There has been some dismay today at the news that the supposed ‘fast-track’ solution to enable women to become Anglican Bishops is actually going to take a further two years. After the uproar last November when the General Synod rejected legislation (which had been 12 years in the making) to bring women into the Episcopate, the new Archbishop declared that it was top of his priority list. Many had hoped that Archbishop Welby would make it possible for some of the church’s internal legal processes to be bypassed so a new solution could be brought to the table as rapidly as possible.
However, after a two-day meeting of its General Synod, the Church of England last night issued a Statement on Women in the Episcopate with a new timetable stating that new legislation could only gain final approval in 2015 at the earliest. Assuming the new proposals are passed without hiccup this time, we would see women entering the episcopate by 2017 – not exactly imminently then! Hence some people’s disappointment.
I can see how this would seem yet another setback to the churchwomen who’ve been campaigning on this issue for 12 years – I really can. But surely containing the new legislation within the normal processes of the General Synod has to be a good thing, so that when it happens (and happen it will) there can be no accusations of a rushed job in which the Church’s tried and tested procedures were railroaded for the sake of expedience. These processes, as tortuous as they seem from the outside, are what ensure the good governance of an institution which still has a lot of power even in a secular age. The established church can only be fully trustworthy if it is seen to have a transparent, democratic framework in place – it prevents the cult-forming group think and the exploitation that can sometimes happen when religion which lacks these checks and balances.
What’s more, the talks that the Archbishop has presided over (using his experience of reconciliation ministry in Nigeria where he brought together Muslim and Christian militia groups) have yielded four entirely new legislative options – these are as yet shrouded in mystery but all are devised to satisfy people on both sides of the debate. None of them will be perfect, that’s the nature of compromise. But, rather than see these new recommendations as simply hurdles to get over as quickly as possible in pursuit of the end goal, women bishop supporters could see these as four fresh opportunities for reconciliation in a process which, in all its slowness and tedium, will ultimately mean that the first women bishops are viewed with credibility as the result of a job well done.
Some other thoughts about the women bishops campaign can be found in the article:http://www.telegraph.co.uk/women/womens-life/9692363/Women-bishops-Did-feminism-undermine-the-campaign.html and BBC Radio 4 interview: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b01pf6dj