Thursday, 13 September 2012

Passing the Legislation

The Church fo England House of Bishops has decided... and a new Clause 5 (1) (c) has been decided. It's this:

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

In other words it is looser wording: still forcing a selection of a male bishop or priest who would be theologically and ecclesiastically of the grounds of the Letter of Request. But the diocesan (male or female) still does it, and respect is a loose word. So a Conservative Evangelical parish might get an Anglo-Catholic if that Anglo-Catholic met the grounds of the Letter of Request. Humm - expect very precise letters of request. Or one might say, "Well I think my action does respect your Letter of Request, and, after all, I am the diocesan bishop."

Unfortunately, there is a foundational problem. The bishops have passed the text but it came from the submission of the Rev. Janet Appleby. This implies a teaching ministry and headship from Rev. Janet Appleby as the source of the text and therefore would be unacceptable to Conservative Evangelicals. Had she suggested this to a group of women, or children in Sunday School, then it might have been something for them to chat about. But as a source of the key text for the future of Conservative Evangelicalism it won't do. The irony of the bishops, chuckle churckle, that 'this came from a woman after all, come on then you women and support it', might backfire. Conservative Evangelicals were never very good at irony - literalists aren't.

In any case the whole delegate/ derived argument may well satisfy traditionalist Anglo-Catholicism, who can ignore how a compatible bishop or priest came about so long as he is unpolluted in his derivation (no female hands hovered over his consecration), but it won't satisfy the Protestant for whom there is no derived order (a mystic thing) but where there is only delegation.

After all, if she delegates a bishop, or a compatible minister, she has exercised headship and presumably she would retain the power to remove (under the usual rules) what she has given.

November is the best shot at it that the equality folks will have. The Anglo-Catholics may well concede and occupy their remaining rabbit holes. The Conservative Evangelicals may simply not be strong enough. But if the opposition grows, then, in years to come when the legislation returns, Conservative Evangelicals will be all the stronger in a more sectarian Church. On the other hand, if the legislation passes, the Conservative Evangelicals will have to resort to entryism or escape, and they might just take their sectarianism with them, especially if there is a quick number of female bishops and a good proportion quickly. There'll be a more liberal outlook and the Conservative Evangelicals will be on the back foot from then on.

Personally I don't care for bishops, except as superintendents that facilitate better activity and management across congregations, and would hope that female bishops might undermine the hierarchical attitude that has accompanied bishops in the past. Usually, though, women priests make no impact on liturgical doctrines and beliefs so I'm not too hopeful.

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