[John Richardson (1950-2014) was a gifted teacher in the local church and further afield. He was in demand for church week-ends, conferences, and synods. As a Chaplain in North London for sixteen years and from 2000 imaginatively called by the then Vicar of Henham and Elsenham with Ugley, Dick Farr, to a post that gave time for research, writing and teaching, John's gifts blossomed. His students on The East Anglia Ministry (TEAM) course loved his work on Wisdom literature and his sardonic throw-away questions or images. He penned further incisive booklets on Bible books or issues: God, Sex & Marriage in 1 Corinthians 7 (1995, 1998) – utterly captivating from a potentially eccentric bachelor, or Revelation Unwrapped (1996) – John's favourite, or What God has made clean – "if we can eat prawns, why is gay sex wrong?" (2003), and others on the Cross of Christ or Law and Grace. His five talks on God and Marriage at the St Peter's (Harold Wood) week-end last September were extraordinary for their cosmic and cultural breadth and his breath-taking, but witty and canny asides.

John's earlier years were shaped in part by Anglo-Catholic traditions, and he never lost his love and passion for the Church's health and calling. But his theological grounding was evangelical. It was first outlined at St John's Theological College, Nottingham, and later, after the typically mixed Anglican experience of a confusing curacy and an unhappy foray into incumbency, crucially galvanized and cemented by a 'first-class' year at Moore College, Sydney. John's thinking and motivation never looked back as he wrestled with Scripture and its application to the pressures on life and faith in the world and in the Church. He was a champion of orthodox doctrine and practice, but his undoubted conservatism was never partisan or shrill. His mind was incisive and distinctive, disciple of no man or stable, but illuminating and visionary in 'the faith once delivered to the saints'.
- Adapted from David Banting's Obituary of John]

The following articles are mostly from John's blog:

Blog - 1st December, 2012

One of the issues that has arisen in the ongoing debates about the consecration of women bishops is the representative nature of those we commonly call 'priests'. Specifically, it is being asked what their gender has to do with their humanity and therefore their adequacy for the 'priesthood'.

If one takes an 'iconic' view of priesthood, then this is clearly pertinent. If the priest somehow 'embodies' Christ in performing the functions of priesthood — particularly the celebration of the Lord's Supper — then it might be worth asking whether a woman can do this in exactly the same way as a man.

The best negation of the argument that it makes no difference is perhaps that put forward by CS Lewis in his 1948 essay 'Priestesses in the Church'. "Why," Lewis asked, "should a woman not in this sense represent God?" He continued,

Certainly not because she is necessarily, or even probably, less holy or less charitable or stupider than a man. In that sense she may be as 'God-like' as a man; and a given women much more so than a given man.

Such assumptions are taken for granted today. But Lewis had a different objection. "The sense in which she cannot represent God," he wrote, "will perhaps be plainer if we look at the thing the other way round." The full force of his argument requires quoting at length:
Suppose the reformer stops saying that a good woman may be like God and begins saying that God is like a good woman. Suppose he says that we might just as well pray to "Our Mother which art in heaven" as to "Our Father". Suppose he suggests that the Incarnation might just as well have taken a female as a male form, and the Second Person of the Trinity be as well called the Daughter as the Son. Suppose, finally, that the mystical marriage were reversed, that the Church were the Bridegroom and Christ the Bride. All this, as it seems to me, is involved in the claim that a woman can represent God as a priest does.

Now it is surely the case that if all these supposals were ever carried into effect we should be embarked on a different religion. Goddesses have, of course, been worshipped: many religions have had priestesses. But they are religions quite different in character from Christianity. Common sense, disregarding the discomfort, or even the horror, which the idea of turning all our theological language into the feminine gender arouses in most Christians, will ask "Why not? Since God is in fact not a biological being and has no sex, what can it matter whether we say He or She, Father or Mother, Son or Daughter?"

But Christians think that God Himself has taught us how to speak of Him. To say that it does not matter is to say either that all the masculine imagery is not inspired, is merely human in origin, or else that, though inspired, it is quite arbitrary and unessential. And this is surely intolerable: or, if tolerable, it is an argument not in favour of Christian priestesses but against Christianity. It is also surely based on a shallow view of imagery. Without drawing upon religion, we know from our poetical experience that image and apprehension cleave closer together than common sense is here prepared to admit; that a child who has been taught to pray to a Mother in Heaven would have a religious life radically different from that of a Christian child.

We should note that even in Lewis's day, the argument that God has no biological gender was advanced to 'deconstruct' the language used about God. And we should note also that Lewis is well aware of the effects of such deconstruction. Far from the use of 'Mother' instead of 'Father' being the harmless exchange of one metaphor for another, it would (at least in his view) lead to a religious life, and therefore a religion, "radically different from that of a Christian".

Hence for Lewis the iconic significance of the priest required that the priest be male rather than female, for with the Church, he says, "we are dealing with male and female not merely as facts of nature but as the live and awful shadows of realities utterly beyond our control and largely beyond our direct knowledge."

But what if you do not share Lewis's iconic view of the priesthood or his sacramentalism with regard to priestly function? What if, as I have suggested earlier, you would allow that anyone and everyone, including women, could celebrate the Lord's Supper? Is there still room for saying that gender matters, either in relation to God or to Christ? And what implications, if any, does this have for our thinking about ministry?

Our thinking about gender in this particular context has not one but two starting points.

One is biology. And here gender is relatively straightforward, being essentially a component of the process of sexual reproduction. I say relatively because even here there are complications. Some species, for example, exhibit hermaphroditism, where a single organism can function as either the 'male' or 'female' partner.

Down at the cellular level, however, everything is clear. Whether one is talking about the vegetable or animal kingdoms, sexual reproduction involves the fusion of two gametes (cells with half the usual pair of chromosomes) to form a zygote (a cell with a full complement of chromosome pairs, one from each of the parent organisms).

All the rest, as they say is commentary. But the commentary is both considerable and variable and gives us little by way of 'rules' either of gender characteristics or behaviours. Male and female are not hard and fast concepts — not that they are not essentially clear cut within a given species, but that taken as a whole they do not justify us making statements of the form 'all males look like', or 'all females act like'.

At this point, however, we must introduce the spiritual dimension, for as Lewis says above, in the Christian religion we believe that "God Himself has taught us how to speak of Him". And he does this from very early on.

