Monday 8th February 2010
Dear Bishops and Synod members,
As 50 incumbents of Church of England churches we are writing to say why, in our view, the consecration of women bishops would be a mistake and would raise for us great difficulties of conscience and practice, as well as being wrong for our Church as a whole.
Our concern is derived from Scripture. It seems to us that the Apostolic teaching on male headship in church and family (as in 1 Corinthians 11-14, Ephesians 5, 1 Timothy 2 and 1 Peter 3) is clear enough in its principles: overall leadership in the church is to be exercised by men. The fierce debates that have surrounded the gender issue over the last twenty years or so have stimulated much careful analysis of these texts, and have only served to show that mainstream translations such as NRSV, NIV, REB and ESV are correct in their translation and may (and should) be taken as they stand.
It is, of course, right to say that these passages in Paul and Peter have a particular cultural setting; but to make them prisoners of that culture and thus unable to challenge our culture, seems to us implicitly to deny the authority of Scripture. It is surely the genius of the New Testament that what was spoken in a particular context is at one and the same time also God’s word to us. Far from being a prisoner of his culture, Paul is not afraid to challenge it, warning his readers “not to live as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their thinking” (Eph 4:17). Why, then, is it assumed he will uncritically reflect their values on this issue of gender?
Therefore we think the historic, reasoned reflection of Christians down the ages (including the historic position of the Church of England) has been correct; we fear that the current pressure to overturn it comes not for biblical reasons but because we are losing our nerve in the face of pressure from society.
In saying all this, we emphasise again that we are NOT for a moment saying women are less valuable than men, and nor does the Scripture. This, in our experience, is the point which we find hardest to communicate, since the world about us equates value with power. Just by making this point we are thought to be “anti-women”. On the contrary, it is both possible and right to affirm that we are “all one in Christ Jesus”, while at the same time affirming different roles. For the Bible separates roles and worth: our Lord Jesus himself submitted to the Father, but is, of course, no less God than he is.
There are, of course, questions about how precisely to honour this teaching in some details of the life of our churches today, but few would doubt, surely, that the office of bishop is indeed very much a leadership function!
In our own churches we are glad to teach these passages of Scripture as they stand, and include a ‘complementary’ view of gender roles in our teaching on marriage, family life and church. Gently ordering our shared life this way is, in our view, vital to our witness to a Christian understanding of family life. Our churches contain many members - and very many women as well as men - who are glad of this teaching, which is all the more important in a world which is so confused about gender roles and sexuality in general. In such a context, the oversight of a woman bishop would be enormously hard to explain, however great her merits in other regards. Again and again, in our youth groups, at marriage preparation and whenever covering the relevant passages in homegroups and from the pulpit, we would find ourselves having to answer people’s question, “Why does the Church of England go against this?” This would fester on for as long as people have Bibles in their hands.
In the end, this is an issue about our view of Holy Scripture, and this is why it matters to us so much, as ministers of the Word.
As matters stand, it seems likely that General Synod will be invited to vote on legislative proposals that threaten our ministries. An illustration of the practical problems we will face should a Measure fail to provide adequate safeguards, can be seen with future ordinands. At the moment we are encouraging young men into the ordained ministry in the knowledge that they cannot be discriminated against if they hold convictions about male headship. While this remains the case, we have encouraged them to believe that there is a worthwhile future for their ministries in the Church of England. However, we will be unable to do this if inadequately protective legislation is passed. The issue that will then arise is how to encourage these men to develop their ministries if they cannot do so within the formal structures of the Church of England. The answer must be to encourage them to undertake training for ministries outside those formal structures, although hopefully still within an Anglican tradition. We will, of course, have to help them with the financing of their training.
Our congregations will inevitably start asking questions about their own place within the Church of England if they see us encouraging people into training for alternative ministries. This will come into sharp focus when the issue of succession to an incumbency arises. Since we cannot take an oath of canonical obedience to a female bishop, we are unlikely to be appointed to future incumbencies. We see nothing but difficulty facing us. In these circumstances we will have to discuss with our congregations how to foster and protect the ministry they wish to receive. This is likely to generate a need for the creation of new independent charitable trusts whose purpose will be to finance our future ministries, when the need arises.
These twin developments will need to be financed from current congregational giving. This will inevitably put a severe strain on our ability to continue to contribute financially to Diocesan funds. Where we are unable to contribute as before some will see this as a form of retaliation. However, that could not be further from the truth. We long to contribute to the well being of the Church of England. Over the last ten years we have encouraged more than 180 young men into the ordained ministry, over 50% of whom were under the age of 30. We have together contributed a gross figure of more than £22million to Diocesan funds.
