Mark Stevens takes apart the three amendments that were passed in July Synod’s second motion to see how far they have hijacked the main motion and how far they fulfil the intentions of the proposers

There were, as everyone now knows, two votes about the ordination of women as bishops at the recent July meeting of the General Synod. Saturday’s vote was on the principle; Monday’s on the process. It is the process motion that I want to address here.

Intelligently, but optimistically, the Archbishop of Canterbury pleaded with the Synod not to amend the motion from outside sources. Clearly he knew what was coming: a clash of opposing parties each seeking to score a knock-out blow by an appeal to primary authority. And that is precisely what occurred.

Battling opponents

Opponents of women’s consecration, naturally enough, appealed to Resolution III.2 of the 1998 Lambeth Conference ‘that those who dissent from, as well as those who assent to the ordination of women to the priesthood and the episcopate are both loyal Anglicans.’ They pinned their hopes on this clumsy piece of English because it effectively qualified every other part of the motion, and because the same resolution had requested every province of the Communion to ratify in its own Synod a similar text. The Church of England had not yet done so. The Archbishop of Canterbury could hardly resist doing now what the General Synod had previously failed to do.

The Archbishop must have known that an appeal to Lambeth ’98 was inevitable. The only question, surely, was where it would come. Would it be introduced to qualify the motion on the principle, or would it be used to influence the process by which legislation was to be drafted? My own preference would have been for maximum embarrassment at the earliest stage. The introduction of the Lambeth resolution into Saturday’s text would have produced that synodical rarity, a wrecking amendment which the proposer of the motion would have found it hard to resist!

As it turned out it was decided to advance another and rather different amendment on Saturday and keep Lambeth ’98 until Monday. But it was also agreed to seek clarification on Saturday of the status of the motion. Was it, in the jargon of the Synod ‘Section 7 business,’ that is to say a decision affecting the faith and doctrine of the Church of England?

The question was an elephant trap of some magnitude, and, to change metaphors, a two-handed engine. The dangers of declaring the motion Section 7 business (and so raising the stakes and risking failure in one of the three houses) had to be measured against the fact that, if it were not so designated, opponents would delight in pointing out that its assertions remained, in terms of Anglican doctrine, mere matters of opinion. It was no surprise that the great and the good, who consider these things on our behalf, decided that the motion did not qualify as Section 7 business. It was put and it passed. The opponents predictably put down their marker.


Which brings us back to Monday’s proceedings, where the Lambeth amendment was finally introduced, and where thanks to a thoughtful and persuasive speech by Fr David Houlding (and support from some unexpected quarters) it was passed. But, of course, as the Archbishop had anticipated, there was to Lambeth III.2 an equal and opposite response.

Canon Jane Sinclair had a tit-for-tat amendment of few words but great significance: ‘…preparing a draft of possible additional legal provision, consistent with Canon A4, to establish arrangements that would seek to maintain the highest possible degree of communion with those conscientiously unable to receive the ministry of women bishops.’ She spoke with admirable clarity, and made the purpose of the amendment clear. Its intention was to outlaw any open denial of the validity of women’s orders or, by extension, of their sacramental actions. It too passed.

The Archbishop of Canterbury’s worst fears seemed as though they were being realized by a Synod which seemed oblivious of what it was doing. The legislative drafting group, which it was hoped would do better than the two discredited Guildford reports which had gone before it, was now being asked to square the circle: to give equal status to both opponents and proponents of women’s ordination in the new Measure, whilst ensuing that nothing inhibited the operation of Canon A4.

In order to grasp the predicament in which the Synod has placed the as yet unnamed group, it is necessary to look in more detail both at Lambeth 98 III.2 and the now famous Canon.

The Lambeth resolution not only summarizes (at some length it has to be said) the present position of the Anglican Communion with regard to women’s ordination. It also expresses, in Communion terms, the generous assurances given to opponents of women’s ordination in Bonds of Peace and in the preamble to the 1993 Act of Synod. These were the assurances to which the one hundred and eleven young priests ordained since 1994 referred in their recent letter to the Church Times, and on which others – clergy and laity, young and old – have relied.

