Posted on 20 July 2012
July abridged newsletter
There follows a guide to what has taken place over the last month at General Synod, amongst other things.
Rod Thomas writes:
What is being proposed on women bishops?
The draft Measure repeals the legislation introduced in 1993 which permitted the ordination of women and itself provides for their ordination as priests as well as for their consecration as bishops. It makes provision for opponents of women bishops by enabling parishes to present "letters of request" to their diocesan bishops stating that on grounds of theological conviction they request episcopal ministry and pastoral care to be provided by a male bishop. They can further request that only a male priest be appointed as incumbent or priest in charge.
Diocesan bishops are required to set up schemes to delegate this special episcopal ministry to a serving male bishop. In doing so they must "have regard" to a Code of Practice. The draft Code of Practice has not yet been published, but an "illustrative" text says that Scheme Bishops should have a full role in making appointments to the parishes for which they provide ministry, but not in decisions about selection for training. It does, however, provide for non-discrimination in such decisions.
What has caused the present delay?
At its meeting in York earlier this month, the General Synod decided to adjourn the vote on final approval to allow the House of Bishops an opportunity to revise an amendment it had introduced at the last minute. The amendment in question required that the Code of Practice should cover:
"the selection of male bishops or male priests the exercise of ministry by whom is consistent with the theological convictions as to the consecration and ordination of women on grounds of which parochial church councils have issued Letters of Request under section 3". clause 5(1)c
The amendment had been introduced to try to provide some reassurance that conservative evangelical and traditional catholic bishops would be appointed in the future. However, the lobby group WATCH felt that it permanently enshrined in law the idea that there was something wrong with women bishops.
The General Synod, very much guided by the Archbishop of Canterbury, decided to adjourn a final decision to enable a revision to take place. It was felt that without such a revision, the necessary majorities required for final approval might not be achieved. On the one hand opponents of the Measure (such as us) still intended to vote against the Measure because of its heavy reliance on a Code of Practice. On the other hand, some supporters of women bishops felt that the House of Bishops had given too much away in its new amendment and that as a result they might have to vote against the draft Measure alongside us.
We have always felt that a Code of Practice provides an insecure basis for going forward, since dioceses will not necessarily do what the Code says (they only have to take it into account); furthermore, a Code can be changed at any time by the General Synod and all it would require for that to happen would be a majority vote - not the two thirds majority in each House that legislation requires.
What happens next?
The House of Bishops will be meeting in mid-September to agree changes to its amendment and then the draft Measure will go to a specially convened meeting of the General Synod in the third week of November. In preparation for these events, I am keeping in close touch with other members of General Synod who are keen to make suggestions to the House of Bishops for revisions that will be helpful to us, and I am also liaising closely with leaders of the Catholic group in General Synod. We will be seeking to work together in order to oppose the draft Measure when it finally comes to the General Synod next November.
The House of Bishops has set up a working group under the chairmanship of Sir Joseph Pilling to examine the outcome of the "listening process" on matters of human sexuality - first started at the 1998 Lambeth Conference. The terms of reference of this group are wide-ranging and its recommendations could set the course the Church follows for the next decade or more.
This exercise is being undertaken against the background of some reasonably firm statements by the Church of England. The formal response to the Government's consultations on same-sex marriage was very clear in opposing the various proposals. However, we are very conscious of the considerable pressures being applied both to and within the House of Bishops to liberalise the Church's position on matters of sexuality. We must, therefore, take nothing for granted.
Our written evidence to Sir Joseph Pilling was put together by Simon Vibert, the acting principal of Wycliffe Hall. A copy of this can be viewed on the Reform website. This was followed up on 4th July by a team of Reform members giving oral evidence to the working group in London. Members of the team were Simon Vibert (author), Rod Thomas (Chairman), David Banting (former Chairman) and Mark Burkill (member of Council). The thrust of our evidence was to say that the listening process was no longer neutral. Where the Bible was clear, we needed to obey it faithfully rather than to engage in argument, although there was a continuing need to respond sensitively in terms of pastoral care. "Listening" was a discipline required of all Christians all the time, but as a process it had become a means for seeking to undermine the Church's doctrinal position. We also argued strongly against any liturgical innovations to celebrate gay unions.
A report will now be made to the House of Bishops by the Working Group and no doubt something will be presented to the General Synod in due course. Please continue to pray that the Church's biblical witness in this area would be preserved.
Reform National Conference
More details can now be added to the original programme outline. Mike Smith and Angus MacLeay are giving the Bible readings. Presentations on ‘The Way Forward' are by Simon Austen and Richard Coekin. The seminar for ordinands will be led by Mark Burkill, Alistair Tresidder, Jonathan Fletcher; the seminar for curates by Paul Dawson and James Nash; Jonathan Berry from the True Freedom Trust will speak about welcoming those with same-sex attraction in our churches; John Simmons and Jonathan Pryke will lead on Common Tenure and its implications; David Banting and Paul Perkin on what impaired communion looks like; and Carrie Sandom will lead a seminar for women which reflects on and discusses a vision for women's ministry in gospel hearted churches.
Two Excellent Books on Complementarianism
Different By Design- by Carrie Sandom.Carrie's book provides a Bible overview of how men and women are ‘different by design' so that they complement one another in the family and in the Church. (There is also a very helpful chapter on gender roles in the workplace). Carrie makes the case for ‘complementarianism' being a way of modelling the gospel. It should be attractive to those who observe it. She is also clear on the alternatives and how unattractive a liberal or ultra-conservative position on gender roles can be. The book covers topics such as: equality of status and diversity of role; unity and diversity within the Trinity; what rebelling against God's design looks like; Jesus - the true man; the perspective of eternity; God's priorities in the Church and in the family. The book has a strong Bible content; it is strong on illustrations and application; it comes out of a long and varied ministry experience.
God's Good Design - by Claire Smith. Claire tackles the often perceived 'too hard' passages in the Bible about the identity and roles of men and women. She is convincing in her conclusion that the creation of men and women as opposite sexes is exactly God's good design. She clearly addresses the controversial issues in 1 Tim. 2; 1 Cor. 11, 14; Eph. 5; 1 Pet. 3; Gen. 1-3 and Proverbs 31. The book concentrates on the biblical texts and goes into significant depth without shying away from controversies over certain concepts or words, such as, 'submission' or the authority of men in the church and the family. This book helps us to sharpen our tools in response to the multitude of arguments against God's good design for men and women. It could be a good book to read through one-to-one, in a reading group, or a bible study group. Claire is an experienced writer and Bible teacher and this book is a compilation of her talks she gave at women's conventions. However, this book is highly recommended to everyone, both men and women, as it confronts current trends that threaten this foundational teaching which has led to current church and societal crises.
Both books are available on the Reform online bookshop - go to http://www.10ofthose.com/partners/reform
Organising events - ‘Sex culture and christian faith'
Dr. Lisa Nolland has organised a number of conferences on issues of sexuality and contemporary society and she has also spoken at a Reform National Conference. If you would like to organise an event at your church or for your area on the urgent issues being thrown up by our sex-obsessed society then contact Lisa (use the contact page on the Reform web site). To see an example of an event organised for next year click here.