Fulcrum Perspectives: Women Bishops legislation
by Jody Stowell
In light of the amendments that have been made to the Women Bishops legislation by the House of Bishops, I now find that in many ways I am deeply ambivalent about the vote that will be taken in July. As a young(ish) woman, only ordained as Deacon last July, I find that my thoughts travel instinctively to the perspectives of those women, in particular, who sat in wait for the Priesthood vote twenty years ago and have lived with the story since that historic moment. My perspective is fundamentally formed by their perspective. I believe that theirs is the voice that must be listened to.
I think that there are two main problems with the particular amendment (Clause 5) that has caused concern. The first is that it seems to place in law, that which would have remained as a matter of grace, courtesy and wisdom, strongly held in the Code of Practice. This would ensure that discrimination against women was something that could be enforced by law, rather than understood as a matter of conscience which can be freely offered alternative arrangements in generosity and grace. This not only puts women in the position of having to accept their orders being called into question, sometimes on a fairly regular basis, but it also suggests that women are not able to be those who behave well about it. This is actually quite a blow.
Secondly, there is the issue of process. To begin with, the Group of Six who decided these amendments were not ‘substantial’ was comprised of two who made the amendments in the first place. This meant that out of those left three quarters would have to vote against accepting the amendments. This seems to indicate that it was almost a fait accompli. But more significantly, the amendments were made to legislation that was overwhelmingly approved by Diocesan Synods, formed in the crucible of a Revision Committee: all these contained women. It is felt very deeply that an all-male group could not leave this alone. This is not considered inconsequential.
Ordained women have felt the brunt of this kind of process before: in particular the women who waited and were told to remain silent in Synod in 1992. Too often has that command to be silent followed women into their ministries. Women are expected to accept disdain and to keep silent. It is unsurprising that the stories of these women are now being owned by those of us who, in one sense, have been blessed by the decision to ordain women, but who have not had to bear the pain in the same way. Our ministries are born through their labour pain and I do not wish to see our growth stunted.
I face the vote in July with sadness now, because the last thing I want is for us to vote ‘No’ to Women Bishops now. But I do not think, in light of our history with the Act of Synod, that I could feel the joy that a ‘Yes’ vote may otherwise have brought.
The amendments may have been offered as a clarification, but as one of my colleagues commented: what could have been a line in the sand over which we could see each other, has now become the Berlin Wall.