Sydney Influence in Australian General Synod

Conservative Anglicans have women priests in their sights

Date
July 16, 2014 – Muriel Porter

The decision, by massive majorities in its General Synod, needs the approval of the British Parliament before it returns to General Synod in November for final endorsement. Observers do not foresee any problems, so it is now highly likely that one or more women will be consecrated bishops in England early next year. There are more than 1700 English women priests to choose from.

About time. The mother church of the worldwide Anglican Communion has been very slow off the mark in this regard. It is 25 years since the first woman bishop was appointed in the United States, and another 39 have followed, from New Zealand to Canada to Cuba and Swaziland.

And Australia, where there are now five women bishops. Dr Sarah Macneil, the first woman to be in charge of a diocese in this country, took up her role in Grafton NSW earlier this year.

Australian Anglicans need not be complacent, however. The stark reality is that if votes even for women priests were now required in the Anglican Church here, let alone for women bishops, it is highly likely they would not succeed.

That was the take home message from our own General Synod held earlier this month in Adelaide. Mercifully, votes for women were not on the agenda at that meeting.

Over the 22 years since women priests were approved in Australia, the dominance of the conservative Diocese of Sydney has grown exponentially. And it has become even more conservative.

Ironically, when the women priests’ legislation passed the Australian General Synod in 1992, it was widely expected that although Sydney Diocese had opposed the change vociferously, effectively delaying the move for many years, it would change its mind within a decade or so.

Not so. Its opposition has become so entrenched that it is now virtually an article of faith for its leaders.

Their opposition is based on a claim that the Bible requires women to submit to their husbands in marriage and to male leaders in the church. Therefore, they cannot be leaders in mixed congregations of men and women.

Needless to say, this interpretation of the Bible is strongly rejected by those who believe to the contrary – that the full equality of women is actually mandated by Scripture.

Over the last two decades, Sydney Diocese – particularly under its former archbishop, Peter Jensen, who retired last year – has extended its reach into other parts of Australia.

This became obvious in Adelaide a couple of weeks ago. Although it was on the surface a civilised, good-humoured meeting, the changing dynamics of the national church were clear when votes were tallied for the General Synod’s standing committee.

In marked contrast to recent years, not a single woman priest was elected to that body. Eight of the nine male clergy elected were either from Sydney or have had Sydney connections. All of them could be described as theologically conservative.

Capable women clergy candidates from Melbourne, Perth and Brisbane lost out.

When the results were read out, there was consternation among liberals on the synod floor. How had this happened, particularly when lay synod voters had returned a reasonable complement of liberal laywomen from around the country to the same body?

The jury is still out, but the most likely scenario is that around Australia now, the number of conservative clergy either directly from Sydney Diocese or with Sydney sympathies has grown apace in a number of dioceses. Sydney has been very effective at spreading its tentacles.

In turn, these missionaries have been elected as General Synod representatives in place of the more liberal and often Anglo-Catholic clergy who were once there.

Add to them the fact that Sydney Diocese now has more than double the number of General Synod representatives of the next largest diocese, Melbourne – 66 to 32 – and the writing is on the wall.

One bishop commented privately that, within a decade, theologically liberal Anglicans will be, as he put it, “gone” from the national leadership.

But it is now clear that legislation for women priests would not have been passed even in Adelaide this month. It is as well it was passed back in 1992, when it was difficult enough. It barely reached the requisite two-thirds majorities then in the face of the conservative opposition.

So could we see the unthinkable happen in this country, the legislation for women priests repealed? It happened in the Presbyterian Church. Could it happen here, even though there are now close to 500 women priests in Australia? It is believed some conservatives have a repeal in their sights.

The only comfort is that, even if General Synod repealed it, repeal would also be necessary in any of the 19 dioceses with women priests if they wanted to stop ordaining them. Surely the laity, who have received women clergy so well, would not allow this to happen.

Is it likely that any diocese would go down this path? Please God, no, but in the current climate, the possibility cannot be dismissed.

Dr Muriel Porter is a Melbourne General Synod representative and a member of its Standing Committee.

___________________________________________________________________________

This article, by Muriel Porter in the Brisbane Times newspaper, warns Australian Anglicans that the emerging influence of Sydney conservative evangelicalism is now being felt in the composition of the membership of the Australian Provincial General Synod, as quoted here:

“Over the last two decades, Sydney Diocese – particularly under its former archbishop, Peter Jensen, who retired last year – has extended its reach into other parts of Australia.

This became obvious in Adelaide a couple of weeks ago. Although it was on the surface a civilised, good-humoured meeting, the changing dynamics of the national church were clear when votes were tallied for the General Synod’s standing committee.

In marked contrast to recent years, not a single woman priest was elected to that body. Eight of the nine male clergy elected were either from Sydney or have had Sydney connections. All of them could be described as theologically conservative.

Capable women clergy candidates from Melbourne, Perth and Brisbane lost out.”

The influence of the Sydney metropolitan Anglican community – which is largely fundamentalist in its stance on issues of gender and sexuality – is obviously being experienced in the important area of Australia-wide representation at the governance level in the Provincial Anglican Church.

Ms. Porter’s comment on the latest coup for those in the Church who would extend patriarchal domination in the ministry of the Church, shows the trend that has affected the latest General Synod elections from the floor of the Synod:

“The jury is still out, but the most likely scenario is that around Australia now, the number of conservative clergy either directly from Sydney Diocese or with Sydney sympathies has grown apace in a number of dioceses. Sydney has been very effective at spreading its tentacles.

In turn, these missionaries have been elected as General Synod representatives in place of the more liberal and often Anglo-Catholic clergy who were once there. Add to them the fact that Sydney Diocese now has more than double the number of General Synod representatives of the next largest diocese, Melbourne – 66 to 32 – and the writing is on the wall.”

Reflecting on the last sentence of this section of the report; one may wonder why the Sydney Diocese has twice as many representatives on General Synod than Melbourne – the next largest diocese in the Australian Anglican Church.?

Does this progression really mean that, within the next decade, the whole of the Australian Anglican Church will be misogynistic and homophobic in character? Such a state of things would certainly line up our next door neighbours with the provenance of the GAFCON Churches that seek to become separate from the world-wide Anglican Communion with a ‘sola-scriptura’ agenda that is not particularly Anglican..

Father Ron Smith, Christchurch, New Zealand

Posted in Uncategorized | 10 Comments

R.C. ‘Tablet’ Article on C.of E, General Synod

Women bishops obstacle on the path to unity
14 July 2014 18:29 by Ruth GledhillLiz Dodd

The Church of England’s decision to consecrate women as bishops marked a “difficult moment” that will “sadly” harm relations with the Catholic Church, the archbishop responsible for ecumenism has warned.

Speaking for the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales, Archbishop Bernard Longley said today that the end goal of dialogue between the two Churches remained “full visible ecclesial communion” that “embraces full communion in the episcopal office”.