In Genesis 1:26 we read that God first deliberates about making human beings:

"Let us make man in our image, after our likeness ..."

Some, most notably the feminist theologian Phyllis Trible, have suggested that this adam is androgynous — a sexually undifferentiated 'earthling'. But this is unsustainable for numerous reasons. Here we may note simply that the text goes on to speak of adam in the plural: "and let them rule over the fish of the sea, etc." What ever God plans to make, there will be more than one of them.

And so we read how this works out in the next verse, which forms a poetic triplet (single Hebrew words are indicated by square brackets):

[And created he] [God] [man]* [in his image]
[In the image] [of God] [he created] [him]
[Male] [and female] [he created] [them].

In the first part of the triplet, adam has the definite article. But we need not translate this as 'the man' since frequently elsewhere (eg Gen 7:21) ha-adam simply means 'humankind'. Nevertheless, as the second stanza shows, adam in this sense can be spoken of as a collective singular. To use a term which is now regarded as archaic, we are one 'mankind', not 'men and women' — a point brought out by Genesis 5:1b-2:

When God created man, he made him in the likeness of God. He created them male and female and blessed them. And when they were created, he called them "man [adam]." (NIV)

And though it is common to regard Genesis 2 as being a separate 'creation narrative', actually it brings home rather neatly the point made in chapter 1: there is a singular 'adam' before there is a plurality of male and female.

This means, furthermore, that we must address at this point the question of a 'Christological' reading of the opening chapters of Genesis, for in the New Testament the first Adam is clearly seen as anticipatory of Christ, "a pattern of the one to come" (Rom 5:14), who is therefore a 'second Adam':

So it is written: "The first man Adam became a living being"; the last Adam, a life-giving spirit. (1 Cor 15:45)

And this is of enormous significance in terms of our salvation, for the argument runs that what is true of the first in a negative sense is true of the second positively. Thus

... since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man. For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive. (1 Cor 15:21-22)

When it comes to Genesis 1:27, therefore, we must hold the second and third stanzas in tension. God created a singular 'man' in his image and he created a plural 'male and female' also in his image.

Once again, we must understand this Christologically. The first point — that one man on his own can image God — must be true in order for what the Bible later affirms about Christ to be true also:

For he is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. (Col 1:15)

Christ's imaging of God lacks nothing. Furthermore, it is necessary that he be the full image-bearer, for we ourselves derive our imaging of God from him:

And just as we have borne the likeness [eikon, image] of the earthly man, so shall we bear the likeness [eikon, image] of the man from heaven. (1 Cor 15:49)

But here we must be very careful and again we must be ready to read Genesis Christologically, for what do we mean by 'Christ'?

In attempting to do theology, there is a danger of treating the person of Christ in isolation, as if Christ were an abstract concept or, more plausibly perhaps, understood comprehensively as a member of the Godhead. That, however, would not be true, for Christ as we know Christ — Christ as he is revealed to us — is not an abstraction, nor even just the Second Person of the Trinity. Rather, as 1 Peter puts it, he is the lamb "chosen before the foundation of the world" (1 Pet 1:20).

Indeed, he is the one whose character determines the world as we know it, since it was made not only "by him" but "for him" (Col 1:16). His very character is that of 'Creator Redeemer', and therefore though it does not require, it entails another.

And it is here that the third stanza of Genesis 1:27 comes into play: "Male and female (in the image of God) he created them", for what we see played out in the history of creation and redemption is that God images his own image.

God is imaged in Christ, in whom dwells the fullness of God taking bodily form in his creation (Col 1:19). And as Christ is imaged in us, so God is imaged in that which he has created which is entirely distinct from himself.

Now something of this is surely what we see in Genesis 2. We are told in 2:18 that it is 'not good' for Adam to be alone — a word which means not 'lonely' but 'the only one of his kind' (cf Gen 44:20; Ex 18:14, etc). Similarly, however, in God's plan for creation, it is clearly not his intention that Christ should be 'alone'. On the contrary, through Christ God is "bringing many sons to glory" (Heb 2:10). Therefore,

Both the one who makes men holy and those who are made holy are of the same family. So Jesus is not ashamed to call them brothers. (Heb 2:11)

But there is only one eternal Son who is " the radiance of God's glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word" (Heb 1:3). Therefore these 'images of the image' must be both 'the same as' and 'quite different from' the eternal Son, whose image they bear by derivation from him rather than by nature.

And this, I suggest, is the theological heart of the concept of gender.

Following a Christological reading of Genesis 2, we stand in relation to Christ as Eve stood in relation to Adam. He recognized her as 'bone of my bone, flesh of my flesh'. In a real sense she was him — an image of the image-bearer. But in another sense, she was quite distinct from him — a being in her own right. And this is brought out in her name: she is an ishshah, not an ish — a woman, not a man (and later an Eve, not an Adam). But she is an ishshah precisely because "she was taken out of man" (Gen 2:23).

And all of this sets the stage for the comment in 2:24 which Paul will pick up and place at the centre of his understanding of the Church and of the nature of our salvation:

For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh. (Gen 2:24, cf Eph 5:31)

This is why, in the great drama of marriage and sexuality husband is to wife as Christ is to Church, which is again as head is to body. Christ is not alone, for that would be 'not good' in relation to creation. Rather, it is 'Christ and the Church' which constitutes the 'one new man' (Eph 2:15) ruling over God's creation.

The Psalmist expresses a sense of mystery in relation to Genesis 1:

what is man that you are mindful of him, the son of man that you care for him? You made him a little lower than the heavenly beings and crowned him with glory and honour. You made him ruler over the works of your hands; you put everything under his feet (Ps 8:4-7)

Ephesians sees it fulfilled in Christ and the Church:

And God placed all things under his feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills everything in every way. (Eph 1:22-23)

God is thus rightly and always in relation to us 'he'. And in marriage the husband is always to the wife as Christ, and the wife is always to the husband as the Church.

What this means for the ministry is simply (!) that what we do in the congregation should follow what we see revealed in Christ. But that, of course, may be a challenge to all of us in many ways.


