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Tuesday, 4 November 2014

When bishops were bishops

Canon Rosie Harper                                                                REUTERS/Yui Mok/POOL

After reading "Bishop 'club culture' will change with the first woman, says senior priest" (here), I was reminded of a dear departed old priest's comment in one of his delightfully erudite and ever witty sermons, "I am old enough to remember the days when bishops really were bishops". His homilies were so well crafted that one couldn't be quite sure whether he was taking a swipe at preferment based on political correctness or whether he was lamenting the passing of towering bishops he remembered with affection and awe.

Calling for the new Bishop of Oxford to be a woman Canon Rosie Harper is reported as saying, "The first woman bishop must find a new way of being a bishop and not merely become a female version. Bishops currently behave like 'little boys lost' who 'posture' that they know what they are doing and find it impossible to escape the gentlemen's club culture until they retire", comments no doubt gratefully received by the wimpish bishops who championed her cause rather than that of Apostolic Church to which they pretend allegiance!  

The Canon's next shot: "We've got to look to the future... obviously, you look for the best person for the job but having made the decision to have women bishops, the Church has to enact it not just leave it on the back burner. The face of the Church of England... is exclusively male and that needs to change very quickly." So having fought against so-called discrimination in the Church - which there wasn't - positive discrimination MUST be used to find the best woman for the job (which sums up the position these days) on the absurd pretext that the face of the Church of England is 'exclusively male'.

'Deeply committed to working for issues of justice and equality within and beyond the church' (self praise here), read also Feminists of Faith for more of Canon Harper's views on men and equality. Also 'OUT 4 Marriage' (here) and a supporter of assisted dying (here), she talks of 'what sort of a God' you believe in and selectively quotes the Bible to justify her views on killing based on suicides recorded in the Old Testament while overlooking the Commandment "Thou shalt not kill"!

The first woman bishop will have to find 'a new way of being a bishop' because a woman bishop contradicts Biblical teaching. But who cares about the Bible, faith and tradition any more - apart from the vast majority of Anglicans around the World! 

The women bishops legislation has completed its passage through General Synod and Parliament and has received Royal Assent leaving the way clear for the Archbishop of Canterbury to move at the 17 November Synod that the canon be enacted. The motion will be put before the Synod for a vote with a show of hands but without a debate. And that will be that. The death of the Catholic and reformed Church of England we knew and loved. 

Killed by secular debate in Synod and in Parliament by MPs who worry about the West Lothian question while happily nodding through without demure an issue which affects the faith of their constituents whether they have any themselves or understanding of the religious issues involved. Going back to that sermon I began with, yes, I hear you Father!


In The Oxford Student (here) the campaign to make the Bishopric of Oxford the first in the Church of England to be filled by a woman is hotting up.

"The women’s rep for Pembroke College, Anna Simpson, commented: 'It is fantastic to see this possible change tying in with wider movements in Oxford for gender equality and more generally that institutions are moving forward with the times' ". 

There will be a Public Meeting on the 11th November at Christ Church Cathedral at 7:15pm to discuss  the appointment. 

Other items offered by The Oxford Studentfor thought to be interest to readers are :

This should please my sternest critic who wrote earlier: "All male lead instutions (sic) have moved on from this decades ago (police, law, medicine) and now it's time for us to do the same. 

Will these people never learn that faith is not about secular institutions and gender politics!


  1. From our experience here in the U.S., female bishops are definitely not male bishops. I can assure you that the political machinations are all the more interesting inside the girls club. I agree that the female bishop is non-biblical and therein lies the danger, the loss of the authority of Scripture.

  2. I thought the face of the Church was Jesus Christ? Or did she mean Jean Christ or Jacintha Christ or something like that? God help you.

  3. I think she is really on to something. The hierachy of the church can't help but behave akin to the 'little boys lost' syndrome who 'posture' - it's of the male nature. You see the same on this blog - posturing and theological tantrums by those who haven't got their own way. All male lead instutions have moved on from this decades ago (police, law, medicine) and now it's time for us to do the same. Well done Rosie.

