Wallace Benn - bishop of Lewes, Gerald Bray, Roger Beckwith, Michael Ovey

Provision for dissentients after the consecration of women bishops in the Church of England


Preface Simon Vibert

Introductory note Gerald Bray

1. Some concerns about adequate provision, and suggestions for a way forward Wallace Benn

2. A way forward after the consecration of women as bishops in the Church of England Gerald Bray

3. Reception Roger Beckwith

4. The Issue of Justice in Relation to Female Episcopacy Michael Ovey


I warmly commend A Way Forward to you. The subject matter is critical for Evangelicals in the Church of England at the moment.

The four contributors have taken seriously the need for provision for those opposed to wWomen bBishops, as discussed in Women Bishops in the Church of England? (Church House Publishing, 2004), which favourably quotes an earlier Eames reportReport:

  • Bishops and dioceses who accept and endorse the ordination of women to the priesthood and episcopate would need to recognize that, within a genuinely open process of reception, there must be room for those who disagree. …… Understood in this way, we recommend such a proposal be further explored in Provinces in which there is serious dissent (7.3.42, p.216).

The following material was submitted to the Guildford group on 14th November 2005, in preparation for the February 2006 General Synod debate. Consequently, it requires urgent attention and wide circulation in order that the context of the debate and the need of provision for dissentients is understood.

This Orthos contains four independent articles from Wallace Benn, Gerald Bray, Roger Beckwith and Michael Ovey. Each of them made contributions to the Rochester Report and would want what they have written to be read in the light of the discussion in that document.

“A Way Forward” departs from our normal pattern of Orthos publications, hence a word of explanation is required. It is our usual practice to develop a biblical-theological framework as a starting point in which to answer contemporary issues. What follows here is a direct response to the practical challenges which will face Evangelicals, if and when women are admitted to the Episcopacy. The Orthos is necessarily briefer (in order that it may be quickly read in preparation for the upcoming debates) and needs to be understood in the context of the wider Scriptural understanding which has been explored elsewhere.

The biblical-theological framework which under girds the proposals contained here have been developed in Women Bishops in the Church of England (pp.148-156), briefly summarized below.:

First, Gerald Bray has argued (p.149) that ‘functional submission’ between equal men and women is based upon the economical relations within the Trinity, in which the Father exercises authority over the co-equal Son. In other words, a commitment to equality of value does not preclude complementarity in submission/authority roles.

Secondly, Mike Ovey points out that this functional subordination is to be found in Genesis 1-2. This passage is foundational for the way in which Paul makes his argument for Church order and headship in 1 Corinthians 11, 14 and 1 Timothy 2.

  • Genesis 2 does envisage headship between husband and wife, Adam and Eve. This shows Adam’s actions in Genesis 3 to be a refusal to accept responsibility and headship, but instead an adoption of submission to one who should have been submitting to him. …m…. A recreated marriage would be marked by the original creation marriage contours, namely complementarity and obedience within a loving relationship. It would be precisely the ordinal relationship of headship that marks marriage in the redeemed community before Christ’s return. (p.149f.).
  • When this principle is spelt out in passages such as 1 Timothy 2:11-12, it is again creation, not culture, which is in view:
  • 1 Timothy 2:11-12 implies that women who teach in the congregation in a way that exercises authority over men, challenge the pattern of relationship required by God in Christian marriage. This is not to deny complementarity but to express the teaching found elsewhere about the husband being the ‘head’ of the wife. (p.151)

Thirdly, if the principle of headship makes it inappropriate for a woman to hold the position of Presbyter in the Church, then, as Roger Beckwith argues, it is even less appropriate for her to hold the office of Bishop. An Episcopal role would entail exercising additional authority over men, which may be inferred from 1 Corinthians 11 and 14 and 1 Timothy 2:

  • [Paul] declares the office of headship to be [a] creation ordinance, which was reinforced at the fall, and still obtains after the coming of Christ. The offices of presbyter and bishop are offices of headship, as their very titles, meaning ‘senior man’ and ‘overseer’, indicate. The title of deacon, on the other hand, meaning, ‘servant’ or ‘assistant’, is not a title of headship and does not indicate an office of headship.

With these biblical arguments in mind, the following practical deductions are made in this section of the Women Bishops in the Church of England? (pp.152-156). On the grounds of ‘functional submission’ as created by God, ordaining women as Bishops compounds the problems which followed the November 1992 General Synod decision. The lack of consensus on the matter should mandate caution and arguments for justice (as explored later in this publication by Mike Ovey) should be even- handedly heard for the sake of conscientious dissentients in the denomination. Finally, if the Church of England is still in the process of ‘reception’ following the 1992 decision (see Roger Beckwith’s article for elucidation of this term), then the biblical arguments opposing the consecration of women bishops must be heard.

