Sir, – Your Editorial on women bishops (July 11th) was interesting, but in two respects, I feel, needs further comment.
First, it should be pointed out that, contrary to the impression you gave, the amendment proposed by the bishops at the recent English General Synod – at which I was present in the press gallery – was not really so much an “eleventh hour compromise” allowing “parishes to seek oversight from male bishops where a diocese has a woman bishop”, but more an eleventh hour extra compromise that, in the end, went too far.
The draft legislation before the General Synod, without any amendment, already contained a compromise on this matter, allowing parishes for conscientious, theological reasons to request male episcopal ministry.
The existing draft legislation also contained the necessary amendment to the Equality Act (the Church of England being established, its own legislation passes through Parliament).
However, the bishops’ amendment to the draft legislation before the General Synod would have gone so far as to require guidance to be given about the selection of male bishops “the exercise of ministry by whom is consistent with the theological convictions concerning the ordination and consecration of women on grounds of which the parochial church council issued a letter of request”.
In other words, under the bishops’ amendment a parish could have refused a male bishop who himself agreed with the ordination and consecration of women bishops. However, this was judged as simply going too far to accommodate those who reject women bishops.
Second, you also refer in your editorial to the recent Church of Ireland General Synod as having “appeared to vote in favour of prejudice against gay clergy”. By your careful wording you have not levelled the charge, but nonetheless have raised the spectre, of rank prejudice.
Whatever one thinks about women bishops or same-sex relationships, it is important that secular commentators do more to recognise the theological concerns that lie behind such arguments in the church.
Some, of course, may feel that theological concerns are just prejudice in more attractive wrapping paper, but that is surely too much to conclude.
However, I do feel that those who are arguing the theological issues of women bishops or same-sex relationships do need to exercise all the more vigilance to ensure that prejudice is not a real runner in their hearts and/or minds.
In relation to both, the genuineness of the theological concern becomes clear in how those who take different approaches in fact treat one another. – Yours, etc,