    1. Groovy is again missing the obvious. We have religious freedom in the UK. If Rosie et al want to be part of a non-"male lead" church with liberal agendae, they can join one of the existing ones or set up their own. Why do they want to join one they don't agree with, and then destroy it? (I can think of 2 or 3 possible reasons!) We are losing freedom of religion as well as everything else.

    2. I think you will find the 'lost sydnrome' is more to do with the fact that bishops spend so much time trying to be 'all things to all people,'.

      As regards "posturing and theological tantrums", the first organisations that spring to mind in thie CofE context are WATCH & GRAS, especially after the last-but-one vote was lost at General Synod concerning women bishops. The outpuring of bile and hate, and the attempted and failed "impeachment" process of the chair of the House of Laity, were disgraceful;, all aided and abetted by a theological illiterate press and parliament. Where was the much vaunted "grace" in that behaviour?

      Your last sentence lays out clearly the divide between your point of view and that of many contributors to this blog; Erastian vs Catholic. The Erastian view is that state, under the shady and loose cloak of 'society', decides on matters of Christian faith and Church order. The curiosity of the Erastian view is that it claims quasi-medieval privilege to scream 'anathema est' at anybody who holds to Catholic faith and order as the Anglican Communion has received it and as the vast majority of Catholic christians - of the Eastern and Western traditions - believe and practice it.

    3. I think you misunderstand me totally – you are right in your analysis – the Church in Wales now faces something of its own Erastian moment but my position is not as you discern and I see myself standing shoulder to shoulder with forbears in the Oxford Movement. My is a position that Milbank put rather well when he commented on the synodical processes of our sister church across the border. In relation to women in the episcopacy, Millbank stated that the church needed to reassert its episcopal identity and nature:

      It follows that if the bishops wish to uphold both the autonomy of the Church in relation to the State, and this radical meaning of establishment, which tempers politics by a higher power, then they need to find ways effectively to override Synod and in future to modify both its constitution and its role.
      Avoiding the Erastian moment is not only a matter of the decision-making process. Of at least equal importance is the rationale employed to explain why women should be consecrated to the episcopate.
      An Erastian instrument ... would institute women bishops for secular reasons of gender equality and not for the extremely good theological reasons - including high Mariological ones - in favour of this measure ... In so doing, the Church would align itself with popular opinion and with the political nation without being seen to be forced to do so. Yet, at the same time, it would have reasserted a more traditional understanding of the nature of the Church of England as a part of the Church Universal. In precisely this way, the bishops could be "progressive" as to content but newly traditionalist as to form and theological rationale.

      Rather than being an Erastian moment, I believe that this could yet be a moment of renewal for the Church in Wales, with all the significance this would then have for Rome and beyond. I recently red the letter our Bishops sent to Credo Cymru and what I was glad to discern there was bold reassertion of the catholic identity of our Bench together with a renewed and radically orthodox theological rationale for women in the episcopate. reaction

    4. Thank you for that reply, Groovy. I did indeed misunderstand your view, given this explanation. There is much of value and interest in your comment, even if we do not agree on the theological arguments for and against women bishops.

      I doubt many contributors here would disagree with your 'high view' of the episcopacy; indeed your definition and that of AB in this blog entry do not vary greatly in that sense! But the danger of 'prophetic or local inidviduality' (local in the sense of only part of the whole) rather than 'Catholic collegiality' is the potential for the sort of disputes that have rocked the Church in various times and places, obscure as they may seem now.

      One of the problems which many opponents of women bishops and priests have highlighted for décades is the over-insistence and reliance on 'Erastian' gender equality / "justice" arguments. If you strip away those arguments from the speeches and writings of the this lengthy debate, I have a strong suspicion that the number of tomes required to document this Anglican argument would be signficantly less than with those comments and speeches included. So on this point as well, there is a convergence between your view and the views often expressed here.

