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The House of Bishops and the admission of women to the episcopate

by
07 June 2013

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From the Revd Thomas Brazier

Sir, - I was disappointed by the recent statement from the House of Bishops (News, 31 May). It claims that we need "new" ways of thinking, but there is very little new in the statement at all. The discussion revolves around the same two tired old questions that have thus far yielded so little fruit: 1. How can we get women bishops? 2. How can we accommodate the dissenting "minority"?

Even I, as part of the "majority", can see that the minority will always reject the validity of the first question and, so, are not interested in the second question. We can never engage the minority with this kind of thinking: all we can hope for is to crush their voice. It is time to stop grinding endlessly round the same mill, and start asking different questions.

First, let us ask how church members should deal with a church practice that they believe to be incorrect. Personally, I vote for the costly choice of remaining in the Church and working for change (which is why I remain in the Church, even though we presently prevent women from becoming bishops). Others might opt to leave the Church, also a costly choice. I suspect very few would choose to be "accommodated".

Second, let us acknowledge that, as long as a dissenting minority exists, there is actually doubt over the question. We, the majority, do not have a monopoly on hearing God. So, let us ask how to manage this doubt. Presently, we manage it by refraining from appointing women as bishops. Perhaps our practice will soon change, but even then we must remember the doubt. This is the only way in which we can really take the minority seriously, which is far better than mere accommodation.

Suddenly, instead of having to put up with the minority, we can see them as having something constructive to offer to the conversation. Dare I even suggest that they might be able to serve the Church by preserving the old way of life while the doubt persists?

Finally, having engaged with the first two questions, let us ask simply, without being distracted by concerns of accommodating the minority, whether gender should continue to be a bar to the episcopate. We have never yet put this question to the two-thirds majority test. The July 2006 and July 2008 Synod meetings did not require (and did not achieve) a two-thirds majority. The November 2012 synod muddied the question with considerations about how to accommodate the minority. It is time for the question, by itself, simply to be put.

TOM BRAZIER
38 Brancepeth Road, Washington
Tyne & Wear NE38 0LA

 

From the Archdeacon of St Albans

Sir, - As a member of the House of Clergy in the General Synod who unequivocally believes that the episcopate should be open to women and men, and who supported the legislation last November, I offer a privilege to myself and a blessing to others by saying little and listening much. One of the wisest words that I have heard in the Synod chamber on this matter is the futility in indulging in competitive pain.

Therefore, by all means let the Church do as the Revd Jesse Zink suggests (Letters, 31 May), and examine the proper provision of episcopal ministry and mission, but let us not embark on it to enshrine our place on the anger, grief, and disappointment meter, and seek to elevate those whom we assume to be in a lower position.

JONATHANSMITH
6 Sopwell Lane
St Albans AL1 1RR

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