“The decision of the Church of England to admit women to the episcopate therefore sadly places a further obstacle on the path to this unity between us,” he added.

“At this difficult moment we affirm again the significant ecumenical progress which has been made in the decades since the Second Vatican Council and the development of firm and lasting friendships between our communities. We rejoice in these bonds of affection and will do all we can to strengthen them and seek together to witness to the Gospel in our society,” he said.

However he said the bishops “note and appreciate” the pastoral provision made within the legislation for “those members of the Church of England who continue to hold to the historic understanding of the episcopate shared by the Catholic and Orthodox Churches”.

The editor of the Vatican’s semi-official newspaper, L’Osservatore Romano, Giovanni Maria Vian, who is also a historian, said the vote will have “an extremely negative impact” on the path to ecumenical unity.

He said: “It’s a decision that complicates the ecumenical path. The problem is not only with Rome but also with Orthodox Churches, and that the Anglican Church is itself divided on the issue.”

He said that the Anglicans in the southern half of the globe, who are now the majority, are largely opposed to female bishops.

“It’s a problem for the Anglican Communion, which will now have even more internal divisions. But this decision also complicates the ecumenical movement towards the ancient Eastern Churches and the Orthodox Churches.”

“The ‘yes’ to women bishops is a step that does not facilitate the unity of doctrine.”

“To keep the hope of unity alive, spiritual ecumenism and the daily friendship between Christians of different denominations will have to grow and overcome the theological divisions.”

“We need however to clarify some key points. This is a serious decision that is likely to have an extremely negative impact on the route towards the unity of all Christians.”

Cheers and whoops of joy erupted at General Synod, both inside and outside the chamber at York University after an overwhelming majority of bishops and clergy voted to ordain women bishops.

Of the bishops, 37 voted in favour, two against and one abstained. Of the clergy, 162 voted in favour, 25 against and four abstained. The opposition was strongest in the House of Laity, responsible for defeating the measure by six votes in November 2012, where 45 voted against, 152 in favour and five abstained. A two-thirds majority was needed in each of the three houses of the synod.

The Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, whose new style of leadership played a significant role in resolving the deadlock over women, said: “To pass this legislation is to commit ourselves to an adventure in faith and hope.”

Its success, he said, would require “integrity and courage.” Speeches given on the floor had been costly, painful and hopeful, yet it had not been culture versus theology, but genuine theological argument. “Reimagining and spiritual growth are inextricably entwined if we are to demonstrate the reality of Jesus and serve the common good,” he said.

Crucial to it all was the independent process to hold everyone to account for the promises they make to each other. Advocating “the flourishing in the Church of all those who disagree,” he added: “If I did not think that was likely, I could not support this legislation.” Even if in the past the Church had been overwhelmed by the tortuous path it had taken, it must not be daunted by what lies ahead of it now. “You do not chuck out family even when you disagree.”

Revd Jennifer Tomlinson, of Chelmsford, said: “If we say yes, our ministry will be even more biblical, as we show the world that in Christ, there is neither male nor female.”

Susannah Leafe, of Truro, said her experience of “facilitated talks” she had been told it was “ridiculous” to expect the concerns of conservative evangelicals into account because they were “wrong”. The outcome was that the “majority” ended up telling the “minority” what was good for them. “We are going to need a change in culture. We are going to need a respect of conscience and conviction … because there’s a world out there that needs to hear the real Gospel.”

Dr Philip Giddings, chairman of the House of Laity, said a better way had been found than November 2012, when the last package failed by six votes, but the package still did not meet the needs of everyone in the Church. He said: “The key for me is that this package is adequate.”

This was because of the new House of Bishops’ guidelines, which bishops and clergy will be disciplined over if they fail to adhere to and which pledge proper oversight for those opposed to women bishops, as well as providing an independent reviewer to act as an ombudsman in disputes.

For many, he said, the new package still did not give the level of protection that Evangelicals and Anglo-Catholics were asking for. But in a significant step, given the respect in which he is held by traditionalists and Evangelicals, he said he would now vote for the legislation in spite of his reservations. He had been expected to vote against or abstain.

The Bishop of Rochester, James Langstaff, admitted that because this was the Church of England, the nation, including parliament and media, was taking “a keen interest” in what the General Synod said and did, along with other churches and the wider Anglican Communion. “But, while we must be aware of those others, we are here today to do what we believe under God to be right.”

He urged the synod to weigh “carefully” the consequences for morale and the Church’s witness to the nation were the legislation to fail once again. The synod would be seen as “frustrating” the view of the wider church.

The Rev David Houlding, a leading Anglo-Catholic, said: “We have to learn to trust and go on trusting no matter how much it costs.” There will be an ecumenical price to pay with the Church’s Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox brothers and sisters, he warned, but the dialogue will continue. “We are proceeding without Catholic consent. Nonetheless we must not lose sight of the aspiration set before us in the great chorus of the Christian hymn, One church one faith, one Lord. To that end we must continue to work.”

Michael Perham, the Bishop of Gloucester, said: “It is the whole church that has been disabled by the arguments strife and discord among us as we have struggled to resolve this issue… I want us all to flourish all contributing distinctively to the overall life of the Church.” Evangelicals can stop falling out, Anglo-Catholics can recover a unity they have lost. “If we can let God make it, today can be a day when the Church flourishes afresh and those who have been divided can once again be friends.”

Yesterday synod voted to make less mention of the devil during baptisms after he was deemed too much of a “cartoon-like character” and expelled from a new text.

Meeting in York, the General Synod on Sunday gave initial approval to new texts, which will not replace existing rites but merely exist alongside them, to go forward for revision.

Instead of asking parents and godparents to “reject the devil and all rebellion against God”, the service asks them to “reject evil”.

The Bishop of Sodor and Man, Robert Paterson, told the synod that feedback from families who had taken part in baptisms suggested they remembered the symbols and actions more than the words used.

“For many people, the devil has been turned into a cartoon-like character of no particular malevolence.

“The problem is helping people with little doctrinal appreciation to understand what we mean by affirming that the devil is a defeated power.” He said the words had been changed in order to “encapsulate what we mean by a broken and restored relationship with God.”

A report for the Church’s Liturgical Commission said that clergy frequently found themselves conducting baptisms for ‘un-churched’ families for whom the existing wording “can seem complex and inaccessible”.

Meanwhile synod also approved a measure to allow clergy to “dress down” and exchange the robes and other vestments worn at Morning and Evening Prayer and Holy Communion for more casual clothing.

Already, many clergy, especially Evangelicals and some liberals, eschew clerical collars and other more formal clerical outfits for plain trousers and shirts, with or without ties, especially at non-Eucharistic services.

But technically they are currently in breach of canon law, which currently prescribes a surplice or alp with scarf or stole at Holy Communion, morning and evening prayer.

Revd Christopher Hobbs, from the London Diocese, whose private member’s motion calling for draft legislation to be drawn up was approved by the synod, insisted it was not a “charter for shell suits, or jaffa cakes and Coke”.

