Fulcrum Perspectives: Women Bishops Legislation
by James Mercer
Some twelve years ago, I attended a conference for ordinands of all types and persuasions, held in Birmingham Cathedral. A friend and fellow ordinand asked the assembled plenary panel, with studied innocence, (the panel included the Archbishop of Canterbury in waiting) as to which of the 'two integrities' was the correct and sustainable one. The muddled answer she received was, perhaps inevitably, 'both and neither’. Many were less than satisfied with such a response. Last year, at the Deanery Synod discussion on the measure to enable women to be admitted to the episcopate, the myth of two equal but contradictory integrities was at last exposed as just that, and was conclusively dispatched as a legitimate premise within Anglicanism. Clarity at last, at least at local level. The relief experienced by female and the overwhelming majority of male colleagues, was immense and emotional.
At one level, the eleventh hour change to Clause 5 seems an arcane and complex re- articulation, that merely amplifies something that was already in the Measure. However, it succeeds in enshrining in law a provision that was to be based on trust and collegiality. In doing so it reinstates the painful ambiguity of the 'dual integrities' as an ongoing and legalised entity and continuing institutionalised stumbling block. The myth of 'taint' and therefore the unsuitability of women to have authority equal to that of men is, albeit unwittingly, perpetuated. The amendment restores a presumption that is ultimately unsustainable and profoundly unjust. It also devalues the principles championed at deanery level across the land and dishonours the patience and sacrificial grace of so many women over so many years.
This amendment, being eleventh hour, gives the perception of being unaccountable and underhand and therefore lacking any integrity. Regrettably, the amendment risks prolonging division and enshrining mistrust in law.
And yet - to consider voting against the measure is to contemplate the continued exclusion of women from the episcopate. That would seem to be an impossibly huge price to pay for principle - and absolutely not my call. If the Measure is passed, (and I really hope it is) rejoicing will now be sadly muted. The Church of England will continue to walk with a limp into the future. It had the opportunity to fly.
James Mercer is the Vicar of All Saints’, Harrow Weald in the Willesden Area of the Diocese of London. He has been chair of trustees and co-founder of a ‘drop in’ cafe serving disadvantaged young people in a city centre and the founder of a Forest School working with marginalised young people in West London.