Women in the House of Bishops? Let them vote by proxy
From Brother Ivo:
The House of Bishops has taken a first step towards admitting a feminine perspective directly into its deliberations by a decision to invite eight women, elected on a regional basis from the Bishops’ senior staff teams, to attend its meetings as non-voting members. According to the Guardian, this has been welcomed by those representing the majority position within the CofE who seek an unqualified ‘seat at the top table’ for any suitably qualified person regardless of gender.
It is hoped by such people that this approach will inject a little oestrogen into the room and that this will fundamentally change the nature of what has already been termed ‘a boys club’. They also hope that the gradual nature of the change, falling short of acceding full voting rights, will prove a necessary but persuasive transition period.
One should never underestimate the value of developing cordial inter-personal relations. The Anglo-Irish Peace Agreement may have had its flaws and its critics, but few would deny that such progress as was made was founded on the human interactions between its participants. Few who saw it at the time forget the startlingly jokey, relaxed concluding press conference at which Ian Paisley, Martin McGuiness and Gerry Adams spoke publicly together for the first time.
Pleasing as this Episcopal development sounds, does it truly have the capacity to change hearts, minds, or votes?
I doubt it; it is preaching to the converted.
The House of Bishops voted overwhelmingly in favour of women bishops. It is hard to see how much more convinced they can become. So, while the internal ambience of the House of Bishops may well be improved by this initiative, and perhaps some new and useful hard truths will be heard, it is not within this benign environment that the matter will be advanced.
But it could be.
The outstanding opposition to women priests and bishops lies in the House of Laity and relies principally upon two linked doctrines, expressed in different ways.
Some, principally Anglo-Catholics, have an ongoing anxiety about ‘sacramental assurance’, whilst objectors of the more US-influenced Evangelical persuasion are troubled by women bishops undermining their doctrine of ‘Headship’, which is also sometimes described with reference to ‘Complementarianism’.
Brother Ivo does not share these opinions but has no desire to accidentally misrepresent, still less traduce them, so he offers to those unfamiliar with the concepts the following links for background information.
The Bishop of Liverpool used to agree with Headship but does not now, and HERE briefly are his reasons. These doctrines exist within parts of the Anglican Communion, but neither feature in the XXXIX Articles, nor are they currently officially recognised doctrines. Headship theology may have its place in the gathered congregations of Free Churches, but it is not in its natural habitat within the State Church whose history of continuous doctrine is currently bracketed by the two Supreme Governors Elizabeth I and Elizabeth II.
At the last Synod when the vote for women priests was lost by just 6 votes in the House of Laity, the final speech in opposition was presented by the Rev Angus Macleay of St Nicholas Church, Sevenoaks. His address has been described as ‘The Speech that Sealed The Vote, and is available HERE. His application of the ‘Headship’ principle earned some notoriety in 2010 when he issued a leaflet in his parish offering advice on how these ideas apply within normal married life.
Having read the objections to women's ministry presented in that way, together with his approach to marital governance in general, one thing is clear: hell will freeze over before he and those holding such views – and the few necessary votes in the General Synod – change their minds and accept any form of female authority anywhere near them or the congregations over which they have authority.
There is no magic compromise. Sadly, the Anglican Church cannot hold together asserting ‘Headship’ at the same time as affirming the full, valid, and undifferentiated ministry of male and female.
Having a handful of women deans, archdeacons or advisors around the table to share the tea and biscuits will not change the dynamic in those parts of the Church where it matters most. But one thing could make a difference.
Imagine the effect if eight (or more) bishops decided to break the deadlock and pledged themselves to vote exclusively as directed by their female colleagues until such time as women are authorised to enjoy a full and unencumbered status in the Church, in their own right. Female judgment and authority will have been exercised, albeit by proxy, but unconditionally nevertheless, and effectively, and on a real, practical and repeated basis. The ‘Headship’ issue would thereby be brought swiftly to a head.
While the debate might continue to remain technically stuck in the synodical quagmire, women would be exercising de facto if not de jure authority in the House of Bishops. Some offended by the exercise of that authority might feel obliged to leave early, although it might be unsafe to assume that this will necessarily happen. It would, however, take an award-winning decree of casuistry and chutzpah to remain, seeking to exercise a blocking vote against regularising that which is already happening.
It's not a pretty solution, but it is a solution which could be brought about by a few brave men exercising Headship and turning their backs on the current impotence of imaginary solutions.
(Posted by Brother Ivo)