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Draft legislation for women bishops: the debate continues

02 November 2012


From Sally Muggeridge

Sir, - On your letters page last week, there was little light cast on the subject of women bishops for those who might well wish now to vote in favour, and much darkness cast by those who felt obliged to continue to oppose on the grounds of theological conviction.

As a founder Trustee of the Tutu Foundation UK (TFUK), I accompanied Archbishop Desmond Tutu to Wales last week for a full programme celebrating the unique links our Welsh counterparts have with Africa through charities such as Positive Women, Life for African Mothers, and New Directions for Congo. These organisations work tirelessly together to release women from persecution and exclusion, to harness their unique and valuable talents and empower them in improving their lives and the lives of others, building a new generation of female leaders.

As a young curate at my church in London in the 1960s, freed from the constraints of apartheid, Desmond and his wife, Leah, exemplified all that both men and women equally together can achieve in God's name. The Archbishop uses a single word, "ubuntu" - meaning we are only human together - and there is no doubt that all of us at Synod next month could do no better than take this as our mantra.

When we ordained women as priests, why did we not think that one day they would be bishops?

Member of General Synod, The Old Farm House, Pike Road Eythorne,
Kent CT15 4DJ

From Susie Stead

Sir, - I was baptised in the Anglican Church in 1962. I am 50 years old, married to a vicar, with a grandfather for a vicar, one great-grandfather as a bishop (Bishop Lander), and another great-grandfather and great-grandmother as CMS missionary martyrs (Robert and Louisa Stewart). I have been an active, enthusiastic member of the C of E for most of my life.

I grew up in a Church that did not accept women as priests, and a family and society in which men had the power. It was what I was brought up with. Mostly, I remained within the status quo - after all, I didn't want to be a priest. . . But, over the years, society has moved on, theology has moved on, and I have moved on - in life and in theology. I have woken up. And I cannot now go back to sleep.

The Church has also moved on. We have had women priests for 20 years. At present, half of ordinands are women. It seems so obvious now that we should have women bishops that it is hard to bear the possibility that this may not happen.

Most of us want a broad Church. We want one that includes a wide variety of viewpoints. If the current legislation on women bishops succeeds, there will be legal provision for those against women's ordination (despite their complaints, it is there); but, if the legislation fails, there will be no provision for the many Christians like me who find it increasingly painful to remain part of, let alone promote, a sexist Church. We cannot ask for alternative female episcopal oversight (and if, for example, I were in the diocese of Chichester, I would want it).

My 15-year-old daughter has already left. I do not want to leave. In Christ, there is no male or female.

Holy Trinity Vicarage, 46 Quarry Road, Headington, Oxford OX3 8NU

From Professor Anthony J. Berry

Sir, - It appears from your letters page last week that opponents of the legislation for women bishops seek an honoured "place" in the Church, and require that to be geographic as well as in understanding.

In so doing, they precisely dishonour women priests and bishops by refusing them the right to minister to the great majority of lay people in those "geographic places".

Opponents make a plea for fair treatment, but seek to require the Church to be unfair to women priests and bishops, and to the majority of lay people, who would happily accept the ministry of women in holy orders. Real fairness would see all men and women priests and bishops exercising their ministry in every parish in the Church, with graceful acknowledgement, with parallel ministries working together for mutual flourishing, instead of creating exclusion zones.

Opponents argue that the proposed Measure may be argued in the courts, but, as it will be a law of England made by Parliament, that must be so, whatever its form.

Opponents (Mr Fletcher) argue that the present (and by implication any future) diocesan bishops cannot be trusted. Such a position is deeply offensive.

Of course, the Measure is a compromise; Clause 2 without the House of Bishops' amendments was carried by 393 to 14; it was accepted by the majority of GS opponents of women priests and bishops. Later, they had many further thoughts.

At this stage (especially given the difficulties of the appointment process for Canterbury), it would be somewhat problematic for the Church to vote down the legislation for women bishops and set us on another five years of demoralisation, not to mention public ridicule. Is it possible to invite those against to consider encouraging the Measure through, thus contributing to a process of healing and reconciliation? Such processes already operate in diocesan staffs, cathedrals, and parishes outside the present exclusion zones.

With faith and hope and some flexibility, we could find honoured places for all ordained clergy in hearts and minds, prayer and worship, pastorally and in mission.

