John Turnbull on one of the dangers of a Code not for Forward in Faith but for its proponents
Last July, many in the General Synod voted for a statutory Code of Practice in the (mistaken) belief that this would make it somehow stronger, and therefore more acceptable to the unacceptable minority who supposedly need it. It will, as every writer and spokesman on our side of the argument has pointed out ad nauseam, make no difference whatsoever to traditional Anglican Catholics. If a Code is irrelevant, a statutory Code is irrelevant. If a Code is useless, a statutory Code is just as useless.
It may, however, prove more problematic for the proponents than they had first imagined. Even now the Legislative Drafting Group must be working on how to include a statutory time limit to any possible Code, without making it look the nonsense we have all along suggested it was. A time limit makes no difference to us, since a Code would be irrelevant, but it is vital to the majority. Why?
One of the minor goals of introducing women bishops into the Church of England is that it will greatly help ecumenism – ecumenism, that is, with the Protestant or Free churches in this country. The Anglican-Methodist Covenant may still have a way to go, but it is quite clear that no serious form of organic unity can occur until the CofE side accepts women bishops.
‘We do not want Legislation or a Code of Practice that discriminates against bishops who are women,’ says Christina Rees in the latest Watch circular that has been doing the rounds. Quite so! Anglo-Catholics entirely agree: all groups have insisted that a woman bishop should not be discriminated against because she is a woman; the issue is bishops, not women. A Code of Practice would, unfortunately, allow (in statutory form) precisely this form of sexual discrimination. Any parish could refuse the ministry of a woman bishop precisely because she was a woman.
‘Consider our ecumenical relationships, especially with the Methodist Church,’ urges Christina later in the same circular. Please do! A statutory code in relation to women bishops may be a political hoop that CofE liberals are willing to jump through, for the sake of a greater prize they have fought for over many years, but should a Methodist be bound by the same legislation?
Imagine cantankerous congregations, incorporated by pastoral reorganization into a local ecumenical project, lighting upon this Code in order to refuse the oversight of the Methodist woman superintendent. Or imagine the national organizations, the Methodist Church’s Faith and Order Committee for example, being told, ‘Yes, we accept your version of bishops, but we have just introduced legislation that allows us to reject your women bishops’
The only way in which a Code of Practice can be made acceptable to protes-tant ecumenical partners is to write in a formal time limit of no more than, say, ten years. In this way, the partner churches would not be obliged to sign up to it, but simply wait until it disappears. Whereas if it were permanent, it would have to be accepted, even by Methodists, innocent of its specious reasoning and institutionalized misogyny.
With a time limit, the CofE liberals would say that all this double-thinking was but a necessary concession to the bad guys (traditional Anglo-Catholics), a sad piece of realpolitik. However, when none of our parishes make use of their Code, such an excuse will look thin indeed.