New Directions, February 2006

Tucked away within the pages of a recent offering from the Christian Research Association is a comment which ought to be of serious concern to evangelicals who favour the ordination of women. On recent trends in recruitment to the Church of England's ministry it states,

'There are very few Anglo-Catholic female clergy, and relatively few evangelical female clergy. Consequently the large majority of female clergy are of broad, or liberal, churchmanship, so that, as their number increases, so will the balance of churchmanships change within the ranks of stipendiary clergy.' (Peter Brierley, Opportunities and Challenges for the Church of England over the next 15 years, CRA 2005,13)

Brierley bases his conclusion about the liberalism of women clergy on the CRA's own Mind of Anglicans survey. But even without the evidence of that research, most of us know from experience the truth of what he asserts: generally speaking, women clergy are theologically liberal. And this calls for a response from evangelical supporters of women's ordination.

Doubtless it will be pointed out that the presence of liberals does not prove absence of evangelicals amongst the women clergy. But we are often assured that the 'vast majority' of Anglicans of all shades now accept the ordination of women. So why does the churchmanship of ordained women not reflect the balance of the theological traditions?

Since, as the same document records, the percentage of evangelicals in the Church of England is rising, and since the evangelical tradition produces a vigorous individual spirituality, we should surely expect the proportion of evangelical women clergy to be similarly increasing. But as Brierley observes, the opposite is in fact the case: 'relatively few' women clergy are evangelical; the 'large majority' are liberal.

One explanation for this may be that evangelical women are indeed offering for ordination but are being turned down, whereas their liberal sisters are accepted. One suspects, however, that evangelical DDOs and bishops would quickly have something to say if they thought this was the case.

Unexpected explanation

Alternatively, it may be that evangelical women are being accepted, but are turned into liberals by the training process. Given the high percentage of women on part-time courses dominated by a liberalism that deliberately aims at broadening candidates' views, we should perhaps not be surprised that this happens. But we still have to ask why the men seem less affected by it. And if the answer is that the women are more easily swayed, then that itself raises serious questions, either about the suitability of the women for the teaching ministry or about the usefulness of their training.

There is, however, another possibility, which is that women clergy are predominantly liberal because evangelicals are not really convinced about women's ordination. And there is an interesting statistic which supports this suggestion.

Excluding cathedrals, there are about 160 Anglican churches with 'Usual Sunday Attendances' in excess of 350. The majority are growing, many of them are evangelical, and all the senior ministers of these churches are male. When pastoral push comes to shove, it seems that congregations instinctively congregate around male leadership. If, as we have been told, most evangelicals have no problem with the ordination of women, we should expect this picture to change, so that the proportion of women running larger churches corresponds to the proportion of clergy who are women. However, whilst women are found in every 'senior' position from dean to archdeacon, and will soon be bishops, they have yet to be found running big churches, evangelical or otherwise.

Again, it might be suggested that evangelical women decide against ordination because they worry about the opposition they might experience. This is plausible, but then we must ask why it does not affect liberals in the same way. And if the answer is that evangelical women fear opposition from within evangelicalism, then it surely suggests that the case for their ordination has not been won within that tradition.

Alternatively, it might be that evangelical women who consider ordination have too many doubts to proceed. But once again such an explanation suggests that the argument for women's ordination has not been won, either in the hearts of the individuals most directly affected or in the minds of the existing clergy. For if a woman candidate discussed these doubts with her minister or DDO, the latter should surely be able to dispel them with the clear arguments in favour, if they exist.

Is the case being made?

And that brings us to the suggestion, indeed the suspicion, that evangelical churches are indeed producing women candidates for ordination, but that these women are not themselves evangelical at heart because their churches are fudging the scriptural argument. If that is indeed happening, then evangelicalism is in serious trouble, because one fudge leads to another, and these women will work in, and eventually oversee, evangelical congregations which will accept them as evangelicals without realizing that their theology is fatally compromised.

An evangelical case for the ordination of women (like the evangelical case for homosexual relationships, advocated by some) must deal with a small number of specific biblical passages which directly address the issue, and the overall tenor of Scripture. How well, then, is this case being made?

As an example, we might note the link on the website of the Open Evangelical group Fulcrum to a paper by the Bishop of Durham, Dr Tom Wright, entitled 'Women's Service in the Church: The Biblical basis.' Yet Wright's paper is scarcely a 'knock down' advocacy for the ordination of women. There is much in it that could be criticized and little in it that has become established as a classic handling of the problems around the biblical material. Indeed, he himself says it is simply 'reflections which are...very far from complete or fully worked out.' Yet this seems to be held up as a champion for the cause.

The point is not that Wright's paper is contentious but (as I am sure he would acknowledge) that it simply will not bear the weight being put on it. But if not Wright, then who is the real champion of the evangelical case for women's ordination?

Until the theological debate is more fully addressed amongst evangelicals, the ordination of women will continue to be a potential cuckoo in the evangelical nest. Some will doubtless rejoice in this, but let it not be the evangelicals themselves!


Blog, 21 May, 2011

Recently I seem to have been caught up in the 'ordination of women' debate — perhaps because our diocesan synods are now discussing the draft 'Measure' put forward by General Synod to allow for the consecration of women bishops.

Two weeks ago it was the debate on Premier Radio with Christian Rees. This week I visited a parish on the south coast to talk with their PCC about the forthcoming legislation and the theological issues involved.

One of the things I have emphasised in both settings is that there is a debate to be had. I alluded on Premier Radio to my opinion that perhaps the most stupid thing General Synod has ever done was to vote in 1975 that "there are no fundamental objections to the ordination of women to the priesthood".

Perhaps those in favour of the motion excused themselves by arguing that the key word was 'fundamental': there are objections, but they are 'not fundamental'.

Certainly it would be even more stupid to say there are 'no objections'. But even the statement that there are 'no fundamental objections' is blatantly not a 'received truth' in the Anglican Church, least of all was it in 1975.

Thus I doubt very much (though right now I am not in a position to check) that the 1975 vote was unanimous or that the debate consisted of a queue of speakers all agreeing with the motion.

This is why the wording of the motion is so iniquitous. It actually would have been better for the motion to have declared opposition to the ordination of women to be anethema — an approach which the Church has taken on controverted issues in the past. That would have had the effect of recognizing the existence of objections, but declaring them false.