Chester General Synod member
24 Leafield Road, Disley, Stockport SK12 2JF

From Mr Tim Hind

Sir, - I want to add my personal support to the Enough Waiting campaign. The Church of England has been struggling with the issue of women's ministry for more than 150 years, since the creation of the order of deaconesses. It took until the 1970s to get to the point where the General Synod agreed that there was no theological objection to the ordination of women.

Over the past year, the legislation for women bishops has had intense debate and scrutiny, and the dioceses, when asked, voted massively in favour (42 for; two against), and even the underlying statistics showed that more than 76 per cent of those voting were in favour of the legislation presented in February.

Since then, the House of Bishops has been given two opportunities to tweak the legislation. There have been many statements since the latest meeting of the House of Bishops, and it worries me that many have not recognised the danger to the Church of England should this legislation be voted down in November.

We must not, in passing this legislation, deny the scriptural roots that are the cornerstone of our faith and of our Church. The arguments that have been used to oppose women bishops have not convinced the voters in the dioceses, however, and are way out of touch with the people we are here to serve, both inside and outside the Church.

We also need to understand the culture in which we operate. It will take only a small change to the equality legislation for our Church to have to reconsider its position.

My personal message to the House of Laity who will be voting in November is that they need to be aware that the Church that they represent is expecting to have women bishops very soon. Most are not persuaded by the subtle nuances that some hold dear. They will not understand why their representatives are potentially frustrating their will expressed through the Article 8 reference.

If a member of the Synod is minded not to accept the legislation because of his or her convictions, which I recognise are held with integrity, now is the time for that member to show that extra level of generosity to allow the Church to move forward. Abstaining is an honourable choice.

Vice-Chair of the House of Laity
Plowmans Corner, The Square, Westbury-sub-Mendip BA5 1HJ

From the Revd Ian Robins

Sir, - The Pope on his recent visit to Beirut stated that "fundamentalism is always a falsification of religion." Reading the letters about the draft women-bishops Measure last week, I see that this is clearly what we face.

Fundamentalism is the understandable clinging to specific scriptural passages or ecclesiastical doctrines that may well have been authoritative in the culture and time in which they emerged, but may not have the same authority (still less divine authority) in very different cultures and times.

As promised (John 16.13), the Holy Spirit continues to lead us into all the truth - and there is no doubt that there will be much more truth to come as the possibility of life elsewhere in the universe looms. But, for the moment, in our tiny English denomination, the Spirit seems to be saying something about the essential equality of gifts and vocations as gloriously manifest in all genders for the priestly and episcopal ministry of our Church.

33 Manorfields, Whalley, Nr Clitheroe, Lancashire BB7 9UD

From the Ven. Len Moss

Sir, - May we dare to hope that, at next month's General Synod meeting, speakers on behalf of Forward in Faith (FiF) will abstain from the cheap rhetoric that disgraced their Assembly ( News, 19 October) - and equally that supporters of the draft Measure will maintain a right respect towards those who disagree with them? (However tempting it is to dismiss them as "unreconstructed primeval chauvinists", it would be unlikely to promote the truth and love of God in the Church or beyond it.)

We all need to remember that the two mutually contradictory views of women's ordination which exist in our Church are both permissible under the existing legislation, pending an eventual consensus - however passionately we feel that only our view is theologically well grounded. The Act of Synod was introduced and won support largely because it was seen as a way of holding us all together in fellowship as we sought a common mind. Sadly, for many (not least in FiF), it became a device for ensuring our continuing separation. It became easier for opponents of women's ordination to avoid contact with women priests and their supporters, and often to distance themselves from diocesan and deanery activities (and even to set up "independent" structures).

Crude discourtesy towards women priests, and even the denial of their existence, may not have been bad fruits of the Act, but it did little to discourage them. It is hardly surprising that a movement to rescind the Act grew, nor that there should be such resistance to carrying similar provisions into the draft legislation on women bishops.

To expose women bishops to the sort of contempt that many women priests have experienced will demand much from them, as well as the full support of every male bishop in overcoming the culture of disrespect in the Church towards women, and not least towards women in ministry.

Perhaps "respect", including respect for the majority as well as for the minority, is the key issue at this stage of the debate, and even those who are uncertain what respect means must be able to recognise disrespect when they see it. If "the grace of God is in courtesy," we each should ask questions of ourselves when we fail to show it.