He said he was merely suggesting that where a bishop and church council agreed, robes need not be worn, such as a “fresh expression” of church in a school or café, a small, intimate meeting on a stifling summer night, or because the cleric feels robes are a barrier in communicating the Gospel.

But a female chaplain at York University, Dr Rowan Williams, warned that young people attach a “huge amount of meaning” to what they wear. “If religious vestments are a barrier to mission, we are wearing them wrongly,” she said. “We don’t need to get rid of them, we need to consider what the symbols are.”

The Archbishop of York, Dr John Sentamu, cautioned: “The canon is already very, very permissive. So when you are amending it from mandatory to occasional, look carefully at what it is you are amending.”

At the opening of the synod meeting, Church of England leaders drew on Catholic doctrines in an attempt to frame a neighbourly discourse of love and respect in advance of the crucial final vote on women bishops on Monday.

The Archbishop of York John Sentamu invited the leading US Evangelical Jim Wallis, a spiritual adviser to US President Barack Obama, to address synod members and then preach on the “Uncommon Good”. Wallis, whose wife Joy Carroll is a former member of the synod and was among the first women to be ordained priest, defined the concept of the common good as “all responsible for all”.

Mr Wallis in particular praised Pope Francis, who he said had transformed the conversation with young people, not by trying to be superman, but simply by being “vicar of Christ” and doing and saying what people think Christians are supposed to do and say.

Citing St John Chrysostom, he said the most perfect definition of being a Christian was doing the common good, because that was what loving your neighbour consisted of. Wallis contrasted this with the “dysfunctional” political climate in Washington. He criticised modern politics and markets. “Don’t trust politics or the market, which are riddled with sin,” he said, and warned that the power of sin must not be under-estimated.

He said the theology of the church he grew up in was in effect “save a few people from hell and judge all the others”.

“Loving our neighbour is what will restore our credibility as a Church.” Otherwise the next generation will simply move on from religion. “Religion makes a big mistake when its primary posture is to protect itself and its own interests. God is personal but never private.” The privatisation of faith had led to people walking away, he said.

Before preaching at the synod Eucharist at York Minister, Mr Wallis spent the afternoon and evening addressing and taking part in workshops with members of the synod, on the eve of the all-important vote on women bishops.

“The common good has become quite uncommon. That’s a tremendous problem and, for us, a great opportunity,” he said. “Our life together can be better. Ours is such a shallow and selfish age and we are in need of conversion.”

He praised the Church of England for the amount of work it is doing on the subject.

He said the largest growing affiliation in the US is now “none”.

“I call them the nones. I love the nones. I love the other nuns too.” Most of the nones believe in God. “They just don’t want to affiliate with religion because of what we have or have not done.”

This presented an opportunity to shake up public life as well as for evangelisation. “Because what they are attracted to are those who are doing something to change their communities.”

Although it was not on the agenda, discussions outside the official chamber at York were dominated by the subject of assisted dying after a surprise intervention by a former Archbishop of Canterbury, Lord Carey of Clifton, who wrote in yesterday’s Daily Mail that he had changed his mind on the issue. Lord Carey will now back Lord Falconer’s Assisted Dying Bill on its Second Reading in the House of Lords this week. At the same time, Archbishop Welby wrote in The Times of why he could never support assisted dying and believes the Bill is “mistaken and dangerous”.

The Church of England, which has consistently opposed the Bill and called for the status quo to be maintained, shifted its stance in response. The Bishop of Carlisle, James Newcome, called for a Royal Commission which he said would allow the “important issue” to be discussed at length. He said the bill should be withdrawn to allow the inquiry to take place. Lord Falconer rejected his plea.

___________________________________________________________________________

Ruth Gledhill, a well-known Anglican Religious Correspondent, has cooperated with Liz Dodds in this ‘Tablet’ Report of the Church of England General Synod held during the past week. 

The ‘Tablet’ is the premier Roman Catholic newspaper in the U.K., whose articles generally reflect a pretty balanced view of religious affairs in the U.K. and around the world, and this article gives an even broader view than the Anglican ‘Church Times’ of the inter-faith impact of the recent decision of the General Synod of the C.of E. to go ahead with the ordination of Women Bishops in the national Church.

Predictably, as the Roman Catholic Church has never authorised the ministry of women as either priests or bishops,  the official R.C. response to this action of the General Synod has been fairly negative, except that those responding on behalf of the Church have expressed the hope that – despite the obvious growing gap between the doctrine of our two Churches – this will not derail the current work of the ARCIC partners towards the eventual achievement of organic unity.

In view of the fact that Pope Francis himself has expressed the opinion that the Roman Catholic Church must do more to encourage  women into partnership in the Church – even though current R.C. doctrine does not allow for women’s ordination – one may wonder how long this patriarchal situation will remain to block the possibility of a deeper union with both the Orthodox and Roman Catholic Churches.

When all is said and done – on this issue of women’s ministry – it would seem that the Church of England has now come to a decision in line with most Anglican Churches of the West, that the image and likeness of God in both women and men should inform and affect issues of the joint responsibility for leadership and sacerdotal ministry. In line with the insistence of the Apostle Paul that, “In Christ, there is neither male nor female”.

On others issues tackled by the General Synod this week; perhaps the most important is that of its reaction to the plan of the British Government to debate the problem of assisted death – in a situation where a person is deemed to be suffering from a terminal illness and wishes to be allowed to die. While most religious bodies – including the leadership of the Church of England – seem opposed to the proposed legislation; there are people, like Archbishop Desmond Tutu, and former Archbishop George Carey, who advocate a properly supervised process that would allow for medical intervention that would release a person from unbearable suffering.

The plan to liberalise regulations for clergy dress in certain ministerial situations would appear to have advocates, who argue for a less restrictive code of dress for non-Eucharistic occasions, where a less formal attire for the officiating clergy might prove more encouraging to those being ministered to. Arguments against are based on the perceived need for clergy to be recognisable in their dress, in order to indicate the spiritual significance of the ministry they perform – especially at the Eucharist. This latter would certainly be my own thought on the subject.

All in all, this would seem to be a very good summary of what went on the the General Synod.

(See also: http://religiondispatches.org/female-bishops-in-church-of-england-is-a-good-step-but-its-just-a-step/  )

Father Ron Smith, Christchurch, New Zealand

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

‘Chaos Rhetoric’ – Tool of the Religious Right in the U.S.

 

HOW CONSERVATIVE CHRISTIAN WOMEN CAME TO CLAIM “TRUE” FEMINISM

 
cwa2
 
Title:Righteous Rhetoric: Sex, Speech, and the Politics of Concerned Women for America
Author:Leslie Dorrough Smith
Publisher:Oxford University Press
Release Date:April, 2014

Concerned Women for America (CWA) was founded in 1979 by Beverly LaHaye, wife of conservative activist—and later Left Behind co-author—Tim LaHaye. Irritated by the ascendance of Betty Friedan’s National Organization for Women (NOW), LaHaye founded CWA to represent traditionalist women who balked at feminist “liberation.” Since its inception, the group has worked to bring “biblical values” to bear on the American political process, with special attention to issues of sex and gender. Over the past three decades, CWA has become a powerful political force, claiming over half a million members.

