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Women bishops: further reflections for the General Synod to consider

by
09 June 2010

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From the Revd Jonathan Fletcher
Sir, — In the light of the forth­coming crucial debates in General Synod, you have rightly carried a considerable number of letters rep­resenting different sides of the argu­ment concerning the consecra­tion of women to the episcopate; but there have been few, if any, expres­sing the difficulties that many con­servative Evangelicals would have if they were ever asked to accept the episcopal oversight of a woman bishop.

Although we accept totally that scripture is the final authority in all matters of faith and practice (Canon A5), we accept that our interpreta­tion might be at fault. So, when new issues arise, we return to the Bible to recalibrate our position — e.g. on slavery, divorce, homosexuality, and male “headship”, and we need some­times to abandon long-cherished views. Life would be much easier for us if, as well as recognising a total equality of men and women, we could find an identity of roles. In the light of 1 Corinthians 11.3 and 1 Timothy, however, we remain con­vinced that there is a glorious difference in the vital ministries of men and women.

We have been very grateful for the Act of Synod 1993, which recognised the integrity of both positions, and we have invoked this when request­ing our bishop to grant presbyteral ordinations when only men were being so ordained. This has been rightly and graciously granted. This position has been greeted with increasing hostility, however. We fear, therefore, that without legal safe­guards the integrity of our position will not be accepted.

As I have recently visited two theological colleges to speak to ordinands, I have a very great fear that we shall lose some very fine young men who are totally orthodox in their Anglicanism, able to affirm ex animo the Thirty-Nine Articles, and the doctrine of the Book of Common Prayer and the Homilies, but who will not be able to accept at any stage the episcopal oversight of a woman.

To abandon such men would be as tragic as the Great Ejection of 1662. But is this really the wish of the General Synod? If so, I would feel that a great part of my ministry over these past 40 years, which has been to encourage men to consider ordination, has been be­trayed.

Much more seriously, if clear legal safeguards are not provided — and a code of practice is totally insufficient — the Church of England will lose the ministry of many outstanding ordinands. We must pray that the General Synod does not make this catastrophic mistake.

JONATHAN FLETCHER

Emmanuel Parsonage
8 Sheep Walk Mews, Ridgway
London SW19 4QL

 

From Hilary Cotton
Sir, — “There must be a way” has been a constant refrain concerning how we can have women as bishops on equal terms with men and still enable those opposed to remain members of the Church of England.

 

From Hilary Cotton
Sir, — “There must be a way” has been a constant refrain concerning how we can have women as bishops on equal terms with men and still enable those opposed to remain members of the Church of England.

TEA, SEA, a Third Province, separate dioceses, a society, and trans­ferred jurisdiction have all been suggested and found wanting. Can we please, this time, believe the revision committee, that it has fully explored all the options, and that the legislation it has produced is the best compromise that is possible?

Please, will the General Synod not send another group away to try again, but read the report thoroughly and (reluctantly, perhaps) conclude with the committee that there is no magic answer that will rescue us from this tangle. A society model in particular may look attractive in theory, but it is just not feasible, and the report is clear on this.

HILARY COTTON
9 Eastgate Gardens
Guildford GU1 4AZ

From the Revd Peter Gregson
Sir, — If the Synod debate was on churchyard regulations or clergy pensions or some other material thing where the outcome reflects opinion rather than conscience, a two-thirds majority in each House or even a simple majority might be acceptable. One might not agree with the decision, but it would not be irreversible.

When the issue is, however, a matter of theological understanding, spiritual consequence, conscientious conviction, and potential division, it might be prudent to seek and to submit to God’s will.

The forthcoming debate on legislation regarding women bishops will rehearse the many views and provisions. Members of the General Synod may be representing themselves, but their decisions affect the Church. Members will come to the Synod having prayed about the issues, and will be seeking God’s will.

If there is no consensus, how do we account for a significant number of devout people failing to hear what the Holy Spirit is saying? Perhaps both sides have the truth, but not the whole truth. One side hears the call, but is blind to the time; the other side sees the time, but is deaf to the call.

God is not confused. The prayers will be sincere, and God hears and answers prayer, even though it may not be what we had in mind. Could it be that the answer to the prayers will be the prompting of the Holy Spirit to divide in order to show that it is not God’s time? That is not to say that it will never be.

The assumption that God’s will can be confirmed or overruled by a two-thirds majority implies that the other third has not discerned God’s will. The problem is the application of democratic method to divine will. Without consensus in an irreversible and divisive matter, the prudent action is to wait.

PETER GREGSON
18 Rectory Road, Broadmayne
Dorchester
Dorset DT2 8EG

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