Women in Episcopacy: Runnymede Synod Calls for Legal Protection for Traditionalists

Supporters of Women Bishops failed to win a majority following last night’s Runnymede Deanery Synod debate.

The motion “Runnymede Deanery encourages Guildford Diocesan Synod to approve the proposals embodied in the draft Bishops and Priests (Consecration and Ordination of Women) Measure and in draft Amending Canon number 30” failed to win a majority (12 for, 12 against and 2 abstentions).

A Following Motion calling for legal protection for traditionalists won a majority (14 in favour, 11 against and 1 abstention). Advocated by the Church of England Evangelical Council the Following Motion stated:

This synod:

  1. Desires that all faithful Anglicans remain and thrive together in the Church of England; and therefore
  2. Calls upon the House of Bishops to bring forward amendments to the draft Bishops and Priests (Consecration and Ordination of Women) Measure to ensure that those unable on theological grounds to accept the ministry of women bishops are able to receive episcopal oversight from a bishop with authority (ie ordinary jurisdiction) conferred by the Measure rather than by delegation from a Diocesan Bishop.

Guildford Diocese will decide its response in June.

You can view my Power Point presentation  here or in PowerPoint 2007 here) and listen to an audio recording here.

I commend this article in the Guardian by Rob Thomas of REFORM.

The news from Synod is that the Church of England may begin to consecrate women bishops in the next few years, with little provision for those who feel less comfortable with the idea. While this can be portrayed as a victory for equality, the position of traditionalists is simply that the draft measure (pdf) as it stands doesn’t provide for a secure future for us in the Church of England, a future that was promised in 1993 but now appears to have been rescinded.

Our problem with women bishops is not to do with equality, but theology. In the case of conservative evangelicals, we believe that the Bible recommends a particular order in the church which allows us to bear witness to the wider world about something that is true of God.

The Bible insists on the absolute equality of men and women, but gives them different functions in the church, so that men can show leadership through self-sacrifice and thus reveal the character of God, and women can demonstrate Christian discipleship to the wider church, thus helping us all follow Christ better.

These are theological issues, not ones to do with justice or fairness. If we are to continue to be able to demonstrate these different functions within the church, we need to be able to do that via legislation. A code of practice such as the one now proposed cannot be enough, because its provisions are not binding. They only have to be taken into account. This means that it would for the future women bishops themselves to decide how much security to provide for traditionalists. That cannot be a satisfactory solution to the problem.

Experience of what has happened in Canada and the US shows that over time, people become less and less tolerant of traditionalist positions. That is why a clear statutory provision needs to be made, not the half-baked, half-hearted approach that the draft measure currently contains.

Read the whole article here

In the words of Dr Ann Young:

During the past 3 years, I – like many of you and many others in the church – have had to ask myself ‘am I opposed to this because of habit or perversity or reluctance to change?’

If the leadership role of men rested only on one or two verses in the letters of St Paul, then I might be convinced that it was a practice for that time, but not binding us now. However, that is not the case. As I read it, the consistent teaching of Scripture is that men have the responsibility under God to take these roles. It was so in the Old Testament times, with a few rare exceptions. There is no doubt that Jesus gave new and unheard dignity to women, and they were key supporters of his ministry. Yet he did not appoint any women as disciples. Was this just because it would have gone against the demands of social norms. The Holy Spirit ‘brought to mind all that Jesus had taught’. Yet the apostles led by Him chose no women, only men, to fill the leadership roles in those decades of the church.

I will vote against the principle canon. I cannot set aside my conviction
  • That Jesus Christ established His church on a pattern that is eternal,
  • That the Bible plainly places the responsibility for leadership of God’s people on men,
  • And that the Holy Spirit’s guidance has maintained and continues to maintain the church according to the will of God.
If the canon passes, it becomes less to do with theology and more to do with practicality and the weight we give to tradition. Whether the canon passes or not, we will need to show one another respect and care if we are to honour God rather than act as a group engaged in political debate.