Tony Delves reviews two recent publications:
Women Bishops – Moving Forward Together from the Catholic Group in General Synod, and
Women Bishops in the Church of England, a CD PowerPoint presentation from FiF
Ils ne passeront pas’ – Why does it always sound better in French? The famous words ‘they shall not pass’ originate with Marshal Petain in his determination not to yield ground at Verdun. They seem to apply equally to the state of play for all sides since 1992. Everyone has dug in and – amazingly – since then the debate over women’s ordination has gone absolutely nowhere!
We were supposed to have given in or gone away but instead we have held our ground, theologically and parochially speaking. Our opponents similarly have dug in even further.
The dialogue of the deaf
The reason for the deadlock is not simply obduracy but because two different sets of arguments have been running in parallel, past each other, each beginning at a different place, and so never meeting. It is the classic dialogue of the deaf. One side begins with gender, the other with ecclesial issues, especially Apostolicity. How can it be resolved? The battles of the First World War we often call ‘futile’, but we are on the edge of resolving this particular conflict in exactly the same way, namely the force de frappe, brute synodical force, to break the impasse. There must be a better way of resolving our differences.
The Catholic Group leaflet
The Catholic Group in General Synod has just produced a leaflet titled Women Bishops – Moving Forward Together. It is deceptively modest in size, being a mere A4 sheet, but in a sense it is as much tract as leaflet. It points to a way forward and so its methodology is as interesting as its summary of our case.
Firstly, it invites all sides in the present situation to treat this as a Church of England issue, not just a party issue. So the key issue is not ‘what do we want?’ but ‘what does the Church of England need?’ The way forward must take place within the context of the greater common good.
Secondly, it reverses the existing order of argument by starting with the question ‘where do we want to go to?’ rather than ‘where do we come from?’ The latter has brought us to a sort of Verdun. To move on we need, as they say, a paradigmatic shift, where the key issue now becomes ‘what sort of Church of England do we need?’
Of course this redirection of the arguments will not of itself produce consensus but it does provide the context within which to arbitrate between competing claims.
The leaflet packs a lot of substantial information into a small space. It deals with particular issues such as our difficulties with the ordination of women; the problems of the present draft Measure; the provisions we need; misconceptions of our position. But its significance is greater than the sum of its parts, in breaking the mould and suggesting a better way forward.
The FiF CD
This CD is a PowerPoint presentation with sound, lasting about 15 minutes. It begins unexpectedly with images of a magnificent tiger and the theme ‘endangered species’. I wondered about this analogy at first, but it is a bold motif which injects a healthy sense of passion into what may often seem rather abstract issues.
The subheading is ‘Should your Diocesan Synod approve the proposed Measure to permit the ordination of women as bishops?’ It reviews the Catholic Tradition in the Church of England; the events of 1992 and the origins of Resolutions A and B and the Act of Synod; promises made and assurances given; the arguments for women bishops and contrary views; the implications of women bishops; the form and impact of the proposed draft Measure; the Diocesan Synod debates; Following Motions and the need to amend the proposals.
Many people are dimly aware of our position and even more so of the actual provisions in the draft Measure. It is an excellent way to open up these issues and encourage discussion, for example in PCCs, Chapters and discussion groups. It is also an ideal source to recap on the issues and key propositions.
Congratulations and thanks to Graham Leech and members of FiF Guildford for the original idea and excellent production for us.
The Catholic Group leaflet, Women Bishops – Moving Forward Together: FiF members will have received a copy by post. Additional copies are available free from ACS in multiples of 25. Contact:
Robert Jordan (tel. 0121 382 5533)
Also it can be downloaded soon from the FiF website.
The FiF CD, Women Bishops in the Church of England, can be downloaded from the FIF website. Hard copies can be obtained free from
Mr Graham Leech,
Huggins Cottage, Back Lane, East
Clandon, Surrey, GU4 7SD
(tel. 01483 225595) ND