      The nature of Anglicanism is (or was ...) generally accepted as a balance of Scripture, Tradition & Reason, If some of us may be accused of making too much of the first two, others must also accept their responsibility for over-emphasising the third, pushing secular reason in a sacred context. Each side of the debate has accepted more or less water in their wine; and a true definition of the graciousness which was so often talked about in the CofE General Synod would be, in the Welsh context, to allow opponents of women bishops in the CoW a similar measure of epsicopal care as has been planned in the CofE; a levelling up of the balance of water and wine for both sides. The problem with the response of the Welsh bishops to those who disagree with them is that the Bishops have simply written them off as 'misogynists' and that 'any old male bishop will do'. There is no worse example of a determined failure to understand or 'write off' the 'faith' reasons (based on Scripture & Tradition) of the opponents of women bishops than this 'secular reason' response.

    5. But you see I don't think they are saying "any old male bishop will do" what they are questioning is whether Credo recognises the episcopal orders of the Bench and so long as the Bench is not entirely female, where is the problem? Might make more work for the remaining bishops when a female is appointed but at least it will not be an alternative episcopacy - that wouldn't be catholic as I understand it.

    6. Groovy, as you have been privy to the Bishops' response to Credo Cymru perhaps you could share with readers the gist of what was said about their "bold reassertion of the catholic identity". I can find nothing about it on the Credo Cymru web site or elsewhere.

    7. Groovy,

      Like AB, I have not seen the response you are referring to so perhaps we are debating at cross-purposes in one sense.

      I am not really sure what is so so 'uncatholic' about for instance a provincial epcisopal visitor - Welsh or English - exercising the pastoral episocpal office in Wales "by agreed delegated authority", compared to say the Bishop of St Asaph simply popping over th border and intervening in the diocese of Bangor because a male bishop is required. In either case the bishop in question is not the 'ordinary of the diocese'.

      The apparent allergy to the epsicopal oversight of a diaspora does seem curious as it is a known and accepted form of provision in Catholic Christendom. I would tend to think that that alternative episcopal oversight from a specifically designated and consecrated member of the same or a directly concurrent neighbouring episcopal hierarchy is preferable, rather than a personal prelature or some such ilk which is probably a recipe for trouble somewhere along the Anglican line, even if it does work in the Roman Catholic context. But that does also required that such a bishop be available, and not just a 'let's pull straws' approach to see who gets the job of going to deal with the "difficult" parish this month.

      I understand the Welsh bishops' question that you have relayed, but the answer is far from simple, as the bottom line still is "well I'm a bishop and I am male, so that deals with that". And that approach is precisely the problem, and not the solution.

    8. In an earlier comment I asked Groovy to let readers have details of the bishops' response to Credo Cymru as he had been privy to their letter. My critics rarely if ever respond when challenged but no matter. Their letter has now appeared on another blog, hat tip to Fr Michael Gollop, here:
      I would be interested to hear what readers make of it.

    9. Hi there. I am sorry. For some reason when I send a message it does not always appear. I did respond. Too late, it seems, now. But you have sight of the Bishop's letter which is great. I just think it's great that they speak from a catholic understanding of episcopacy and are seeking clarity as to whether Credo recognise their orders.

    10. The apostolic authenticity of their orders is not in doubt. However, by their actions they have rendered their ministry un-catholic and lost all authority. That is why so many of us look to, and are very grateful to receive on a regular basis, episcopal hospitality from across the border.

    11. Not to worry Groovy. Your lack of concern for others places you firmly in the camp of those you serve.

  4. In July 2008 this open letter was signed by many hundreds of clergy. Can those who are remaining explain how they square the circle on this?

    1. I am publishing this anonymous comment as an exception to the blog rule that anonymous comments are rejected. This is to emphasis the point made in the header and in the introductory notes and offers an explanation to anonymous commentators who may wonder why their comments have not been published.

      The simple addition of a pen name at the end of an otherwise 'anonymous' comment will suffice. Thank you for your co-operation. - Ed.

  5. That would be Canon "look at me, I'm here" Harper - chief protégée of that well-known warrior for orthodoxy, the Bishop of Buckingham!