There is a sense in which reference to Lambeth ’98 was superfluous: it would be little short of scandalous if the legislative drafting group were to mitigate or withdraw those assurances of an honoured place and equal treatment. The Lambeth amendment, in other words added nothing new; it merely acts as a bench mark of recent best practice, below which future legislation cannot be permitted to fall.

The now famous Canon

Canon A4, it has to be said, in the context into which it has been inserted, is rather more problematical. It is not at all clear that it does, or can do, what the proponents of women bishops want it to. In the first place the Canon is not primarily about mutual recognition of ministries (important as everyone agrees that to be). It is about the validity and authenticity of the Prayer Book Ordinal.

Whether the somewhat hortatory language of the latter part obliges clergy of the Church of England to accept and recognize the orders of those priested and consecrated by ordinals other than that appended to the 1662 book, the lawyers will have to decide; but precedents do not look helpful. Male priests ordained by women bishops in other provinces have not, up till now, been accorded such automatic recognition in the Church of England. Nor are women bishops presently permitted to function here, as such.

But there is another and perhaps more serious problem: which is that Canon A4 is already modified and qualified (some would say suspended) by the 1993 Measure to ordain women. The Schedules at the end of the Measure permit parishes and certain other bodies not to accept the ministry of a woman priest. It could be argued that this signifies a mere matter of private opinion. But the phrase in the Schedules ‘would not accept’ is surely somewhat stronger than the notion of parishes merely ‘declining’ such ministry which the Bishops of Guildford and Gloucester seem keen to promote. In any case, the passing of a resolution under the measure inhibits a public function otherwise guaranteed by the law.

Cynical manoeuvre?

The question has to be asked why, if Canon A4 is the sine qua non of their ecclesiology, as they now maintain, proponents were ready to modify, qualify or suspend it in 1993. In that light the appeal to the Canon in 2006 cannot be seen as other than cynical and unprincipled. To get what they wanted then, they abrogated it; to get what they want now, they seek to reinstate it (and at the same time, by doing so, to renege on undertakings given to opponents).

Archbishop Rowan’s worst fears (of a tit-for-tat impasse, as a result of which legislation by which all could agree to abide became impossible to devise) have not, it seems, been fully realized after all. But anyone who followed Monday’s debate will be clear that the fears were real enough. The problem, in short, is to concoct a solution which will not provoke illegal or extra-curricular activity by either side. This cannot be done unless an interpretation of Canon A4 can be adopted which will allow the open period of reception on which women’s ordination was founded to continue unimpeded.

Third amendment

A third amendment to Monday’s motion was also passed. Though less important than the other two it has its own special interest. The clause relating to the appointment of a legal drafting group was amended thus; ‘…which will aim to include a significant representation of women in the spirit of Resolution 13/31 of the Anglican Consultative Council passed in July 2005.’

That amendment, though unexceptionable, is interesting for the assumptions which underlie it, and for its possible consequences. All along it has been assumed – on what evidence it is hard to say – that women favour women’s ordination and men oppose it. There has even been language about a ‘male conspiracy’ to oppress women. But, of course, in a church where women are numerically predominant, very large numbers of those women are opposed to the innovation. They exercise women’s ministry, but are opposed to women priests and bishops. Sister Anne Williams spoke powerfully for them in the Synod debate.

There are always problems with quotas, but here the problem is acute. Women opposed are naturally offended at a failure to include them, on the tacit assumption that they are not ‘real women’. When the Bishops Meeting co-opted to its number ‘senior women’ to assist its discussions, none were women opposed. Such a state of affairs cannot be allowed to continue.

Unwarranted assumptions about the relations between gender and theological opinion cannot continue to be made if the appointments system is not to be brought into disrepute. The danger of the ACC amendment quite simply is that, checks and balances being what they are, it might well prove self-defeating to the innovators!