Finally, for those of us ordained since 1992, our understanding, in good faith, was that proper legal provision would be made for those who did not agree that women should have the overall leadership of a church (Resolution B, etc). It seems to us a matter of simple integrity that Synod should now keep its word to us in this and not force us down a road none of us wish to tread.
Yours in Christ,
Rev’d Rod Thomas St Matthew’s Elburton, Exeter
(Chairman of Reform)
and 49 other signatories, which follow
Rev’d Michael Andreyev St Peter’s Stapenhill, Derby
Rev’d Nigel Atkinson St John’s Knutsford, Chester
Rev’d Simon Austen St John’s and St Peter’s, Carlisle
Rev’d Martin Bailey All Saints Riseley, Peterborough
Rev’d Iain Baker St Thomas Kidsgrove, Lichfield
Rev’d Hugh Balfour Christ Church Peckham, Southwark
Rev’d David Banting St Peter’s Harold Wood, Chelmsford
Rev’d Neil Barber St Giles Normanton, Derby
Rev’d Robert Bashford St James Westgate,Canterbury
Rev’d John Birchall Christ Church Surbiton Hill, Southwark
Rev’d Iain Broomfield Christ Church Bromley, Rochester
Rev’d Mark Burkill Christ Church Leytonstone, Chelmsford
Rev’d John Cheeseman Holy Trinity Eastbourne, Chichester
Rev’d CJ Davis St NicholasTooting, Southwark
Rev’d Steve Donald St John the Evangelist, Carlisle
Rev’d Richard Espin-Bradley St Luke’s Wolverhampton, Birmingham
Rev’d Jonathan Fletcher Emmanuel Church Wimbledon,Southwark
Rev’d Simon Gales St John s Lindow, Chester
Rev’d David Gibb St Andrews Leyland, Blackburn
Rev’d David Harris St Leonards, Exeter
Rev’d Clive Hawkins St Mary’s Eastrop, Winchester
Rev’d Chris Hobbs St Stephen’s Selly Park, Birmingham
Rev’d Christopher Hobbs St Thomas Oakwood, London
Rev’d Jonathan Juckes St Andrew’s Kirk Ella, York
Rev’d Jeremy Leffler St Ambrose Widnes, Liverpool
Rev’d James Leggett St James, Ryde, Portsmouth
Rev’d Ian Lewis St Bartholomews, Bath
Rev’d Angus MacLeay St Nicholas Sevenoaks, Rochester
Rev’d Julian Mann Oughtibridge Parish Church, Sheffield
Rev’d Ed Moll St George’s Wembdon, Bath
Rev’d Darren Moore St Catherine’s Tranmere, Chester
Rev’d Ken Moulder St Oswalds, Newcastle
Rev’d Robert Munro Cheadle Parish Church, Chester
Rev’d Alasdair Paine Christ Church Westbourne, Winchester
Rev’d Andrew Raynes Christ Church, Blackburn
Rev’d Mike Reith Dagenham Parish Church, Chelmsford
Rev’d Vaughan Roberts St Ebbe's, Oxford
Rev’d Simon Scott All Saints Little Shelford, Cambridge
Rev’d John Simmons Christ Church Chadderton, Manchester
Rev’d Simon Smallwood St George’s Dagenahm, Chelmsford
Rev’d Will Stileman St Mary’s Maidenhead, Oxford
Rev’d William Taylor St Helen’s Bishopsgate, London
Rev’d Melvin Tinker St John's Newlands, York
Rev’d Alistair Tresidder St Luke's Hampstead, London
Rev’d Philip Venables St Andrew’s Bebington,Chester
Rev’d Stephen Walton St Michaels’s Marbury, Chester
Rev’d Tim Ward Holy Trinity Hinkley, Leicester
Rev’d Mike Warren St Peters Tunbridge Wells, Rochester
Rev’d Gordon Warren St Anne’s Limehouse, London
(The Bishop of Lewes, the Rt Rev’d Wallace Benn, also wishes to be associated with this letter)
A briefing paper from Reform on the different roles of men and women in ministry can be found at: http://www.reform.org.uk/pdf/tm/the_role_of_women.pdf
Revd Paul Dawson, Reform Media Officer
T: 07791 495824, E: firstname.lastname@example.org
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Tuesday, 9 February 2010
Monday 8th February 2010