Leslie Dorrough Smith is Assistant Professor of Religious Studies at Avila University in Kansas City, Missouri. Her book, Righteous Rhetoric: Sex, Speech, and the Politics of Concerned Women for America, published this spring by Oxford University Press, provides the first full-length analysis of CWA rhetoric. Smith situates CWA within a long tradition of American political discourse concerning sex and gender, explaining how the group’s public arguments are calibrated to best persuade their audiences.

RD’s Eric C. Miller talked with Smith about her project.

What prompted your interest in the rhetoric of American conservative Protestants (ACP), and what drew you to Concerned Women for America (CWA) in particular?

As with many scholars, I suspect, my interest was at least partly autobiographical. I grew up in an environment steeped in conservative Protestant thought, although much of my exposure to these ideas wasn’t overtly tied to politics. When I began to study religion formally and saw those strong political ties at work, I wanted to better understand the dynamics causing large numbers of people to adopt the interests of CWA and other Christian Right groups even when those ideas don’t necessarily have clear factual backing.

I felt that a thoroughgoing treatment of how public persuasion and belief formation happens had been mostly ignored in scholarship, as most scholars simply see finite groups with finite beliefs, rather than asking critical questions about how people develop sympathies for certain concepts in the first place. That was where my interest in rhetoric really began.

I thought that the best way to dissect the persuasive power of the Christian Right was to choose a particularly influential group that was not only representative of the larger movement, but one that held formidable influence over the sex and gender issues that are so central to almost every other platform that the movement supports. CWA was a natural choice: it has a noteworthy presence on conservative and other media outlets; it maintains a strong grassroots base; and, having been in existence for several decades, it has longevity on its side.

In addition, its identity as a women’s group has been a very critical part of how it promotes its authority to speak on sex and gender issues. Historically, women have been both the most vocal proponents and opponents of the liberalization of sex, gender, and reproduction laws. If we take seriously that gender – as just one of many forms of social control – is an important litmus test to gauge the power relationships in a culture, then it makes sense to focus on a group that amplifies its gendered identity as a major aspect of its authority.

Much of the book is focused on what you call “chaos rhetoric,” using CWA as a case study. What is chaos rhetoric, and how does it work?

Chaos rhetoric is my term for a type of speech that invokes widespread public appeal through its deployment of specific symbols designed to create a heightened sense of social chaos and threat (rather than the order and security that scholars often tout when describing the Christian Right).

By carefully manufacturing these negative emotions, the group is in a prime position to offer its own political platforms as the resolution to the threats that they construct. One could simply call chaos rhetoric a fear tactic, but I thought this was too simplistic, since I was more interested in looking at how, when, and under what circumstances CWA chose to portray certain things as chaotic or fearful rather than presuming that those emotions were self-evident or natural. In other words, what is deemed frightening or threatening at one moment is often a non-event several years, or even months, later – it all depends on how the political and cultural winds are blowing.

Yet chaos rhetoric is a technique not only of persuasion, but also of masquerade. In the book I detail how chaos rhetoric serves four critical functions, two of which – creating urgency and inciting activism – are fairly predictable persuasive techniques. But CWA’s chaos rhetoric also performs the dual functions of defensive argumentation and rationale-deflection, which are processes by which attention is shifted away from CWA and its perhaps less popular rationales for advocacy and onto more emotion-evoking platforms.

These are both really effective ways for the group to change more imperceptibly simply by convincing the audience to concentrate elsewhere.

For example, CWA has frequently attempted to portray homosexuality as a public health threat, which it has done through studies that show things like an elevated risk for domestic violence among gay couples, or that pinpoint elevated suicide rates among gay teens. Rather than describe the more subjective discomfort that characterize its members’ homophobia, or talk about theologies of homophobia (neither of which is a particularly persuasive tactic if the point is to attract a diverse audience), CWA persuades best by portraying homosexuality as a threat to something that virtually everyone values—their health.

Deflecting the rationale from religious particulars or gut feelings onto a more “legitimate” concern helps to make the message sound relevant; in all honesty, if CWA were really concerned with public health issues, then they’d be discussing more than just the health risks associated with homosexuality. Moreover, focusing attention on its opponents (but less on itself) allows CWA to shift its own agendas more imperceptibly.

As the message about gay rights as a health threat grows stale, loses public appeal, or is otherwise debunked, it is abandoned for a new one that accomplishes a similar effect. But once the similar effect is no longer possible to maintain, the group will be pushed to rework its stance on homosexuality, even if incrementally, so as to preserve its public relevancy. In this case, that might mean the shift from seeing homosexual identity as a sin to regarding the practice of homosexuality as a sin – that nuance, however slight, provides some wiggle room that gives the group material to work with in crafting new rhetoric.

What this shows, then, is that the real persuasive force of chaos rhetoric lies in knowing how to repeatedly rework an opponent’s identity so that they remain perpetually threatening, and crafting one’s own rationale so that it always seems relevant.

You mention that other scholars have associated conservative Protestant speech with “order and security.” But you see it as very flexible and adaptable.

Yes – and here I think that scholars have tended to confuse these groups’ self-perceptions and public portrayals with the sociological dynamics that are actually sustaining them.  While I think it’s true that Christian Right groups are attractive to the public because they provide the sense of a high degree of order and stability in times of change (which is something that many scholars argue), I think that there’s more going on under the surface that’s quite pliable and dynamic.

As the previous discussion on chaos rhetoric shows, I’m interested in how CWA uses a series of rhetorical techniques that permits them to continuously shift their platforms as is politically expedient, leaving little that is actually stable about them over time, even as they continue to promote the eternality of their claims. Many have also noted this trend, and usually they describe these changes as smaller or peripheral in light of a rigidly maintained core. Others have simply called it hypocrisy.

Neither one of these explanations was satisfying to me, however, as they did not seem to acknowledge the gravity of the shifts that are often taking place, nor the normalcy (and necessity) of this practice to maintain social relevancy and thereby incite public persuasion. For instance, in the 1960s and 70s, CWA’s founder, Beverly LaHaye, wrote extensively about the dangers of working motherhood, for she saw it as a feminist ploy to literally destroy families and create gender-free societies run by socialist governments.

But as working motherhood became much more common and accepted, the organization now discusses working motherhood as a positive thing so long as one finds a balance between personal and professional commitments. Rather than see this as a small tweak or minor issue, this is actually a change of great magnitude, for it involves CWA having to publicly re-work major facets of its own philosophy on gender in ways that directly interrogate some of its older, most basic, claims. The point is that all groups that seek to remain persuasive must also remain relevant, and this is an especial challenge for groups that have a lot of social capital built up in the appearance that they hold strong, eternal platforms.

