Saturday, November 24, 2012

The Synod Flinches

There is a great deal of heat being generated in reaction to the rejection of the proposed system for introducing women bishops to the Church of England. It's quite clear that the narrow margin of defeat was produced, at least in part, because some progressives voted against the measure. And we have it from at least one such progressive that the basis of his rejection was that it didn't have adequate provision for the Anglo-Catholics and other parties who do not accept women as clergy.

Now, I viewed this as a positive sign. I particularly like Sutcliffe's realism in noticing that ordaining women has not had any apparent positive effect in getting people to go back to church. The C of E's position in society is rather different from ours, of course, but I don't see how that difference is going to make a woman bishop a more powerful draw there than here. To the contrary, one could just as well argue that, as the established church, the C of E has a more certain obligation to minister to those who are not totally with the progressive program.

And that's really the big hole in the same program in our church, when anyone stops to think about it. The Episcopal progressives have tended to act as if they were the RC magisterium whose authority to teach was naturally recognized by all, and that therefore there's no problem in the attempt to use the church as a political force to change society. What we see instead is that our "magisterium" has little or no theological traction except among the unwary. Therefore the increasing reaction to using the church polity to advance progressive positions is for the traditionalists to get up and leave, leading us to the Current Crisis in South Carolina. And increasingly, the church is caught between ensuring that no upper-middle class aspirant to the clergy is denied the ordination they so clearly deserve, and indulging the epatez les parents theological dilletantes.

Such a church is not fit to minister in an England where the parish might be expected to minister to the drayer as well as the squire and where making the upper middle class feel good about itself is not as high on the list of missional priorities. It may make certain people feel good that there are women bishops, but I am not convinced that making every diocese potentially have one is that essential to the Christian mission. I can understand the feeling of rejection that women clergy may feel in not being accepted everywhere, but I question the weight of that feeling as motivation for getting some ecclesiastical power to force these women upon the unwilling.

It's pretty clear that this is, in some sense, nothing more than a temporary setback, if the church's processes be respected. One hopes that Parliament will have enough sense not to kill the church by forcing a female bishopric upon them, for surely no other exercise of authority so demands disrespect. I cannot doubt but that the English can come up with some other compromise which will take. Perhaps Rowan Williams is correct in expecting that a lot of explaining has to be done, but to the degree that it is required. the proper response does not lie in apologizing for not proceeding, for those to whom such apology might be desired have already abandoned the church as a source of moral authority.


Jon in the Nati said...

When I was an Episcopalian, I had to be careful about saying it, but I've not been one for years, and so I can say that I always did have misgivings about women's ordination. That, however, is beside the point. It makes absolutely no sense at all to have women priests without the possibility of having women bishops. The overwhelming success of women's orders has made it largely a matter of right, and there is no argument from theology that has not already been swept aside by the argument from right. Tradition provides us no help here, either; once we stopped caring that there is absolutely no historical precedent for women priests, there was no reason at all to care whether there is any historical precedent for women bishops either.

The Church of England got it wrong here. At most, what they've done is kicked the can down the road, and allowed those few traditionalists who really would abandon the church over women bishops to remain in the CoE for another five years. I doubt Parliament will take action; anything it did really would sound the death knell of the CoE, turning into a British version of TEC and destroying any pretense of a national church. I pray this does not happen.

C. Wingate said...

There isa reason, and that is charity. No particular woman as a right to a bishopric, after all, and the notion that there is some obligation to have as many women as men is simply a way of claiming a right to a bishopric.

Nor do I see a right to put a woman over any specific parish, which is exactly where this is heading if it isn't thwarted. I'll have some more to say on that shortly, but I see nothing wrong with a temporary expedient (such as in fact already exists in the C of E) to avoid putting people on the spot.