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Voting and abstaining on the draft women-bishops Measure

09 November 2012


From Mr Martin Dales

Sir, - Tim Hind, Vice-Chair of the General Synod's House of Laity (Letters, 2 November), will be well aware that the Church of England would already have women bishops had it not been for the refusal of campaigning groups for women bishops to allow proper provision to be made for traditionalists.

As long ago as 2004, proposals for proper provision were published in Consecrated Women? Had there been a serious engagement with those proposals, and a proper dialogue between all parties, legislation for women bishops would already be on the statute book.

Since then, traditionalists have supported a number of compromises, but each one has been rejected by groups campaigning for women bishops, who have also campaigned against proper provision for traditionalists.

While 42 out 44 diocesan synods approved the current draft legislation, one quarter of dioceses expressed dissatisfaction with the legislation, either by passing a following motion, or by not approving the legislation. A recent survey by Christian Research found that 31 per cent of practising members of the Church of England were opposed to women bishops, and that a massive 75 per cent wanted provision to be made to enable traditionalists to remain in the Church of England.

The provision that this legislation would make is uncertain and unfair; it would lead to years more politicking and division; it would lead to challenges in the secular courts; it would lead to the eventual elimination of traditionalists from the Church, and the narrowing of the comprehensiveness of the national Church.

It is the right and duty of Synod members to vote against this disastrous piece of legislation, and to seek a better way forward.

York General Synod member
Priory Cottage
Old Malton YO17 7HB


From Mr A. M. Hughes

Sir, - The Ven. Len Moss writes (Letters, 2 November) that those like me who are against the ordination of women "distance ourselves from diocesan and deanery structures" and show "crude discourtesy towards women priests, and even the denial of their existence". (He says other unpleasant things that I shall ignore.)

I am treasurer of my PCC, and secretary of the deanery's Inspection of Churches Committee. I belong to a church of "central" churchmanship where (as far as I know) only one other person takes the same view as mine. My vicar's wife has been ordained, and is a curate with us; until recently, we also had a lady as associate priest. Relations between us have always been amicable, and there is mutual respect on both sides.

Stereotyping and misrepresentation do not help the situation.

3 Moody Road, Headington
Oxford OX3 0DH


From the Revd Anne Stevens

Sir, - As the "Enough Waiting" campaign gains momentum, I hope that Synod members will resist the pressure to vote with their hearts rather than their heads. This is a time for cool reflection - which is not helped by apocalyptic warnings about "disaster", "danger", and "demoralisation" if the legislation is not passed now (Letters, 2 November).

In recent months, much of the debate has centred on precise legal definitions and amendments to amendments. In the process, have we forgotten some of the bigger questions?

Do we want to enshrine new discriminatory practice in the law of the land? Those who cannot accept women bishops explain that their views are based on scripture or tradition and are not intended to be discriminatory. I accept this; but the effect of what is proposed in the Measure clearly is discriminatory. This is why section 7 specifies five new exemptions from the Equality Act 2010 for the Church of England.

As the Synod prepares to vote, do we know how Parliament will view the proposed legislation? Do we know what challenges it may give rise to under European law? Are we sure that this is the right way forward when the rest of the nation appears to be travelling in a very different direction?

Are there any non-legislative alternatives? Those who cannot accept women bishops have always insisted that they need legal safeguards; and yet they have not found any of the proposed legal solutions acceptable. Have we looked hard enough for non-legislative alternatives?

Paradoxically (and biblically), the way of grace may offer more freedom than the way of law. Have we done enough research into the experience of other Anglican Churches that have passed simple laws and found ways of making them work for everyone's benefit?

Clearly, this has not happened everywhere. But where is it working well, and what can we learn from their experience?

Will this legislation ultimately create further unity or further division in the Church of England? The uneasy compromise of this Measure may help the Church of England stay together for now, but how will it affect our long-term progress towards unity? Should we have done more research on the outworking of the 1993 Act of Synod? Should we try to imagine a point in the future where the special provisions of this legislation are no longer necessary, and then work out what sort of Measure will help us to reach that point?

Given so many unresolved questions, it will not be a disaster if the Measure falls on 20 November. In any research, one of the most useful stages can be finding out what doesn't work, so that new and better hypotheses can be put forward. "Enough waiting" is a tempting slogan; but, if we have been asking the wrong questions, then perhaps we should welcome the opportunity to think again.

Parish Office
St Pancras Church
Euston Road NW1 2BA


From Mr N. J. Inkley

Sir, - I don't know who first articulated the concept of "honourable abstention" by traditionalists in the Synod vote on women bishops, but the phrase has been latched on to by many. This is completely disingenuous, and is, I fear, no more than a campaign tactic.

Its justification is said to be "so that the Church of England can go ahead and have women as bishops". But this is no longer the debate. Among the many traditionalists known to me, there are none who do not now accept that there will be women bishops. Their concern - and the debate - is about the proper accommodation made for traditionalists, in keeping with the promise that they are equal, valued, and continuing members of the Church.