CWA uses that flexibility to infiltrate and co-opt other important symbols, to suggest that they represent the true family, the true America – even the true feminism.

CWA’s ability to deploy strong, emotional symbols in such a way that they can transform themselves into whatever image is powerful at the moment is, in my mind, the group’s greatest distinction.

In particular, though, its claim to the term “feminism” was one of the more surprising elements of my research, and it really exhibits the pliability and dynamism that I mentioned above. As CWA tells the story, the organization first began as a campaign against liberal feminism, and for most of its history, it has portrayed feminism as destructive and immoral. Despite this, over the past few years CWA has begun to describe itself as the embodiment of “true,” or conservative, feminism. It does this by locating itself within a long lineage of nineteenth- and early twentieth-century Christian female activist groups organized to clean up sin in American culture, calling these women the “original” feminists.

The likely reason for this switch is that it’s attempting to appeal to a younger crowd that takes many of the social advances of 1960s-70s feminism for granted. Not surprisingly, over the past several years the organization has started to target its rhetoric at younger women who don’t necessarily find that term objectionable. In other words, it’s a smart marketing move.

Of course, this is frustrating for those of us who identify as feminists, but as I’ve mentioned earlier, using your opponent’s symbols for your own gain is a really normal tactic that all groups perform, liberal advocacy groups included. So if we’re looking for a source of distinction that sets CWA or the Christian Right apart from other social movements, we won’t find it here.

You offer many examples of CWA speakers and writers being tricky or manipulative in their arguments, but ultimately you conclude that they aren’t really different from other advocacy groups in this respect.

I wouldn’t use the words “tricky” or “manipulative,” because those words imply that there’s a certain moral ineptness inherent in chaos rhetoric. What I’d claim, rather, is what I said earlier: most of us tolerate chaos rhetoric quite well when it’s being used by a group that we like. In other words, various methods of persuasion (in this case, chaos rhetoric) are called “tricky” or “manipulative” only when a group that we don’t favor shows up to the party.

And that, really, is much of the point of the book, wherein I grapple with whether chaos rhetoric is a unique practice. I demonstrate that it’s not, as I show how many other, seemingly different, groups (including the very scholars who study the Christian Right) do the very same thing: they use chaos rhetoric to portray their own ideological opponents as a force that violates everything that is good, noble, productive, etc. so that they can represent their own perspectives as more logical or mainstream.

It may seem on the surface that scholars would be very unlikely to use chaos rhetoric, since they are supposed to maintain a degree of scholarly objectivity that others don’t employ. What I try to show is that this is not the case at all, for scholars have their own agendas that they use to formulate the very categories that make their analyses possible. Sometimes this happens in more overt ways, as when one finds a statement at the end of a book on the Christian Right wherein the scholar reassures the reader that, while his/her analysis has been objective, the Christian Right should nevertheless be feared and opposed, for it represents a force antithetical to true democracy, liberty, and diversity. Whether or not one concludes that this is accurate is beside the point, for this is still chaos rhetoric at work.

To be very clear, this is not my statement in support of CWA, the Christian Right, and/or conservative politics. It is also not a statement on the ethics of chaos rhetoric. My point is simply that chaos rhetoric is not only very effective, but it is also ubiquitous. Almost everyone who wants to persuade will end up using it at some point or another, and this reality pushes an important question: if chaos rhetoric is a central tool in garnering political power, and if it is absolutely everywhere, then what really sets apart Christian Right groups from others? While I believe that there are some elements of distinction held by the Christian Right, on the whole, I think that they’re rather ordinary. What is extraordinary about them is their ability to easily manipulate so many symbols at one time in a way that most other groups can’t.

Do you think Christian advocates should be held to higher standards of honesty than other political organizations, if only because they claim Christian values?

This question presupposes that chaos rhetoric represents something inherently dishonest. Obviously, though, it’s possible for a strong message to be deemed accurate just as much as it is for it to be deemed inaccurate. I’m also wondering why we presume that Christians have a greater moral obligation than any other group. This, to me, is one way that American society grants authority to religious groups in such a way that they don’t even have to work for it: we equate religiosity with morality.

While I realize that Christian (and other religious) groups often openly tout their moral prowess, I tend to see this as a form of social advertising – a tactic to reinforce their authority – rather than a statement of actual difference.

It would be nice to know that what we hear from public groups are always accurate renderings of factual events, but since reality is often muddy, subjective, and nuanced, this implodes the idea that there’s a clear “moral” platform on which we all can agree. There’s also the basic sociological fact that Christians exist in culture, and so as cultural players, engage in cultural acts. Producing chaos rhetoric is a very normal cultural act because it’s an effective way to gain authority and support, which is necessary for any social group to survive. Expecting groups to exist outside of the very culture on which they rely to survive is asking them to perform cultural suicide.

So do I wish it were different? Certainly. But I’m not sure that my wish is practical, given the ways that society works.

___________________________________________________________________________

Author Leslie D. Smith, Assistant Professor of Religious Studies at Avila University in Kansas City, Missouri, writes of what she calls ‘Chaos Rhetoric’. Her book, Righteous Rhetoric: Sex, Speech, and the Politics of Concerned Women for America.

This is a most interesting theory, of how conservative women in America have used the threat of social chaos to fight the cause of liberality within the church and society of North America. Their thesis has been dependent, largely, on scaring people to think that tolerance of homosexuality, for instance, is the road to social upheaval and the breakdown of the nation. Her book sounds as though it will challenge many fundamentalistic understandings of biblical certainty on issues of importance in our world of today. Must get a copy!

Father Ron Smith, Christchurch, New Zealand

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

An American Episcopalian View of C.of E. & Women Bishops

Women bishops? How American Episcopalians view Church of England vote. (+video)

By Harry Bruinius, Staff writer JULY 15, 2014

  • Nigel Roddis/Reuters
    View Caption

When the Church of England voted Monday to allow women to become ordained as bishops, it broke another “stained glass ceiling.”

A number of Protestant denominations, especially in the United States, have been ordaining women for more than a century, but Monday’s vote holds special significance, given the church’s history and place in Christianity.

Indeed, the Church of England, the mostly-symbolic mother church for an 80-million-member global Anglican community that includes 2.1 million American Episcopalians, is one of the oldest and most conservative of Christian traditions to officially break in full from the long-held requirement of an all-male clergy.

Recommended: Are you smarter than an atheist? A religious quiz

“I don’t think you can overstate the fact that the Church of England allowing women to take up the role of bishop is going to change the church,” said the Very Reverend June Osborne, dean of the Salisbury Cathedral in southern England, after the vote. “I think it’s going to change our society as well because it’s one more step in accepting that women are really and truly equal in spiritual authority, as well as in leadership in society.”

Like their liturgical cousins in the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox traditions – which together make up approximately 1.5 billion of the world’s 2.2 billion Christians – Anglicans generally adhere to Christian rites and rituals that go back at least 1,500 years, if not longer, scholars say. And each believe in the doctrine of “apostolic succession,” the historical claim that all ordinations to Christian ministry follow an unbroken ritual of laying on of hands, going back to the apostles.

