COMMENT

MARCH 1998

THE INABILITY of the proponents of the ordination of women to take 'No' for an answer has been further illustrated by recent events in the Anglican Province of Central Africa. Four years ago the subject was debated in the General Synod of the Province and soundly rejected. The Archbishop, an enthusiast for the innovation, responded to the Synod's decision with the promise 'We'll be back...' And back, like the proverbial bad penny, they came.

In the unscrupulous way of these people, the motion before the recent Synod in Harare (February 21-23) had been altered from its predecessor. Now instead of hoping to enact legislation for the whole Province, the intention was merely to give authority to individual dioceses to act when and as they wished. Provincial autonomy had become Diocesan autonomy.

From ten in the morning to three in the afternoon the debate raged. Contrary to the Archbishop's (understandable) desire for a mere show of hands, the final vote was taken by secret ballot and in houses. It lost 19-15 in the House of Laity. Voting figures in the Houses of Clergy and Bishops were not yet available at the time of going to press - which probably indicates that they were even less favourable to the Archbishop's position.

The question being asked in the Province, and further afield, is: 'How many more times will he dispute with the Holy Spirit?' And in what revised form will the legislation next appear? Parochial autonomy is presumably not an option, even for Walter Makhulu. A lecture tour by John Shelby Spong is confidently anticipated for the Autumn.

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READERS OF New Directions will want to congratulate Dr Christina Baxter on the forthrightness of her comments, in the Preface to The Church of England Yearbook, on the system of episcopal appointments. It has long been our position that the system is little short of scandalous and has produced a monochrome episcopate of indifferent quality and little parochial experience.

They will have been less enamoured of her comments about Forward in Faith.

'A national meeting of over 500 'Forward in Faith members...' she writes voted without dissent to be ready to establish [a Third Province] by the end of the millennium...One could only hope and pray in the days that followed this announcement that it was only sabre rattling'.

It is important for Dr Baxter to understand that the days of sabre rattling are over. The majority of Forward in Faith members accepts that women bishops are a foregone conclusion and that the ordination of women in the Church of England is practically irreversible. They have seen the increasingly oppressive measures taken against the opponents of women's ordination in Canada and the United States and confidently expect them here. A Third Province is not seen as a negotiating strategy, but as an inevitability - in fact as the logical and necessary expression of the notion that there are 'two integrities'

'Justice is love distributed equally', says Dr Baxter, quoting Jacques Ellul. In so saying she neatly summarizes the argument for the establishment of such a Province. The advent of women bishops, as any reader of the Act of Synod can clearly see, will render the present temporary arrangements inapplicable and untenable. Something needs to be done; and justice ('love distributed equally') demands nothing less than an ecclesial identity for those opposed; one which, in every respect, mirrors that which the proponents of the new ministry enjoy. Love equally distributed demands that those opposed to women's ordination in England should be assured of a life within the Church such as other Anglicans enjoy in Provinces where women are not ordained.

The Church of England has a straight-forward choice before it: it can either conclude an honourable and amicable truce with those who cannot accept and will not accept what it has done, or, by canon and civil law, it can strive to coerce and suppress them. For those who hold justice dear, and who aim to act out of compassion and love, that is no choice at all.

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AN AMERICAN woman priest, Paula Nesbitt, has attempted to treat the effects of women clergy on a number of North American mainline churches with something approaching academic gravitas, and the book [Feminisation of the Clergy, OUP] has been reviewed by our own Rev. Angela Tilby [Church Times, February 20].

A crucial question is whether women's ordination has added to the rapidly declining status of the clergy in contemporary society. Classic social anthropology of the seventies suggested that such would be an inevitable consequence. High status roles, claimed Margaret Meade, are in all societies allocated to men.

Was she right? Tilby thinks not. 'It is not accurate...to blame the diminished status of the clergy on women: clerical status had already diminished to more or less its present levels before women came on the scene'. But then, she would say that, wouldn't she? In any case the matter is not quite so simple.

Put in the language of the lounge bar, a subtler argument might go like this: men always thought that religion was women's work, so it seemed logical that women should do it. Now that they are doing it, men observe congregations, mostly made up of women, presided over by women, and their prejudices are confirmed. The result, of course, is that men now increasingly devote themselves to other, higher status activities, like washing the car.

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IT SHOULD, of course, be renamed The Male Chauvinists Club - the MCC! In spite of the fact that the majority of its number say they want women as members, they refuse to act and admit them; men only at the meetings where the key decisions are made; men only on the benches of privilege and authority; men only in the old boys club. Sheer hypocrisy! It's just not cricket!

In fact it's not cricket at all. The Male Chauvinists Club to which we refer is none other than the House of Bishops of the Church of England. Having brought division to every parish in the land by their support of feminism and, under the Lightman judgement, ceded all doctrinal authority to Parliament, they are now running around frantically trying to gain exemption from European Human Rights legislation for their own privileged club.

They have accepted the feminist principle - only the prejudice against women remains. For the orthodox who oppose the innovations on principle, as for honourable liberals who support them on principle, such special pleading and moral chicanery is deeply unedifying.

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