However, the phrasing of the motion — "there are no" — itself creates a falsehood, for clearly there are. It is the attitude of the child playing peek-a-boo who, because it cannot see its mothers face, believes it cannot be seen by its mother. When objections are raised to women's ordination, the response will be (as was actually stated to me during the PCC meeting), "But the Synod voted that there are no fundamental objections to women's ordination." I, and those who share my views, simply cannot 'be there' in reality because we don't actually exist. Synod says so.

This is also why it is always dangerous to vote on a belief, rather than a course of action, and why 'democracy' is such a poor tool in such circumstances.

Where action is required, and where there are several choices about what to do, it may, in fact, be appropriate or necessary to take a vote, simply in the interests of doing something rather than nothing.

Even this is not a universal principle. As one writer on leadership observed, a tank in battle is not a place for taking votes. But where there is equality of decision-makers, time for reflection and yet the need for action, a vote may be the most equitable way to proceed.

However, a vote cannot make a thing true, and that ought to have been obvious to the Synod's governing committees at the time.

Unfortunately, that way of proceeding has taken hold in the whole process, and indeed the 1975 vote is arguably the point at which it all began to go wrong, for the result has been to give credence to the idea that the theological work has been done, when it clearly has not.

In preparation for both the Premier debate and the south coast visit, I read a couple of books on the issue putting forward the 'pro' case. For the former it was Discovering Biblical Equality : Complementarity Without Hierarchy, edited by Pierce and Groothuis, and for the latter The Gender Agenda, by Lis Goddard and Clare Hendry.

The one thing you could not say after reading both these books is that the issues are 'not fundamental'.

The other thing you could not say is that the issues are entirely resolved, though they may look that way from the safety of our own 'constituencies'.

Both Goddard and Hendry are members of AWESOME, a network for ordained Anglican evangelical women, and during the writing of their book, which is a dialogue from different perspectives — Goddard for and Hendry against women as incumbents in churches — they both went to a network conference. Reflecting on this, Hendry makes an interesting observation:

Some folk [present] seemed to be totally unaware that there are other views on headship held by 'sane and normal' people, and that for some groups this is not the minority view. [...] It is important that women [in AWESOME] who have a high view of the Bible can take the view that I and others hold about male headship, and that this is a legitimate position. But I didn't always get that impression from some of the folk at the conference. (135)

Now of course the same would be true if one went to a Forward in Faith rally or a gathering of Reform. We must not pretend that any section of the Church of England takes a truly dispassionate view on this subject.

But that is the problem. The Church of England has enshrined in its legislation the principle that both the acceptance of women's ordination and its rejection are legitimate Anglican views, to be embraced and treated equally. Yet the foundation for its legislation in this regard would appear to be sand rather than solid rock — a decision by majority vote that a view held by many Anglicans lacked any substance, even whilst the very fact that a vote was taken proved that it had its firm adherents.

The present Anglican position, therefore, must be deemed either incoherent or dishonest. It is incoherent to declare that a viewpoint lacks either justification or support and then to declare that, nevertheless, it is on a par with the truth. Alternatively, it is dishonest to be saying that everyone will be treated equally when, in fact, there is self-evidently no possibility that this will be the case.

Those of us who have hoped the Church of England's governing bodies would honour the commitments given since 1993 have probably not been clear enough ourselves about the realities of the situation. But we have taken heart from the fact that 'incoherence' is what the Church of England does so well.

Unfortunately, as the recent creation of the Ordinariate suggests, it is something which even the Church of England can only do for so long if the pressures become great enough.
And alongside incoherence we have had dishonesty — I refer to the exclusion of traditionalists from senior office, at first doubtless in response to subtle pressures, but now openly and overtly. Yet as with the pressures for Anglo-Catholics, this can only be maintained for so long, and the proposed legislation reflects the need to 'move on'.

It is a principle in law that equal parties should be treated equally. Anyone reading the draft Bishops and Priests (Consecration and Ordination of Women) Measure will see that it establishes two classes of Anglican — those who will simply be able to go about their church business from year to year without the need to justify their continuance, and those who will regularly have to review and revise their arrangements with the institution.

Those accepting of women bishops will never be asked to consider whether they might be wrong. Those who are not will constantly be having to justify their position to themselves and to others.

Surely no secular legislator would allow such a situation! But in the Church it seems we can — and why not, when one point of view has neither a basis nor a constituency?


Blog, 29 June 2013

"Paul assumes, as do most cultures, that there are significant differences between men and women, differences that go far beyond mere biological and reproductive function. Their relations and roles must therefore be mutually complementary, rather than identical. [...] And within marriage, the guideline is clear. The husband is to take the lead – though he is to do so fully minded of the self-sacrificial model which the Messiah has provided. As soon as 'taking the lead' becomes bullying or arrogant, the whole thing collapses."

So writes N T Wright in the section of Paul for Everyone dealing with the letter to the Ephesians.

The reason I quote this is because some of the comments on this blog recently seem to assume that the world divides into two sorts of Christian: those who believe in 'male headship' and who are opposed to the ordination of women, and those who support the ordination of women who do not believe in 'male headship'. What Wright's remarks about Ephesians show, however, is that this is too simplistic – that in fact there are Christians, like himself, who passionately believe in women's ordination (and consecration) and who also have a doctrine of 'male headship' which has practical consequences in the 'here and now'.
And this is surely as it should be. The language of 'headship', after all, is derived from the epistles — specifically from 1 Corinthians 11 and Ephesians 5. Properly speaking, then, every Christian should have a 'doctrine' related to these passages — which is to say a 'doctrine of male headship'.

The question is not, therefore, whether one believes in male headship, but what one's doctrine of male headship actually entails.

Here, there is surely room for discussion. Some may see the doctrine as having specific implications about social roles. Even Wright seems to envisage a form of 'complementarianism'. Others may wish to take an egalitarian approach . . .


Blog, 20 May2010

When the General Synod legislated in 1993 for the ordination of women as priests, it changed the Church of England in more ways than one.

Most obviously, it introduced women into orders in which they could exercise new sacramental and leadership rôles. Just as importantly, however, it allowed for disagreement with what had been done and enshrined this in the enabling legislation.

This provision was effected at two levels. One was in the parliamentary Measure, which contained opt-out clauses for parishes which did not want to receive the sacramental ministry of women or which did not want a woman as an incumbent, priest in charge or team vicar (Resolutions A and B).

The other was the passing of an Act of Synod which allowed those same parishes to request from their Diocesan bishop, if he himself would ordain women, that episcopal ministry be provided by someone who did not accept the ordination of women (the so-called Resolution C).

