcopacy more effectively than the alternative structures that have been suggested.

A SCM would also avoid making distinctions between clergy based on gender, which to my mind would be extremely desirable (I shall return to this point in a moment). It is also the solution which has been chosen in every other province of the Anglican Communion which currently has legislation in place to permit women to become bishops if called to that office.

Furthermore, on a more pragmatic level, I believe that local, informal arrangements for the provision of ministry and pastoral support to those who cannot accept the ordination of women are more likely to deliver the highest possible degree of communion, interaction and working together in parishes and deaneries. I fear that a structural 'solution, which imposed formal barriers between local parishes and bishops, would simply fossilize division rather than having a fuller future communion as its aim.

Since July, I have committed myself to spend-

ing time making contact with various priests and lay people in my own diocese of Durham who are opposed to women's ordination and/or consecration. I have wanted to make sure that I have heard the particular concerns different individuals hold about the proposals before us, and have asked for and listened to their views on what might be a workable solution. In each case I have made it clear that this is a 'listening process' for me, and that I would not be seeking to persuade but to listen and understand. These conversations have not been easy for any of us, but they have all been honest and clear, and I am very grateful for that. I have heard a wide variety of objections, from the 'impossibilist' position - which I find hard to accept or even comprehend, as I shall explain below - to more gentle yet equally firmly and painfully held concerns about the Church of England going it alone'.

For me, the key theological principle at stake is Gregory Nazianzen's famous phrase, 'the unassumed is the unhealed'. If this is accepted, then Christ, as the fully representative human being as well as fully God, must be understood as essentially having assumed humanity, rather than maleness. In Aquinas' sacramental terminology, Christ's maleness must be essentially accidental, the substance of the incarnation being Christ's humanity.

This is why arguments based on the maleness of Christ are to me both insubstantial and offensive. If the maleness of Christ is to be understood as a key salvific characteristic of the incarnation, rather than a historical particular (rather like his height or shoe size), then the theological implication is that women are not included in the saving activity of the incarnation. On this understanding women, to put it bluntly, not only cannot be ordained, but cannot be saved.

That is why the 'impossibilist' argument is impossible for me to accept. I have more sympathy with other arguments against women's ordination, but ultimately no ecumenical, historical or practical considerations can trump for me the central theological truth that it is as male and female together that we are made in the image of God.

A truly redeemed priesthood (and episcopate) should therefore include both male and female. And as a historian, I am aware of how complex the historical situation actually is. Christian tradition is neither static nor uniform on this or any other point, and I believe that ongoing Christian history is itself a sphere in which the Holy Spirit continues to guide and inspire us.

It is clear to me that, as a body, the Church of England cannot hold two opposing views on women's ordination simultaneously. It has been declared in Synod that both those who assent to and those who dissent from women's ordination can be considered loyal Anglicans, and it is clear that both you and I hold our very different views in good conscience and

with integrity. But this is very different from saying that official church policy is that both views are equally correct, which some of the 'structural' proposals assume. To set up separate dioceses or other structures which did not have an interchangeable ministry with the rest of the Church of England, and whose bishops, clergy and laity were not in communion with those in the rest of the Church of England, would be to set up a separate church altogether. There is only a semantic (and perhaps a financial) difference between suggestions for such alternative structures, and between two different churches.

Avoiding barriers

There is no appetite at all in the wider church for such division, and it would set up permanent barriers to further conversation and working together. It follows that the only two options which might work to allow the Church of England to continue to include both you and I are a SCM or a CoP.

Personally, I believe that a SCM could work, as I explained earlier, as it would allow local informal arrangements to be made. But I hear and understand that many of those of you who cannot accept

women's ordination mistrust that such arrangements would in fact be made, or could not accept such informal arrangements theologically. If that is the case, then a CoP is the only realistic way forward, and that is why I am now prepared to accept it and urge you to consider it also. A CoP is a major compromise from

'my side' of the debate, as it means establishing divisions between bishops and parishes based entirely on gender (or even, in some versions of the proposals, based on individual bishops' opinions on this issue such that a male bishop holding 'unsound' views might be considered unacceptable).

But because I recognize and have heard the extent of the pain and fear felt by many opponents to women's ordination, this is a compromise I would be prepared - just - to make, in order to demonstrate good faith and a commitment to working together with those of you who fundamentally disagree with me.

A necessary compromise

In assessing the draft proposals before us, my guiding principle has been to try to give away as much of what I'd like as possible in the hope of helping you to feel able to vote for the legislation. But I can't compromise away the entire point of having women and men together in the threefold ministry of the church, or the theological integrity of our church.

I hear and appreciate the argument that says since none of us really wants a CoP, there is no point in bothering with one. If it is really the case (to put it very bluntly indeed) that all those of you who oppose women's ordination will leave the Church of England when a woman is ordained bishop whatever a CoP says, then there is indeed no point in crafting one. But I hope and pray that this is not the case. A CoP appears to be the only option we are left with, and I believe that we can and must find the necessary goodwill and good humour to make it work for all of us. \ND\

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