For Catholics and Orthodox, the ordination of women remains strictly forbidden for this reason. Christ laid hands on his male apostles, who in turn laid hands on the next generation of ordained male clergy, and so on to the present day. The continuity of this tradition is seen as absolute, and the requirement of an all-male clerical hierarchy is considered a near-infallible teaching.

In the 20th century, however, several local Anglican bishops began to ordain women as priests, generating a furor. The Anglican diocese of Hong Kong and Macao conferred holy orders to a female in 1944 and 1971, and American Episcopal bishops ordained 11 women to the priesthood in 1974. In the Episcopal diocese of Massachusetts in 1989, Barbara Harris became the first ordained bishop in the history of the worldwide Anglican communion.

“I do think that the ordination of women in the Episcopal church really is the gift, I would say, that the Anglican church gives to Christians worldwide,” says Jennifer Hughes, professor of history at the University of California, Riverside, and an ordained Episcopal priest. “Especially since their tradition is anchored in the sacramental and eucharistic tradition.”

The Church of England, too, had begun to ordain women to the priesthood in 1992, and observers say the first bishop could be elected by the end of the year.

But it’s not simply about ordination, many church observers say, but also about what women bring to Christian liturgical ministry.

“[It’s] important to emphasize as new generations of women seek ordination … that women’s ordination rites can, and should, do more than authorize women to serve in a male-dominated profession,” says Jill Crainshaw, professor of worship and liturgical theology at the Divinity School at Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem, N.C., in an e-mail. “Women clergy challenge faith communities to reconsider core values such as how they interpret scripture and how they live out ministry.”

Professor Hughes, who Ms. Harris welcomed into the Episcopal Church when she converted over a decade ago, says the same.

“Certainly my experience as a woman at the altar, with a sacramental ministry, celebrating the eucharist, has been not just a gift, but it’s an incredible experience,” she says.

Though ordained an Episcopalian, Hughes still considers herself a Roman Catholic, the faith she in which she was born and raised. “I was never a lapsed Catholic,” she says. “I’ve begun to think of myself, and to speak of myself as a Roman Catholic woman ordained in the Episcopal Church.”

“I think I’m rare in saying that, I’m unusual articulating that, but I feel given the politics, especially now, I think its really important to assert that, because that’s really the truth,” she says. “I feel strongly about women being equal at every level in the ‘church universal,’ and having access to every level of ministry.”

Monday’s vote by the Church of England, she says, is part of an inevitable and ongoing process in global Christianity.

“I think when you let women [become bishops], they come into step with themselves as vehicles of God’s power,” Hughes says. “And the roof kind of gets blown off of things. I think it’s enough power in some ways to blow right through that stained-glass ceiling, the kind of power that emerges from that experience of ministry.”

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Delay in Women Bishops Was a Blessing ?

Women bishops: delaying this historic vote was a blessing in disguise

Today, in a historic victory, the General Synod of the Church of England has paved the way for women bishops. About time, says chaplain Jemima Thackray, who once opposed the idea. But let’s not be fooled into thinking it’s plain sailing for the CofE from here on

 A crowd of hundreds of women priests stands with Justin Welby
A historic victory has declared that women bishops can be part of the Church of England Photo: John Stillwell/Pool
 

I am also pleased that the tone of the debate was one of mutual respect and understanding; a change of attitude thanks largely to Archbishop Welby bringing to bear his experience of reconciliation work with militia groups in Africa.

“We’re not a political party where you chuck out the ones you don’t agree with,” he said over the weekend. “The church is a family and you may disagree vehemently with each other but you have to live together.” This approach has been a balm to the wounds inflicted by historical back biting over the issue.

Yet, at the same time as celebrating this victory, I feel exhausted to have been through yet another Synod debate on the subject and weary at the thought of the reconciliation efforts yet to come.

For although women are now certain to be bishops – that is not in question – the new legislation allows parishes who disagree with female oversight to request a male bishop. And if this is disputed then provision has been made for an ombudsman to settle the matter.

And disputes there will be.

Archbishop Justin Welby. Photo: Geoff Pugh

The lazy part of me wishes that the liberal wing of the church could just bulldoze right over the evangelicals and Anglo Catholics who oppose women in leadership, offering no concessions and allowing the church to get on with its primary task of caring for the communities it serves. In my even wilder dreams, I imagine the church at the vanguard of every progressive cause, leading the way in the campaign for nuclear disarmament for example, or gay rights, rather than always being the slowest on the uptake of every social development.

Yet, perhaps the fact that the church always seems to lag behind the rest of society is a blessing in disguise. Perhaps the silver lining of the funereal pace at which it catches up is that change, when it finally comes, is taken up much more holistically – with hearts won rather than just minds beaten into submission.

The unintended consequence of rapid social change is that society often preaches before it practises. In the secular world, a woman can lead a multinational corporation and yet insidious sexism in her boardrooms will still be rife. There’s supposedly been a sexual revolution and yet page 3 still exists. No one is saying that the journey towards gender equality should be slowed down – it’s the job of the courageous few to drive us all forward – but perhaps the one benefit of delay, or resistance, is that those at the back are given a chance to catch up. And so it is with the church: maybe the endless quibbling about women bishops will mean we’ve ended up with something much more sustainable and inclusive in the end.

Rev Rose Hudson-Wilkin is expected to become Britain’s first woman bishop. Photo: Clara Molden

I say this as someone who has learnt from personal experience. My confession: ten years ago I would have been standing alongside the likes of Susie Leafe and those other opponents of their own sex being in church leadership (indeed, after the 2012 vote is was revealed thatalmost half the opponents to the episcopate being opened-up to women were, in fact, women).

I agreed with them, on theological grounds, that “the spiritual direction of the church should primarily be in the hands of men.” I believed this, for a time, in my early twenties – not because I had some kind of weird self-hating misogynistic complex, but because I had discovered a faith which made me feel fully alive for the first time in my life. I thought that honouring it meant labouring under the misapprehension that the old ways were the best ways.

I read the Bible literally, thinking that respecting it meant reading it like a car manual – a book of exact instructions for life, not a collection of beautiful writings which are a launch pad into an interpretative adventure. The journey to where I am now – being the person I was created to be – has been slow. And I’d never have got there if I’d just been shouted down by liberals. I made it through many hours of gracious discussion and prayer. The result is that I now really feel what I believe.

When, like me, the church does finally arrive late to the party it is often, miraculously, treated like the guest of honour. I’ve spoken to several non-church-going young women about the issue of female bishops. All of them applauded the church for today’s decision-making, rather than seeing it as an outrage that it’s been legally possible for a state sanctioned institution to exclude women from its top jobs for so long.

So, as the mediated dispute rumbles on over the coming months – and the church faces yet more controversial debates – I hope society continues to have both high and low expectations of us. As Archbishop Welby says, the church is a family – and that, as we all know, takes a lot of work to get right.