In the present situation, therefore, two important points must be borne in mind. The first is that these provisions were an integral part of the package, not — despite some people's opinions to the contrary — an appendage. There were undoubtedly people in Synod who only voted for the Measure because it contained Resolutions A and B, and it is equally undoubted that parliament accepted the Measure because of these provisions and because of the terms and conditions of the Episcopal Ministry Act of Synod.

Secondly, there was no sunset clause on these provisions. On the contrary, as the Manchester Report recently observed, they were offered indefinitely — for as long as people would require them. This was the general understanding at the time, and that has consequences.

On the one hand, it meant that people who had misgivings about the ordination of women as priests nevertheless felt there was a continuing place for them in the Church of England. This is one reason why the take-up on the settlement package for those who felt they had to leave the church was so low. There was sufficient unity amongst evangelicals and sufficient numerical strength amongst Anglo-Catholics to persuade doubters in both groupings that they could continue as loyal (if not entirely contented) Anglicans.

The phrase that described this situation was 'a period of reception'. This emphatically did not, however, indicate 'a time during which the Church would get used to what had happened after which dissent would no longer be expected'.

Rather, as Rowan Williams has himself observed, it meant an opportunity to test whether what had been put in place was right or wrong. Moreover, as he pointed out, the Church of England is still in what is formally acknowledged to be "a time of discernment and reception".

This has very important implications both for opponents and for supporters of the consecration of women as bishops.

First, it means that everyone who has remained in or joined the Church of England since 1993, or has been ordained into its orders, ought to know that they have accepted the existence of 'two integrities' and indeed the ongoing provisionality of women's ordination.

This is vital to recognize, because it is being said that anyone ordained since that date ought to accept both the ordination of women and that there is no place for dissent from this.

That is not (wholly) true — and in any case cuts both ways.

It is true that anyone who has remained in or joined the Church of England during the last eighteen years must accept that it is a church that ordains women. That is a simple fact, and to that extent they must themselves be committed to the 'two integrities' approach.

It is also true, however, anyone who has remained in or joined the Church of England since 1993, or entered its orders, did so knowing that the Church of England did not require anyone to accept the ordination of women, and, moreover, that the Church of England had sought to include opponents in its ranks on the understanding that they were full members of that church, entitled to operate at every level of its ministry up to and including diocesan bishop. (That the latter has been observed mostly in the breach does not negate the fact that the principle exists — though it does rather mitigate against the idea that the church can work on the basis of 'codes of practice'.)

What this means for the present round of legislation, however, is that the status quo established in 1993 still prevails: the Church has deliberately included people who take contrary views on the ordination of women and they themselves have willingly been part of it.

This, then, has consequences for what ought to happen next, for when the Church agreed to ordain women, it recognized that the ministry of some of its clergy would not be acceptable to all of its members. Now that it is about to consecrate women as bishops, it faces the same problem because it has continued to operate on the same principles enshrined in the 1993 legislation.

There are, therefore, only two logical ways forward. The first is to settle the debate about women's ordination first and to end the 'period of reception' either by agreeing that all must accept the ordination of women or (which is, of course, improbable) by agreeing to abandon the project and return to the pre-1993 position. Such a move would be unwelcome for a number of reasons, not least that it would delay the consecration of women bishops and embroil the church in virtually a sectarian battle. No one in their right mind would want this!

The second option, however, which the church seems tacitly to accept, is that as in 1993 provision must be made for both viewpoints. The problem, of course, is that the actual legislation on the table would only do this in a limited way which denies the reality.

One of the arguments put forward by those who insist on this limited provision is that the bishop must be allowed to be a 'real' bishop, whose ministry must therefore apply of necessity to all those within the diocese.

The problem with this argument, however, is that in 1993 the Church of England decided that a priest would not henceforth be someone whose ministry would necessarily apply to everyone within the church. This was essential to enabling the ordination of women to take place and it was accepted as part of the provision.

This was, as we have observed, an innovation, but it was one with which the church was formally prepared to live, and it was something which everyone in the church has therefore had to accept since 1993.

Now that we are considering the consecration of women as bishops, it is time to consider also the logical extension not only of women's ordination but of the innovation that went with it — that the church must allow for those who could not accept the ministry of women bishops, even whilst all parties accept that this is a church which consecrates women.

In other words, just as we have had a new model of priestly ministry, we need a new model of episcopal ministry. And specifically, just as we have had a 'voluntarist' model of priestly ministry in this regard, so we must have a 'voluntarist' model of episcopal ministry.

This is something which the Anglo-Catholic opponents of women bishops have long recognized and advocated. (The evangelicals have been much slower to realize its importance.) What I am arguing here is that it is something which the supporters of women bishops should also recognize unless they wish to rewrite the history of the past eighteen years.

The Church of England was able to introduce the ordination of women because it was prepared to change its understanding of the acceptablility of its orders — and all those who are now members of the Church of England ought to acknowledge that reality. Whether they are enthusiasts for, or opponents of, women's ordination and consecration, they have opted into a church which has, out of practical necessity, modified its understanding of ministry.

That it needs to do so again with regard to women bishops may be unwelcome to some, but it ought not to be a surprise.


Blog, 10 February 2011

Recently I was at a meeting of evangelicals from the Diocese of Chelmsford which, at one stage, turned quite painful. The occasion was a discussion of the 'Following Motion' suggested by the Church of England Evangelical Council, to be put to deanery and diocesan synods considering the draft Bishops and Priests (Consecration and Ordination of Women) Measure being proposed by the General Synod.

The Following Motion urges the House of Bishops to bring forward amendments to the Measure in order to strengthen the provision of episcopal oversight for those "unable on theological grounds to accept the ministry of women bishops".

Many evangelical Anglicans actually have no problem with this, but for the sake of those who do, the CEEC is sponsoring the motion specifically in the interests of evangelical unity.

Even so, in our own conversations it was clear that not everyone was willing to give their support, one of the stated reasons being that the 1993 Episcopal Ministry Act of Synod — the legislation that provided for the 'flying bishops' — had created "a mess".

As the discussion became more detailed, I found myself checking the specifics of the Act, but also looking back at the original Priests (Ordination of Women) Measure itself. And what I found came as a surprise.

