There are no prizes for guessing the ultimate outcome of the February Synod. Whatever the proposals of the Manchester Group – and for a number of reasons they may well be hotly contested – it is in everyone’s interests that the ordination of women bishops now moves to the legislative and revision stages.
Manchester will, in all probability, issue with a mighty piece of work. Both proponents and opponents of the new ministry may well be surprised at how much can be packed into a Code of Practice and into its accompanying canonical revisions. The faint hearted among the opponents may well be tempted to conclude that it would be a sufficient provision. The proponents, whatever it is, will want to whittle it down to the barest minimum. Speeches in the Synod will no doubt rehearse in miniature all the submissions which will subsequently be made at the revision stage of the legislation.
This much is certain. We need not hold our breath nor sit poised on the edge of our seats. But other things are equally obvious, and should be acknowledged before any spurious debate begins.
The first is that, whatever proposals or concessions are made, if they are not enshrined in primary legislation they will not be acceptable to the principled majority of those opposed. A Code of Practice will not do.
The second is that proposals which change in any significant way the nature of the episcopate will be unacceptable to both parties. Women want to be real bishops and Catholics want to receive the ministry of real bishops. Hybrids by whatever name will be rejected by both.
The third is that inadequate provision for opponents will result, for the Church of England as a whole, in the worst of all possible worlds: a world in which the sexists and misogynists will be enabled to remain in office with impunity, while the theologically principled will be driven out.
The fourth is that failure to come up with legislation which both secures the consecration of women and provides for the Catholic minority will result in a degree of civil disobedience in the Church unparalleled in modern times.
The truth is that, seriously though this magazine and the majority if its readers take it, women bishops is no longer the main issue. Human sexuality, on which the House of Bishops is even more divided, is waiting in the wings. Failure to resolve the problem of women bishops will be a clear signal to the (largely evangelical) constituency which is primarily concerned about the other.
The Synod needs to take account of the fact that to loose one group might be thought to be a misfortune; to loose both would be rank folly. It would at one fell swoop remove from the Church of England all those who have a real commitment to evangelism or a Gospel with which to evangelize.
An ‘inclusive’ Church of England which could not include either real Catholics nor convinced Evangelicals would be a Church which would rapidly lose everybody, to the detriment of the entire nation.