Join the conversation around women bishops with Telegraph Wonder Women

___________________________________________________________________________

In this article from ‘The Telegraph’, by Anglican chaplain, Jemima Thackray, she is able to admit that her former opposition to Women Bishops in the Church of England came from her early conservative beginnings in the Faith. Believing in the literalist understanding of Bible passages concerning the patriarchal nature of the Judeo-Christian ethos in the Early Church, Jemima was one of those women who had thought at the time that leadership was meant to be the sole prerogative of men, and therefore un-Biblical (un-natural?) for women.

However, with the progression of her own situation in the Church, she has come to realise the truth of the later discovery of Saint Paul that – as far as ministry and mission are concerned – and indeed in every other way connected with the propagation of the Faith – “In Christ, there is neither male nor female, Greek nor Jew, master nor slave, but all are baptized by the same Holy Spirit”.

Perhaps next Tuesday’s celebration of the apostolic life and witness of Mary Magdalene (Feast-day, July 22) will help other women to better understand that Jesus himself ‘sent’  (apostello) Mary of Magdala to bring the Good News of his resurrection to the male disciples. The reality there, was that those male disciples did not believe her. Why? Because she was a woman! Things do need to change – especially in the age of enlightenment when women are valued as co-workers in the Mission of the Church as well as the secular world of industry, commerce and learning – not to mention international diplomacy and states-womanship (H.M. The Queen!).

We, in New Zealand, have been used for some time to the ministry of women in our ACANZP setting in the South Pacific. We realise the strength and compassion that women bring into the proclamation and service of the Gospel. Our very own Bishop of Christchurch, The Rt.Reverend Victoria Matthews (a former diocesan bishop in the Anglican Church of Canada, and current member of the A.C.C. Faith and Order Commission) is a splendid example of the influence of a woman – in leading our Diocese of Christchurch into a viable post-earthquake situation, which is proving to be a task that even the most capable of men might find more than daunting.

I thank God for the courage, insight and pastoral and leadership skills of a Woman Bishop

Father Ron Smith, Christchurch, New Zealand

 

 

Father Ron Smith

 

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Rowan Williams – Man of Prayer

Rowan Williams: how Buddhism helps me pray

Former Archbishop of Canterbury reveals intense daily meditation ritual influenced by Buddhism and Orthodox mysticism

Rt Revd Rowan Williams

Rowan Williams: ‘There was a foolish, vain part of me which said, “Ooh, an important job, how nice”‘ Photo: Fiona Hanson/PA

He also spends time pacing slowly and repeatedly prostrating himself as part of an intense early morning ritual of silent meditation and prayer.

The normally private former Archbishop has given a glimpse of his personal devotions in an article for the New Statesman explaining the power of religious ritual in an increasingly secular world.

Lord Williams has spoken in the past about how in his youth he contemplated becoming a monk as well as joining the Orthodox church.

He explained that he draws daily inspiration from the practice, common to both the Greek and Russian orthodox churches, of meditating while repeatedly reciting the “Jesus Prayer”, which says: “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy upon me, a sinner”.

“Over the years increasing exposure to and engagement with the Buddhist world in particular has made me aware of practices not unlike the ‘Jesus Prayer’ and introduced me to disciplines that further enforce the stillness and physical focus that the prayer entails,” he explained

“Walking meditation, pacing very slowly and coordinating each step with an out-breath, is something I have found increasingly important as a preparation for a longer time of silence.

“So: the regular ritual to begin the day when I’m in the house is a matter of an early rise and a brief walking meditation or sometimes a few slow prostrations, before squatting for 30 or 40 minutes (a low stool to support the thighs and reduce the weight on the lower legs) with the ‘Jesus Prayer': repeating (usually silently) the words as I breathe out, leaving a moment between repetitions to notice the beating of the heart, which will slow down steadily over the period.”

Far from it being like a “magical invocation”, he explained that the routine helps him detach himself from “distracted, wandering images and thoughts”, picturing the human body as like a ‘cave’ through which breath passes.

“If you want to speak theologically about it, it’s a time when you are aware of your body as simply a place where life happens and where, therefore, God ‘happens’: a life lived in you,” he added.

He went on to explain that those who perform such rituals regularly could reach “advanced states” and become aware of an “unbroken inner light”.

____________________________________________________________________________

This Article from Religious Affairs Editor of ‘The Telegraph’, John Bingham, offers a view of the former Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams (now Lord Williams), as a person of prayer. Despite his obviously busy life at the University, Bishop Rowan is wedded to his discipline of rigorous daily prayer and meditation. The fact that he still feels it necessary to resort to this self-discipline speaks volumes about the former archbishop’s spiritual life.

In some ways, Rowan was quite the wrong person to become the Archbishop of Canterbury, His deep spirituality and academic insights – coupled with a clearly liberal sense of justice at the time of his so promising appointment – seemed to be dogged with inhibition against any initiative that was calculated to divide the Anglican Communion Churches – from conservative to liberal, and evangelical to catholic. Some say he was probably too spiritual for the task of an administrator.

A liberal catholic himself, Archbishop Rowan was thought by his similarly inclined contemporaries in the Church to have been the right choice to follow in the footsteps of his predecessor, George Carey, whose evangelical provenance had led to a symbiotic relationship with certain Primates of Provincial Churches who were intent on condemning homosexuality as a blot on the escutcheon of Christianity as they interpreted the Scriptures.

Archbishop Rowan’s earliest transgression of his liberal ideology came with the rejection by the conservative Evangelicals in the Church of England of his choice of The Revd.Jeffrey John to become Bishop of Reading. Despite the encouragement of the Bishop of Oxford in choosing Fr.Jeffrey for the Reading suffragan bishopric; Archbishop Rowan decided to formally request J.J. to resile from this position, because of the conservative opposition –  both at home and abroad – to his appointment. Father Jeffrey was a partnered gay priest..  

From this point onwards in his tenure as Archbishop, ++Rowan was chivvied by the opponents of the inclusion of homosexual clergy in the Church to not do anything that would cause them to join in the growing movement in the mainly African Churches in the Communion towards the establishment of what came to be called the Global South, and ultimately the GAFCON group of Churches, that would eventually form their own conservative Anglican sodality based on what they saw as a biblically-based ‘orthodoxy’ founded on their ‘Jerusalem Statement’, formulated by its constituent membership. This new organisation opted to resile from any association with TEC and the Anglican Church of Canada, on account of their acceptance of gay people as part and parcel of their respective Church bodies. Some Primates of GAFCON also refused to attend the meeting of Lambeth and the Primates Conferences.

Through all of these schismatic tendencies within the Churches of the Communion, Archbishop Rowan was concerned to do what he could as Primus-inter-pares (First among equals) of the Communion Primates to keep the Communion together. Part of his strategy was to help in the construction of the ‘Anglican Covenant’ movement, which sought to set out the basic tenets on which the diverse Anglican Provinces could agree to live together. Unfortunately, this caused some concern amongst the more liberal Churches of the Communion, who refused to be bound together by what they saw as a restrictive embargo against new initiatives in their back-yards – including, those initiatives already embarked upon by TEC and the Anglican Church of Canada in support of the LGBT community in their territorial jurisdiction.