In what follows I may be mistaken both in terms of interpretation of the legislation and regarding what actually happened at the time and subsequently. Corrections will therefore be welcome. However, it seems to me that as the debate on women bishops nears its probable conclusion, there are things about the original provisions, and specifically the rôle of the Act of Synod, which have been forgotten.

First, there is the stark nature of the original Measure. This consists of three main parts plus a Schedule. The first simply allows the General Synod "to make provision by Canon for enabling a woman to be ordained to the office of priest".

The third contains general material relating to interpretation.

But it is the second which is the most striking in the present context, given that it allowed an existing diocesan bishop to 'opt out' with his entire diocese:

(1) A bishop of a diocese in office at the relevant date [of the enabling Canon] may make any one or more of the following declarations—

(a) that a woman is not to be ordained within the diocese to the office of priest; or
(b) that a woman is not to be instituted or licensed to the office of incumbent or priest-in-charge of a benefice, or of team vicar for a benefice, within the diocese; or
(c) that a woman is not to be given a licence or permission to officiate as a priest within the diocese.

The only thing a woman could do in such a diocese, according to the Measure, was "officiate as a priest in a church or chapel for one period of not more than seven days in any period of three months without reference to the bishop or other Ordinary" (2.2.7).

And here is where the Act of Synod comes in. Bear in mind, however, that when the Measure went before Parliament, the Act itself had not been passed, or even presented to the General Synod. It was simply a plan in the House of Bishops to present the Act to the Synod the week after Parliament approved the Measure.

It is therefore important to read at length what the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Most Revd George Carey, had to say in the House of Lords on the 2nd November. Note especially the highlighted sections (the quotation is necessarily shortened for the sake of blog readers):

[...] Much attention has been focused on Clause 2 of the Measure which provides that a diocesan bishop, who is in office when the canon enabling women to be ordained priest is promulged, may make one or more of three declarations. By making all three of these declarations, a diocesan bishop could in effect exclude women priests from his diocese.
[However ...]

The potential significance of Clause 2 has substantially lessened as a result of the pastoral arrangements which the House of Bishops wishes to put in place once the canon is promulged.

The arrangements the House envisages are designed to ensure that appropriate pastoral episcopal care is provided for those in favour and those opposed to the legislation, without undermining the authority of the diocesan bishop. Our intention is to give continued space within the Church of England to those of differing views on this subject. The arrangements are embodied in an Act of Synod, which the General Synod will be invited to approve when it meets in London next week.

Thus the Act of Synod, whilst certainly having in mind the particular interests of those opposed to women priests, also made provision "for those in favour", specifically as follows:

11 (1) ... where the bishop of the diocese has indicated that he is opposed to the ordination of women to the priesthood and, in case of a bishop in office at the relevant date, that he is unwilling to make a declaration under section 2 thereof, the ordination to the priesthood of women from the diocese and their licensing and institution shall be carried out by the archbishop concerned, either personally or through a bishop acting as his commissary; and the archbishop shall cause the archiepiscopal seal to be affixed to any documents that are needed for that purpose.

(2) The archbishop shall act under subsection (1) above either at the request of the diocesan bishop concerned or in pursuance of his metropolitical jurisdiction, but shall not so act unless he is satisfied that the diocesan bishop concerned has no objection.

(3) Subsection (1) above shall not apply where the bishop of a diocese has made arrangements for the ordination of women to the priesthood and their licensing and institution to be carried out by another bishop. (Episcopal Ministry Act of Synod 1993)

Hence, as the 2004 report of the House of Bishops' Working Party on Women in the Episcopate observed, the Act of Synod not only took into account the view of those opposed to women priests but,

It made provision for the ordination, licensing and institution of women priests in dioceses where the diocesan bishop was opposed to the ordination of women priests. (Women Bishops in the Church of England? 2004, 4.2.47)

The Act of Synod, therefore, was not offered simply as a 'messy' response to the demands of traditionalists, but was an important part of a total package presented to embrace both sides. As Archbishop Carey said, for example, "the potential significance of Clause 2" of the original Measure was "substantially lessened" by the Act of Synod.

Moreover, it is clear from the Hansard record of the debate in the House of Lords that the assurances being given about the Act of Synod were fundamental to the successful passage of the Measure itself at the time. What Parliament considered was not simply the Measure in isolation, but a combined package of 'Measure and Act'. The passionate closing speech of the Archbishop of York, one of the chief architects of the Act, bears this out:

People have said, "Well, it is possible to revert an Act of Synod". Of course, it is possible to revert anything, even legislation. However, as I am sure that your Lordships realise, it is not very easy to reverse things in the Church of England; indeed, it is not easy to do anything in the Church of England, especially if one is trying to undo something. Any motion of that kind requires the approval of all three Houses. Therefore, once you have something, it is really quite hard to get rid of it. I believe that the House can, with confidence, vote for the Measures before us unamended. I feel that we will all come together and that the synod will, next week, see the point of enshrining this treasured diversity of the Church of England in the Act of Synod. (Emphasis added)

Yet the words of Lady Saltoun of Abernethy earlier in the same debate are also worth quoting at length:

I myself asked the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury whether it was envisaged that the Act of Synod would operate in perpetuity or whether it would be in the nature of a temporary measure which would cease to operate at some future date. He replied that it was the intention that it should be permanent and that they were not thinking of rescinding it or anything like that. Then he added the caveat, "with the goodwill of the House of Bishops". He went on to say that of course anything could happen in the future.

That is just the trouble. The fact is that the safeguards should have been incorporated in the Measure for the ordination of women. I feel that the General Synod underestimated the strength of the opposition to the Measure and thought that it would get it through with only such safeguards as are in Clause 2. I believe that it became clear to them that the majority of the members of the Ecclesiastical Committee, even many of them who supported the ordination of women, were concerned as to the efficacy of those safeguards and felt that they might be faced with an adverse vote in the committee. They produced the Manchester Declaration Mark II and the proposed Act of Synod very quickly. I am cynical enough to suspect that that was done out of necessity in order to get the Measure through Parliament and that, had the Ecclesiastical Committee in general not expressed such concern at the unfairness with which it was proposed to treat orthodox clergy and members of the Church, nothing would have been done at all.

