5. Pageantmaster [KJS to Coventry] wrote:
An interesting alternative view from Fittall’s has been given by Bob Morris of the University College London Constitutional Unit [picked up by Thinking Anglicans]:
The key political and constitutional problem is that, although the Church of England now behaves largely as if it is a voluntary society, it remains nonetheless part of the state. The Queen as head of state is ‘Supreme Governor’ of the Church, must be in communion with it, holds the title Fidei Defensor and – nominally – appoints its senior clergy. The Archbishop crowns and anoints the new sovereign, and the Church conducts important public ceremonies and rituals effectively in relation to the UK as a whole. The Church’s courts remain courts of the land, although they lost their public law jurisdictions in the 1850s. Twenty-six bishops continue to sit in the House of Lords – each nowadays actually appointed by a private, unaccountable committee of the Church itself.
These are high matters and could be addressed again by Parliament. However, whatever the degree of change made, none could procure the appointment of female bishops unless Parliament legislated directly to that end. In other words, disestablishment could not by itself resolve the particular question of female bishops. On the other hand, what disestablishment could do would be – a very different matter – to permit the state and Parliament to wash its hands of Church of England affairs altogether.
Since nothing so far suggests that Parliament contemplates such a rupture, it follows that the Church must be allowed to deal with the present crisis itself. Whether in doing so it strengthens the case for a radical review of remaining church/state ties is another question.
However, the Parliamentary action at the moment seems to be based upon removing the CofE from the religious exemption to equalities legislation. However, the law of unintended consequences comes into play with such rashness:
1. It will not be possible to remove that exemption just in relation to the CofE; other faith groups would have to be included, so it will be interesting to see the consequence of Parliament legislating for women cardinals and imams. Any attempt to restrict this to the CofE would probably fall foul itself of EU human rights legislation.
2. Removal of the exemption would probably also bring in gay bishops, cardinals and imams.
Before long, all these blustering MPs are going to be asking us all to vote them into Parliament and government again. That ultimately is the only check there will be on the bullying and over reach going on at the moment.
I also have to say, that it is quite a contrast looking at the dignified conduct of people a few years ago when the Bishops proposal for women bishops was pushed through Synod with a refusal to listen to them although in many cases reduced to tears by a combination of affirming catholics, Watch and ‘open’ evangelicals.
How different this time round. The alliance tried to push through this legislation which the more truthful Archbishops recognised was second best with a lot of pressure. Ultimately it came down to no protection but having to trust the assurance that the bishops would ‘make it work’. But those like WATCH had already made it clear that they regarded this as a step which would lead to further moves, and in some cases potential women bishops had pretty much said that they would treat a parish request as an opening for ‘dialogue’. The prohibitive cost of judicial review and the obstacle of proving that the bishop had not shown ‘respect’ made any redress for parishes against a bishop not prepared to ‘make it work’ nigh impossible. Alternative in church resolution procedures were not included, only the sledgehammer of going off to the High Court.
It was a high risk strategy by the bishops to push the measure in the current form having folded to the whines of WATCH, and it bombed.
I suppose I have three thoughts having spent a few days thinking about this:
1. How suitable are some of this generation of the supposed first women bishop candidates who have been leading the charge in WATCH to be bishops? There are women who would be good bishops, but they do not get a word in edgeways with the noise coming from the liberal bastion of WATCH.
2. Something I have felt for a while, that the CofE is off track with worrying about bishops, any bishops. I don’t know if Peter Price has done much more at Bath and Wells, I rather think he has, but Rowan Williams’ tribute to him concentrated almost exclusively on the restoration he had brought about to the medieval bishop’s palace at Wells. A sad reflection on our priorities and the distance we have moved from a servant leadership. It is all about entitlement rather than service in the CofE and its arguments. How desperately sad and misguided. We should not be spending our time on bishops, any bishops.
3. That having read and listened to the speeches at Synod, how seriously the lay members on all sides took this. The legislation failed because a significant number of the laity who are in favour of women bishops yet voted against because of their concern at the second rate protection offered, and their desire not to lose people from the church even if they disagreed. Overall, I don’t know where things are going at the moment, but I find myself profoundly encouraged by the simple courage of those Synod members who under overwhelming arm-twisting to accept the second best for others, yet put that aside, along with the calls to abstain, and knowing the abuse they would receive afterwards, voted with their conscience as Christians. There were no winners, many women will have been hurt, as have the traditionalists. I think I would say I am encouraged and very grateful for the decency and courage shown by the laity - something which surprised me, but which shouldn’t knowing the many ex headmistresses, public servants and community-minded people who serve in Synod. They have shown up the rest of us, if we but paused and thought about it. I think in the long term, that is a good sign for the Church of England and its future.
St Paul, I think, talks about the need to wait for our brothers and sisters. I can’t remember the exact reference, but I have been thinking about it the last few days, and hoping in vain that perhaps one of our bishops would also remember and bring it up. Oh well.
Some days I sit and think. Other days I just sit!!
November 26, 10:27 am | [comment link]