With the setting up of rival Anglican Churches in Canada and North America – by Primates of the Global South/GAFCON Primates, the situation of schismatic separation from the locally-founded TEC and A.C.of C. proceeded apace – independently of the Anglican Consultative Council, which had counselled conservative Provinces of the Communion against such acts of border-crossing.

It was in this atmosphere of division and emerging schismatic activity that the Anglican Covenant Movement stalled. Reaction from both conservative and liberal provinces was generally negative, leading to a Communion-wide tendency to rejection of the Covenant. It was in the wake of this debacle that Archbishop Rowan decided it was time for him to make way for a successor.

One has high hopes of the leadership of Archbishop Justin Welby, whose Evangelical provenance includes a significant influence from his time as a lay-person with the ‘Alpha’ organisation in London. His subsequent ordination as priest led to his time as a Minister of Reconciliation with Coventry Cathedral. In this capacity, he carried out valuable work with the Churches of Africa and their involvement with the oil industry, in which he had previously worked as an executive before his ordination. ++Justin, too, is a prayerful Archbishop, with a Roman Catholic Spiritual Director, and his own links with the monastic movement through the small ecumenical Community he has living with him at Lambeth Palace.

Father Ron Smith, Christchurch, New Zealand

 

 

 

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

C. of E. General Synod Welcomes Women Bishops Legislation

Jubilation as Church of England’s synod votes to allow female bishops

Anglican lay members vote by three to one to back historic move with even larger majorities among bishops and clergy
 – The Guardian, Monday 14 July 2014
Church of England Clerics take a selfie as they celebrate after the vote to allow female bishops

Clerics at the Church of England synod in York take a ‘selfie’ as they celebrate after the vote to allow female bishops. Photograph: Lindsey Parnaby/AFP/Getty

The Church of England ended at a stroke the male domination of its hierarchy as the General Synod voted on Monday to allow women to be ordained as bishops for the first time.

Applause in the public gallery at the meeting in York greeted theoverwhelming vote in favour of the measure. With a two-to-one vote for the move needed, 152 lay members of the synod were in favour and 45 against. Majorities among bishops and clergy were even greater.

The historic decision came amid threats of parliamentary intervention, and with the archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, having prepared contingency plans to dissolve the synod and call fresh elections if the vote had gone the other way. Welby said after the debate that he was “absolutely delighted by the result; grateful to God and to answered prayers”, and that he expected the appointment of a female bishop “to happen as rapidly as possible”.

A crisis was averted by a change of mind, and vote, among lay members. A previous attempt in 2012 failed when 74 lay members voted against, preventing the attainment of the majority among the laity that was needed. The church voted in 1992 to ordain female priests but has spent the last two decades resisting the next step.

But it took a closing speech of astonishing force and passion by a blind evangelical Christian, who became a managing director of Lloyds bank after he had lost his sight, to win over the last waverers. Speaking to the key evangelical community opposed to the measure, John Spence told them: “Your faith is my faith, is all of our faith, and every one of us has a vital role to ensure that the searing vision of the risen Christ is taken out into this country. Trust not misplaced. You like me will come to see … I am confident that we can walk hand in hand, and return the risen Christ to his rightful place at the centre of this country, its conscience and its culture.”

The vote means that the first woman might become a suffragan (assistant) bishop in the spring next year, and her appointment could be announced before the new year. But because the legislative process will not be complete before the synod next meets, in November, it will not be legal to place women on the shortlist for consideration as a diocesan bishop before then.

This means that the earliest a woman might take her place in the synod’s house of bishops is next summer.

The first diocesan job to become open to women is Gloucester, whose next bishop will be chosen at a meeting in early January, followed by Oxford and then Newcastle. Michael Perham, the retiring bishop of Gloucester, said on Monday that sentiment in his diocese was very much in favour of women, and that only one vote had been cast against female bishops in the diocesan synod.

Twenty-seven of the earlier resistors had changed their minds, among them Tom Sutcliffe, who said the measure would now bring “episcopal femininity”, which would enrich the church.

The conservative evangelical block, which holds that men must never be taught by women, was not entirely pacified by the promise that a male bishop will be appointed who shares their view that the “headship” of the church must be male. Several of their speakers expressed the fear that if men and women were treated as equal in the church this would undermine the arguments against samesex marriage, which they now regard as a much more important battle.

Although the influential conservative evangelical Philip Giddings announced early in the debate that he would vote in favour of the new legislation, a number of speakers from his faction, many of them women, announced their continuing opposition and complained that they had been marginalised for their convictions.

But the Anglo-Catholics who had opposed female bishops on grounds of tradition yielded in larger numbers. They have not changed their views, but they are reconciled now to persisting in a church that rejects their understanding of the issue.

The bishop of Chelmsford, praised the spirit of good feeling, even among many of the losers: “The last thing Rowan Williams said to the synod, after the 2012 defeat, was: ‘When there is no trust, put trust in, and you will pull trust out’. And Justin has built his whole strategy on building trust, and making sure that no one feels at the end that they have lost. Of course, some people did, but we have managed good disagreement here. And that is significant for the next set of arguments, about gay marriage.”

________________________________________________________________

Granted that this report, by the Guardian’s Religious Correspondent, Andrew Brown, may espouse  a particular view of the result of the Church of England’s General Synod vote on the enablement of the Ordination of Women to the Episcopate in the C. of E.; there can be no doubt that the applause that greeted the decision reflected the majority feeling on the Synod floor.

Interesting, though, is the fact that it was not the Anglo-Catholics in the Synod that were to prove the most resistant to Women as Bishops (even though it was those of their number who left the Church of England for the R.C. Ordinariate after the ordination of women as priests), but rather the Conservative Evangelicals of ‘Reform’, that might have been the greatest threat to the vote for women bishops. However, in the words of one of them, quoted in this report:

‘ it took a closing speech of astonishing force and passion by a blind evangelical Christian, who became a managing director of Lloyds bank after he had lost his sight, to win over the last waverers. Speaking to the key evangelical community opposed to the measure, John Spence told them: “Your faith is my faith, is all of our faith, and every one of us has a vital role to ensure that the searing vision of the risen Christ is taken out into this country. Trust not misplaced. You like me will come to see … I am confident that we can walk hand in hand, and return the risen Christ to his rightful place at the centre of this country, its conscience and its culture.” ‘

What will need to be looked at now, in the wake of this overwhelming turn-around from the previous G.S. defeat of the legislation, is how the built-in provisions for conscientious objectors to the Measure will be administered to ensure maximum effectiveness of the combined House of Bishops that will result from the inclusion of women into that  formerly all-male precinct.

Father Ron Smith, Christchurch, New Zealand

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment
Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 245 other followers