If the innovators cannot see that such proper provision is not yet there, in the Measure, then surely they can hear it in all that is being said around them. This requires everyone with a trustworthy concern for the treatment and retention of traditionalists to reject the Measure in its current form. Abstention serves only one cause - that of extremist innovators who care not one jot or one tittle about the knock-on effect upon traditionalists, who are, even now, still reckoned respected members of the Church of England. Indeed, the only lobby that might logically abstain is that of passionate supporters of the innovation who, nevertheless, recognise that proper provision is not yet made for their fellows who have different views.

Let us shine the searchlight on the proper matter. To enable the existence of women bishops is not a difficult task; to provide, in harmony with that, a cohesive whole Church that also respects those of a traditional outlook is. This is what must be addressed. To pass a Measure with this still unresolved is to commit an attack on the Church of England.

6 Knot Lane, Walton-le-Dale
Preston PR5 4BQ


From the Revd Rodney Marshall

Sir, - Supporters of the ordination of women as bishops are talking increasingly of a "yes" vote as being the only way to ensure peace in the Church after November. We are told that only a vote for the current legislation (or at the very least an abstention) will enable the Church of England to move away from years of conflict and to go forward in mission.

This is a seriously flawed and dangerous argument. Both sides of the women-bishops argument are desperate to get on with the work of the gospel in a Church at peace with itself; but this legislation will not lead to that peace.

Peace can never be simply an absence of conflict or the keeping of an uneasy balance between conflicting groups, and peace can certainly never be maintained by force, no matter how benign. The only peace that matters is the fruit of justice and love. Where there is no justice or love, there can be no peace.

The problem with the current legislation is that if it is passed as it stands, it will enshrine within itself a grave injustice to those who in conscience cannot accept women bishops. It will enshrine a series of broken promises, and for the first time will give primacy to only one view. Worst of all, it will show a lack of love to fellow members of the Body of Christ, by giving so little that many loyal members of the Church will feel marginalised and excluded. Generosity can never be a fault among Christians. The result of all this will not, and indeed cannot, be the peace we all desire.

I believe that only a "no" vote to the present legislation (which is not the same as voting against women bishops) will reflect a concern for the kind of justice and love which make real peace. New legislation will have to be drawn up, and that will take time, but it will surely be worth it if leads to a proper and lasting peace.

Those charged with the future of our Church need to vote not for what will satisfy the demands of the moment, but for what is just and loving. A "no" vote is a vote for a better future where there can be both women bishops, and just and loving provision for those who cannot accept them. That way, we can all move forward in peace, justice, and love, off the battlefield and on to the mission field.

St Helen's Vicarage
27 Laithes Lane, Athersley
Barnsley S71 3AF


From the Revd David Runcorn

Sir, - One of the most worrying features of opposition to the gracious and generous provisions on offer to those unable to accept women bishops is the inability to trust that these will be honoured.

This anxiety seeks refuge in law. But the law can never build trust. Quite the opposite. It has a way of formalising and legitimising separation. It allows us to avoid the hard and costly work of reconciliation. It closes a door that the gospel insists must always be held open.

If this is so, then a vote against is no solution. The problem needs to be addressed at a different level.

9 College Green
Gloucester GL1 2LX


From the Second Church Estates Commissioner

Sir, - I see an important part of my task as Second Church Estates Commissioner as seeking to ensure that the Church of England and its views are taken seriously in both Westminster and Whitehall.

Obviously, when shortly General Synod members vote on the Measure concerning women bishops, each of us will have to decide how we vote or abstain. I shall be voting in support of the Measure. I earnestly hope that the Measure passes. Indeed, if the Measure were to fail, I would find it impossible to explain to Parliamentary colleagues how a Measure that commanded the support of 42 out of 44 dioceses in England failed to be approved by the General Synod.

If the Measure on women bishops were now to be lost, apart from anything else, I firmly believe that it would lead to the serious marginalising of the Church of England in Whitehall and at Westminster, where we would increasingly be seen not as a Church speaking for the whole nation, but simply as another sect.

House of Commons
Westminster SW1A 2TT


From Mrs J. Fielden

Sir, - My guidance as a Christian for 70-odd years has been from William Temple: the Church (= gospel?) is more for those outside it than those inside. Your letters ( 26 October) show people deeply concerned for themselves and their beliefs. In former times, they would have been expected to take themselves and their convictions elsewhere rather than slow down the institution they purport to love. We could then get on with our tasks.

18 Market Place, Leyburn DL8 5AS


From Dr Daphne Baston

Sir, - This is a dangerous time. There is the opportunity for suitable women to be eligible for the episcopate. This is what 95 per cent of dioceses want, and in my view it will be disastrous if the vote fails. About five per cent of dedicated Anglicans find this unacceptable. There will be great pain and dismay, whichever way the vote goes.

Surely this is a great opportunity to show the compassion and love that being a Christian demands, and to demonstrate this to the wider world; to the millions with whom we should be sharing the gospel.

Can we all rise to this challenge?

5 John Wood House,
Cathedral Views, Crane Bridge Road
Salisbury SP2 7TW

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