Nicholas Turner explains how and why the introduction of women bishops has been deliberately delayed by their most visible champions

If it were not for Watch, the Church of England would already have women bishops. I think this truth is too little understood. The introduction of women bishops has been significantly delayed by the most visible champions of women bishops.

Delaying not hastening

The organization that (seemingly) campaigns simply and directly for ‘women in the house of bishops’ has succeeded in delaying (not hastening) their introduction. Such an intention has been clear and deliberate. Not enough people realize this. It may be counter-intuitive, but it is both intelligent and intelligible. Watch knows what it is doing, however wrong that may be in our eyes.

There is a certain bitter hypocrisy, in that having now succeeded in delaying the legislation until they have got everything they want (even the fig-leaf of a worthless Code was only designed to make them look generous), they are now (entirely rationally) demanding that there be no delay whatsoever. And they seem (if press reports are to be believed) to have ensured that Parliament has already timetabled them into the schedules, so that there will be no delay at that stage either.

Confidently expected

Cast your mind back to the year 2000. It was confidently expected (both inside and outside the Church of England) that there would be women bishops by the time of the 2008 Lambeth Conference or, if the worst came to the worst, that all the legislation would have been passed by that time, so that they would be an established certainty. Dr Williams would have walked into Canterbury Cathedral with a (literal or metaphorical) woman bishop on either arm: a facetious image perhaps, but one shared, in different ways, by both sides of the debate.

You think it was we who delayed it? Dream on. As a traditionalist minority, we make up at best 5% of the Church of England. With the conservative evangelicals, we might reach 10%. I happen to think that is a widely optimistic exaggeration; but even if you add another 5% for good measure, just to bolster your wishful thinking, you still cannot reach halfway to the minimum requirement of the one-third necessary to put a break on progress.

No secret

Of course, we oppose the altering of Church Order. Of course, we do not wish to see women bishops in the Church of England. We have never made a secret of either conviction. But the idea that it is we who are leading the opposition to their introduction is pure fantasy. The tail does not wag the dog.

No, the desire for delay has come from the women members of the campaigning organization Women and the Church, and their allies. They have made no secret of their convictions either.

It is more important to them that no adequate provision be made for traditionalist Anglicans, than that women bishops should be introduced speedily. Better to delay than to allow a proper place for those who cannot accept the new order.

Worthwhile tactic?

Had they been prepared to acknowledge the promises made by Bishops to both Parliament and General Synod, and to accept the Lambeth Resolution, and to have agreed to the early amendments that promised proper provision, the legislation to enable women bishops would have passed through all its stages a long time ago.

The question they have to ask themselves, when eventually they win their battle, is ‘Will it have been worth it?’ A full answer will not be possible until long after the fateful vote on July 9. But the question casts its shadow over deliberations even now.

What has this delay achieved so far? It has given space to the Holy Father to make his generous and imaginative offer to traditionalist Anglicans. Without Watch, it is not unreasonable to suggest, there would have been no reason for introducing the Ordinariate. OK, so that is a plus (and I do count it as a plus), but not perhaps one they would be proud of.

Cause of much harm

Within the beleaguered CofE, has the delay helped? Hardly. Every year of infighting is another year’s distraction from the demanding challenge of mission in an increasingly secular age. The fact that ABC parishes have been disproportionately impeded by this internal political struggle is of no advantage to the church as a whole.

As we move to the July vote (about which most of us can do nothing, except pray) it is, perhaps, important to remind ourselves and others of this deliberate, but questionable, delaying tactic. It has surely been the cause of much harm. Will it prove beneficial in the long run? Will it really have been worth it, to destroy the comprehensiveness of the Church of England, for the sake of greater uniformity?

Will the CofE be better off without us? It is not for us to say, but at least we cannot be accused of delaying this innovation. Opposing it, certainly. But not delaying it. We should continue to say what we have always said, using the words of Jesus himself, ‘That thou doest, do quickly.’ ND