The House of Bishops met in Oxford in September to revise the much debated amendment 5(1)c to the legislation to ordain women to the episcopate. The Bishops decided to retain the amendment but to change its wording so that it now asks the Code of Practice to give guidance as to ‘the selection of male bishops and male priests in a manner which respects the grounds on which parochial church councils issue Letters of Request under section 3’.
This, it has been pointed out in several places, waters down the original amendment. It is not clear what force or power the word ‘respect’ has. Does ‘respect’ mean that our theological convictions will be seen as equal or does it mean that we will simply be looked upon as naughty school children who should know better than to hold such opinions?
Whatever the word ‘respect’ means will have to be debated and discussed in the writing and voting on the Code of Practice. We have long said a Code of Practice will not do, and indeed it will not. If the legislation is passed in November that will not be the end of the process there could be years of debate and wrangling over what should go into the Code of Practice and, once it is passed, years of wrangling to try to dismantle it by those who do not want to see us having an honoured place in the Church of England.
The time has come to see that the legislation that is coming before the General Synod is bad legislation, it does not offer the answer that the Church of England needs, and it will not resolve divisions over this issue. It is clear that without jurisdiction any male bishop of our integrity would be a bishop in name and nothing else, he would be created as a second class bishop, the very thing good legislation would avoid for both male and female bishops. For both us and our Evangelical brothers and sisters the question of jurisdiction is central: there are now no conservative Evangelical bishops in the Church of England and thus no bishops to explain fully their views to the College of Bishops.
Over the past twenty years promise after promise has been broken; we have been told that we have an honoured and central place in the life of the Church of England and yet this has not always been the case on the ground. How can we then trust our future to a Code of Practice that will not be written by us although it will be for us? To pass the legislation as it stands would undoubtedly lead to a period of turbulence and uncertainty, a period that will not help the Church of England to flourish and grow in mission. It will do the Church of England no good to be seen to be tearing itself apart over a Code of Practice. Simply put the General Synod must seek a better way forward, a way forward that allows us to thrive within the Church of England and that clearly and visibly gives us an honoured place.
Without legal protection, without jurisdiction for our bishops so that they are not second class bishops, this legislation cannot hope to offer us a place for the future. We must ensure that we have the best possible provision that will allow the Church of England to go forward in a way that witnesses to the love of God and the true respect we have for one another as Christians. It is vital that any legislation offers safeguards for us so that the Church is not faced with years of legal wrangling and debate, which will not further the mission of the Church. The time has come for us to find a better way forward, to accept that the debates thus far have not come up with good legislation that can be accepted by everyone.
We urge the General Synod to return to the drawing board and to speak and listen to those who need provision before deciding what provision to offer. Only in this way can we hope to secure a future for the Church of England that will be one in which those opposed to the ordination of women and those in favour can live and work together.
The General Synod cannot ignore that there continue to be young men called to priesthood in the Church , that there continue to be parishes passing resolutions under the act of Synod and that there continue to be those who call for full and proper provision for those opposed to the ordination of women in our Church. We want to get on with the mission of the Church but this legislation will not allow us to do this. It is time to think again.ND
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