10 Saxon Way, Ledbury, Herefordshire HR8 2QY

From Mrs April Alexander

Sir, - In my letter of 28 September, I picked up a point made in the Chichester report about where the responsibilities of area and suffragan bishops lay: "there is a question over to whom a suffragan or area bishop is responsible." Fortunately, the Dioceses Commission has also perceived this to be a potential problem for the new diocese for West Yorkshire & the Dales in their most recent report published this week:

"An important component of the proposed area sees is that there should be clarity of roles as between the diocesan and area bishops. The Commission is reinforced in this view by the findings of the Archbishop of Canterbury's Commissaries in relation to safeguarding issues in the diocese of Chichester which recommended that the answerability of an area or suffragan bishop to his diocesan should be clarified.

"The Commission has therefore proposed an instrument setting out episcopal functions that would be delegated (see Annex F), and those that would not be delegated. . . Those responsibilities remaining with the diocesan bishop include matters relating to both clergy discipline and safeguarding" (para 6.3).

The instrument at Annex F makes interesting reading, and is more detailed than Annex 2 of the illustrative draft Code of Practice under the draft women-bishops Measure. Annex F is, moreover, a draft instrument. It is to be hoped that the working group for the Code of Practice will draft something similar, and certainly something that keeps clergy discipline and safeguarding as matters for the diocesan, in a list of functions specifically not delegated (another innovation in Annex F).

Despite the stated intention, however, Annex F is still not explicit about "answerability", which I take to mean to whom the individual is answerable, as well as the functions for which he is answerable. It was this issue that exercised the minds of the Archbishop's commissaries; so it is also to be hoped that the Code of Practice working group will extend its work to make this clear.

The difficulty appeared to stem from the fact that "canonical obedience [is owed to] the archbishop", while authority for functions delegated to area bishops in Chichester came from the diocesan (footnote 4, page 7). The confusion, it was felt, "needed to be addressed nationally". The current Chichester arrangement, as described in footnote 4, however, appears to be precisely what is enshrined in the new clause 8(2) of the draft women-bishops Measure.

Ensuring that there is, none the less, no confusion on answerability will be a key part of the working group's task. The General Synod will need to satisfy itself on this point when the Code of Practice is debated.

Southwark General Synod member
59 High Street, Bletchingley, Redhill, Surrey RH1 4PB

From Mr G. M. Lyon

Sir, - Those who vote against the present women-bishops Measure will be voting for continuing unity and inclusivity.

The Measure threatens unity in parishes like the one I attend, where (since 1992) we have managed to compromise and stay together. I hope Synod members will remember that the minority threatened by the Measure includes ordinary, orthodox Anglicans, scattered throughout central or broad parishes, who also wish to keep a continuing, secure home somewhere in the C of E. Like a number of Catholics and Evangelicals, for us central conservatives, the passing of the present Measure would mean the C of E's narrowing its bounds so as to leave us outside.

If, for the majority, we are to have female bishops in a many-roomed Anglican house, we also need rooms for the minority - rooms where the headship authority and validity of the priest and sacraments remain assured beyond question. What we require from the Synod is not respect, but rooms: to coin a phrase, "loyal peculiars", i.e. distinct, non-geographical ecclesial entities (of societies, parishes, dioceses?) with first-class bishops for loyal, continuing Anglicans.

If providing for both majority and minority takes the Synod more time, so be it. Better that than vote "yes" now for the current Measure, which appears generally unsatisfactory.

Minority Anglicans wait to see if a majority of Synod members think that they are better off without us, or whether they really do believe that we are better together.

13, New Acres, Newburgh, Wigan, Lancs WN8 7TU

From Mr O. W. H. Clark

Sir, - The last-minute and somewhat pathetic appeals by some bishops for Synod voters to abstain rather than reject the proposed women-bishops legislation reveals only their own disquiet over the adequacy and propriety of their own House's proposals.

They are right to be so concerned; for what is now proposed is fundamentally and blatantly unfair. Regardless of the Synod's voting in November, there will be no peace in the Church until justice prevails.

Though a conviction opponent of women bishops, I am content to serve in a Church of England with women bishops if that is the required price of proponents' and opponents' living together respectfully in one Church; but I must be treated with respect, and safeguarded equally with those who differ from me.

When legislation on this matter begins to take that course, and offers a genuine compromise - with the place of the laity fairly recognised and expressed - I shall joyously associate myself with it.

Until then, I urge my lay representatives to vote "No" resolutely and without hesitation. Synod members are elected to vote, not to opt out when the going gets tough. Fiat justitia.

5 Seaview Road, Highcliffe, Christchurch, Dorset BH23 5QJ


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