Indeed, in the light of the Archbishop of York's comments, her words now seem entirely prescient:

I want to concentrate on the safeguards for those who hold orthodox Anglican views, because I am concerned that those safeguards will be short lived. [...] They are to be enshrined only in an Act of Synod, which can be amended or rescinded at any time by a simple majority in the General Synod. Since we have no real guarantee that diocesan bishops who are opposed to the ordination of women will continue to be appointed, we wonder how long it will be before there is not one single bishop in the Church of England who does not support the ordination of women and who can therefore act as a provincial episcopal visitor to those who do not.

It is the history of what happened subsequent to 1993 that makes the need for 'proper provision' so urgent in the eyes of those who today remain opposed to the consecration of women as bishops.

The Act of Synod provided that "There will be no discrimination against candidates either for ordination or for appointment to senior office in the Church of England on the grounds of their views about the ordination of women to the priesthood." And yet there has clearly been such discrimination.

The Archbishop of Canterbury suggested to a Peer that the Act of Synod would be 'permanent', and the Archbishop of York amusingly pointed out how hard it is to change things in the Church of England. And yet the Act of Synod has long been under threat and may soon be repealed.

Safeguards, provisions and assurances were offered and put in place in one generation, only for the current generation to propose removing them at a stroke.

And, of course, Parliament itself has changed its tune and may even be willing to force the Church of England to change accordingly.

No doubt, few if any of those opposing the request of 'proper provision' will think in terms of 'betrayal'. And yet the words spoken just two decades ago do seem to tell a different story. The Act of Synod was vital then to giving supporters of women's ordination what they wanted, when they wanted it, and that ought to be remembered in the current debate. But what ought also to be remembered, and acknowledged on both sides, is that the safeguards last time were not in the Measure. This time, they surely must be.


Blog, 17 March 2011

I'm sure you'll agree it makes a change for me not to be talking to you about the growth of the church [I chair the Deanery Growth Task Group which makes regular presentations to the Synod].

However, I do believe that what I have to say this evening has to do with the health of the church.

Since 1993, the Church of England has been able to ordain women as priests and it is now proposed to consecrate women as bishops.

However, the legislation framed in 1993 was carefully designed to preserve the unity of the Church of England.

This was achieved through two instruments.

First, the Measure which passed through Parliament had two 'Resolutions' in an appendix, which allowed parishes to choose not have a woman as their incumbent, team vicar or priest in charge, or to pronounce Absolution or to celebrate Holy Communion.

The latter clauses were particularly framed out of concern for Anglo-Catholics committed to the doctrine that priesthood is essentially a male quality, and that the priest, as a representative of Christ, had to share his maleness.

The former was more important for evangelicals who believe this is more an issue to do with rôles within the congregation as the 'household of God'.

However, there was a second instrument, not a parliamentary Measure, but an Act of Synod, which made special provisions regarding specifically episcopal ministry for those who opposed the ordination of women.

This Act of Synod is often treated as being one-sided, having regard only to the needs of traditionalists. But it also had something for those in favour of women's ordination by providing that, even if the diocesan bishop were himself opposed to the ordination of women, with his permission, women could be ordained, licensed and instituted in his diocese by the Archbishop or by another bishop acting on his behalf.

Since 2000, I have often heard complaints about the untidiness — and worse — of the system of flying bishops (which was just one of the provisions of the Act of Synod).

But there was an equal untidiness (if we want to call it that) embodied in the Act of Synod (11:1-3) for those who supported women's ordination, whereby ordination, licensing and institution — surely key elements of the bishops oversight — could be handed over to another bishop outside his diocese, where the diocesan bishop opposed women's ordination

Let it be noted that the Flying Bishops have never had this much authority with regard to those who received their ministry.

The principle at work throughout the introduction of the ordination of women, however, was expressed in the Act of Synod, which said that

... the highest possible degree of communion should be maintained within each diocese;


... the integrity of differing beliefs and positions concerning the ordination of women to the priesthood should be mutually recognised and respected. (3.a.ii, iii)

And that is where the health of the Church of England comes to the forefront.

Authority in the Church of England is often said to be like a stool with three legs, namely Scripture, tradition and reason. But that is not quite a complete picture, for although the Church of England recognizes the important of reason and tradition, it gives priority to Scripture.

Article XX of the 39 Articles, states that "it is not lawful for the Church to ordain any thing that is contrary to God's Word written."

Scripture, tradition and reason are not three separate 'legs' but three interacting sources of understanding. So we need reason and tradition to understand Scripture.

But once we have understood Scripture, the Articles state that the Church cannot then contradict Scripture, despite our traditions or our other 'reasonable' justifications.

In the present debate, there are those who believe that Scripture does allow the ordination and consecration of women as priests and bishops, and there are those who believe it does not.

The official position of the Church of England since 1993 has been that both are authentically Anglican — and this can be maintained insofar as we believe neither are deliberately and consciously acting contrary to Scripture.

However, whilst that continues to be the case — and it is still the case at present — the Church must organize its structure so that both those in favour of, and those opposed to, the ordination and consecration of women can function coherently within the same denominational body.

Now it may be that this is impossible. Baptists and Anglicans would find it difficult to operate in the same denomination because they have contradictory views of infant baptism. It is possible to be a Baptist layperson in the Church of England, but you can't really be a Baptist 'priest', because your office requires you to carry out baptisms of infants.

Sometimes doctrinal differences require structural separation. And indeed, it has been said to me on more than one occasion that if I don't like what is happening I ought to leave the Church of England.

In reply, I would make two observations. First, when I was ordained in the Church of England, women's ordination was only just being considered. In fact in 1977, the National Evangelical Anglican Congress, meeting at Nottingham, passed a resolution which said,

Leadership in the Church should be plural and mixed, ultimate responsibility normally singular and male. (The Nottingham Statement, J6)

That was my own position then and it continues to be my position now. And that is one reason why I feel under no obligation to go, despite the urging of others.

Furthermore, the Church of England maintained in 1993 and has continued to maintain since then, that the issue is not settled. The technical term for this is that we are 'in a period of reception' — which doesn't mean 'we are giving everyone time to get used to it', but 'we still discerning whether this is right or wrong' (see the Act of Synod 'Proposal' 3:a.i).
And that brings me to my second observation, which is that although I may be mistaken, I genuinely think that the Church of England has got it wrong on this issue and that it has acted contrary to Scripture.

