Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Women Bishops - A Way Forward or a Way Out?

Being retired, the invitation to the meetings called following the debacle of the vote in Synod had meant I seem to be ineligible to attend. My present health would preclude it in any case. I was diagnosed as having a rather alarming lung abscess in the summer from which I am recovering gradually under the respiratory team at Frimley Park Hospital.

However, I would wish to add my voice, for what it is worth, to the disquiet resulting from this.  Before the vote it was very clear that we were betwixt two difficult outcomes. Passing the measure would have meant much internal wrangling over the Code (Codes?) of practice. Losing it would be the PR disaster it has become.
The latter case prevailed and the chattering classes and media have had a field day in which the appalling ignorance of most of them on church matters has been revealed and shown toxic. The point of the “No” vote regarding how to protect a sizeable minority seems to have been missed.

Unfortunately it is how to provide for that minority which worries me deeply.  If the recent opinion research is accurate, then the votes cast in the House of Laity reflected almost exactly the views of the laity, those sitting in the pews Sunday by Sunday.
I am still puzzled by the strength of the opposition so reflected. It has been remarkably steady despite the successful ministry of so many women priests. How to keep them on board under the ministry of a woman bishop looks impossible given their views on headship Knowing so many conservative evangelicals over the years I have been very aware of the cheerful way in which they depart to Free Churches, frequently Pentecostal, when problems arise.

My own position is still, much simplified, that as a “Catholic and Reformed” Church, the Reformed element is well expressed through women’s ministry.  I cannot accept, however, that making provision for the dissenting groups would make a woman bishop “second class” as some aver. It seems to me that they would be bishops, full stop, even though their territory could be circumscribed.  Besides which, there is the on-going problem of where a woman bishop would find a man bishop acceptable to the dissenters.

As to the theology, I feel that the New Testament is not the best place in which to start.
Many reputable theologians would argue with Tom Wright’s article in “The Times” this week. There were several pieces in it which some would regard as unsustainable.
In regard to bishops and presbyters, I am inclined to the view that for the most part these refer to the same office, the titles differing to fit with local civil administration.
As for “Apostles” and Deacons” the usage is not uniform to my mind.

Things gradually ossified into the three-fold separate orders after most of the New Testament had been written, or so it seems.
The gender of “Junian” – who knows?
Phoebe could have been a helper or servant rather than in holy orders. 
In terms of the theology of our orders we should perhaps remember that the Holy Spirit leads us into new truths as they are needed. “The other disciple”, presumably St. John, was the first to realise that a new theology of resurrection was to hand when he entered the empty tomb and “believed.” St. Mary Magdalene’s great gift followed.
An appeal based mainly on Old Testament examples of headship seems odd given the new dispensation with Christ as the (sole) head of the Church.
I hope that the meetings held up and down the country will be not too fractious or emotional. We need to get that kind of behaviour out of our system as soon as possible.

If we don’t then progress will be almost impossible. I fear that many of those in that substantial and solid minority of dissenters will simply find the matter an excuse and, assuming that they have not done so already, leave.

My best wishes to all,

Ted Baty

(The Reverend Doctor Edward Baty)