But if that is true — and officially the Church of England goes on saying it may be true — it is especially important to go on witnessing to what one believes to be true, for the sake of the Church.

And that is why I want to urge the Church to look again at this legislation and not to accept it in its current form.

You will have noticed that the Measure is quite long and complicated. The reason is that there are four long clauses (2,3,5 and 6), detailing the provisions for those who, like myself, continue to have difficulty with the ordination or consecration of women.

May I make the point, in passing, that by making this legal provision, a vote for this legislation is a vote to accept that the Church of England still may be wrong on this issue?
But it is a grudging and inadequate provision. For example, PCCs may request that only a male incumbent or priest in charge be appointed to a parish or benefice, but it is only a request, not a requirement (3.3, 6).

Nor can such a decision be made by a meeting attended by the existing priest in charge of a church (nor, indeed, their spouse or civil partner, 3.7). The PCC must now act alone and only once there is an actual or impending vacancy — and we know what an anxious time that is.
We also know — or at least I do — that Archdeacons are not above reminding parishes in this situation that passing any of the existing Resolutions will, of course, narrow the field of any possible future replacements.

It is when we come to the provision of episcopal oversight, however, that this legislation is wholly inadequate.

Here, again, it is only possible for a PCC to make a request "that episcopal ministry and pastoral care shall be provided by a male bishop" (3.1).

The response to that request will be governed by a 'Code of Practice' which has yet to be decided. However, it is up to the diocesan bishop to frame the scheme that will apply in his or her diocese.

Moreover, that scheme may make different provisions for different churches or even individuals (5.2). But then the scheme itself must be reviewed every five years, and meanwhile may be revoked or amended at any time (2.6).

A major problem with these proposals, however, is that episcopal ministry to parishes in these circumstances is not really 'episcopal' at all. The Measure defines it in terms of:

the celebration of the sacraments and other divine services ... (2.1.a)


the provision of pastoral care to the clergy and parishioners ... (2.1.b)

Now with the exception of some 'divine services' like confirmation, and the provision of pastoral care to the clergy (which could in any case come from a lay 'spiritual director'), the other duties are those of the local priest, not a bishop.

Compare this with the Act of Synod, which in the case of dioceses where the bishop opposed women priests, allowed the Archbishop or his commissary to ordain, license and institute women priests in someone else's diocese (11:1 — not forgetting that the Archbishop is himself a diocesan bishop in the Church of England.)

This is why the Church of England Evangelical Council, with the support of Forward in Faith, is sponsoring a 'Following Motion' which it is hoped will be discussed at General Synod, calling for oversight under the new Measure to be exercised with a bishop with 'ordinary jurisdiction' — the power to ordain, license and institute.

As pointed out before, that provision was never granted to the 'Flying Bishops', but it is there in the Act of Synod for supporters of women's ordination.

To my mind, however, the biggest problem with the Measure is not legal but theological.

Under the Measure, these very limited episcopal functions — which I have said are not really 'episcopal' at all — will be delegated to another bishop in the diocese, or a different diocese, simply because he is male.

Strictly speaking (unless I have misunderstood the legislation), he does not himself have to be a bishop who holds the views on women's ordination held by those to whom he will minister — the clergy and congregations (2:1).

To take this approach, however, is to drive a wedge between what a bishop believes and what a bishop does in terms of the exercise of his ministry. Yet if a parish or a priest requests episcopal ministry because of their beliefs in this area, it is not enough to say, "You can have bishop B although he doesn't agree with a word you say, because he's a man."

If the Church of England is to continue to maintain that it has a place for both integrities at this point — which this legislation clearly presumes — then there must be provision that the beliefs involved are held by actual, living and ministering, bishops. Just being a 'bloke' is not enough!

Finally, and unfortunately, we have to remind ourselves just how things have been for the past eighteen years under the existing legislation, which shows why the provision needs to be strengthened, not weakened.

In the Episcopal Ministry Act of Synod 1993, it is stated that,

There will be no discrimination against candidates either for ordination or for appointment to senior office in the Church of England on the grounds of their views about the ordination of women to the priesthood. (1)

Actually, since 1993 there has been just one appointment of an Evangelical bishop opposed to the ordination of women (and that was to a suffragan post) and a handful of Anglo-Catholic appointments.

Indeed, the 2001 Perry Report on episcopal appointments, noted that of the 31 diocesan bishops appointed between 1993 and 2000, 27 ordained women and two were already diocesan bishops elsewhere. Only two new bishops did not ordain women, and these were both appointed before 1995 (2:28).

I would also refer to 'Talent and Calling', GS 1650, published in 2007, which looked at the appointments of suffragan bishops, cathedral deans, archdeacons and residentiary canons, which made this observation:

4.6.1 While the proportion of women on the Preferment List and among those holding senior appointments is lower than the proportion of full-time stipendiary clergy who are women, we are pleased to note that action is being taken to address this.

But then it added this:

4.6.2 The proportion of minority ethnic, conservative evangelical and traditional catholic candidates on the Preferment List and among those holding senior appointments would appear to be even lower.

In other words, the reality on the ground suggests that despite the Act of Synod, discrimination has taken place even in the period before the new legislation was proposed — and this may, of course, go some way towards explaining the passage of that legislation through the Church's governing bodies.

I hope you will understand, therefore, why the feeling of traditionalists is so strong that a 'Code of Practice' — yet to published, leaving wide discretion to the diocesan bishop, without any guarantee of what will be put in place, subject to revocation at any time and review every five years — just will not do.

Personally, the more I have examined the small-print, the more I would like to see this Measure defeated. It is not that I could not live with women priests and bishops — I can, and so far have done since 1993.

But the Measure seems to be applying the biblical principle that 'to those who have not, even what they have shall be taken away', and this is a bad application.

I would ask you therefore to vote against the Measure.

However, if the Measure is to go through, the House of Bishops must do what the CEEC Following Motion requests, and make provision in the Measure itself for people and parishes to receive oversight from a bishop with 'ordinary jurisdiction' — just as the Act of Synod did for the supporters of women priests in 1993.

So I would ask you, whether you support the Measure or not, to vote for the CEEC Following Motion.

The CEEC Following Motion:

This [General] 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 oversight from a bishop with authority (i.e. ordinary jurisdiction) conferred by the Measure rather than by delegation from a Diocesan Bishop.