The arguments outlined in the Women Bishops in the Church of England? deserve further study, and form the backdrop to the four papers which follow. Fellowship of Word and Spirit is very aware that, even among our members, there is not unanimity on this issue. It is my hope that due consideration will be given to the theological issues and the practicalities of reception and provision. I encourage you to examine the four arguments which follow as a way forward for those who hold to biblical objections to women in the Episcopacy and we offer them in the hope of clarity of thought and for urgent action.

Simon Vibert

Chairman, Fellowship of Word and Spirit. January 2006

Introductory note

The four papers contained in this booklet were written independently, though by joint agreement, following the publication of the so-called ‘Rochester reportReport’, Women bishops in the Church of England? and the decision of the General Synod, taken in July 2005, that the Church should proceed to the next stage, which would eventually lead to the consecration of women as bishops. A commission to study this was set up, chaired by the bishop of Guildford (Christopher Hill), and submissions were invited from interested parties. The four papers printed here were accordingly sent to the commission, and represent a conservative Evangelical approach to the question of provision for those who cannot accept women as bishops.

Wallace Benn, the bishop of Lewes, was a member of the Rochester commission and his submission naturally reflects that fact. Gerald Bray has offered a practical proposal for accommodating dissentients in a way which will minimize disruption to the Church of England’s present structures. Roger Beckwith has tackled the wider question of ‘reception’, a term now often used to indicate the process by which synodical decisions come to be accepted in the Church as a whole. Finally, Michael Ovey has discussed the fundamental issue of justice, and argues that if there is a case to be made for women bishops, there is also one to be made for accommodating those who cannot accept them.

No attempt has been made to ‘harmonize’ the papers with one another; they appear here as they were submitted to the Guildford commission. It is the hope of the authors that they will provide a basis for further discussion within conservative Evangelical circles and present the wider Church of England with a valid case for making provision for all those, of whatever churchmanship, who cannot accept women bishops. It is our common conviction that this can be done without breaking the deeper bonds of fellowship which bind us to the Church as a whole, and that an equitable arrangement to accommodate different views is both faithful to Anglican tradition and, more importantly still, to the will of God for his people.

Gerald Bray

1. Some concerns about adequate provision, and some suggestions for a way forward

Wallace Benn, bishop of Lewes (Chichester)

1. Whereas Anglo Catholics have numbers of clergy/parishes that have passed A, B & C motions, Conservative Evangelicals have relatively few, for largely the following reasons. IWhen in Harold Wood, our PCC voted A not relevant (whether Holy Communion was taken by a woman), passed B (on headship grounds) and reserved the right to pass C. We had an Oopen Evangelical area bishop with whom we had a good relationship, but reserved the right to pass C if things got worse. In other words Conservative Evangelicals have been slow to look for extended Episcopal oversight, as they have tried to make current relationships work, and much prefer to seek other oversight about a Gospel- related issue of faith rather than what is felt to be a secondary, but nonetheless important, ecclesiological issue. This lack of profile in the Cchurch must not be interpreted as invisibility! Many Conservative Evangelicals will simply not be able to accept the oversight of a woman bishop, or be ordained or instituted by her. They would even find it difficult to relate to a bishop that had accepted her headship in a particular diocesan team.

All this will suddenly provide acute difficulties for Conservative Evangelicals as much as for Traditional Catholics, and it is imperative, given our numbers and the size of our churches, that adequate provision is made for us too. Otherwise, irregularity and lawlessness will break out.

2. It is therefore of critical importance that any provision is not a party provision (i.e. Rome next stop, or even Sydney next stop either!). If it is a province or diocese it needs to be an orthodox one credally and morally, strong in Biblical faith and traditional affirmations of faith, and not just a one- issue solution. It just cannot afford to be an extension of the present PEVs, but an extension that has a place for both ends (and any middle!) of the Cchurch. It needs to be loyal to the doctrine of the Book of Common Prayer, the Articles, and the Ordinal (Canon A5) and in the highest possible level of communion/friendship with the new integrity- egalitarian majority view.

It needs therefore Catholic and Evangelical bishops with the power to ordain and institute as well as appoint. And very importantly for Evangelicals, it needs to have the potential for a good relationship with the global south, i.e. the orthodox majority of the Anglican Communion.

3. When involved with the Rochester Commission I always favoured a diocesan or regional solution along the lines suggested by the Rev. Dr. Mike Ovey in the reportReport. I still think that this needs to be teased and tossed around to see if there is any mileage in it. I understand the problems from a Catholic point of view but it probably would be the favoured Evangelical solution. But if it cannot work for the traditional integrity end of the church in its totality then it is not a solution!

4. One thing that needs to be challenged strongly is the inappropriateness of overlapping jurisdictions. One frankly gets the impression from some modern bishops that jurisdiction is more important than fidelity to the Creed! Europe has for a long time managed very happily with overlapping jurisdictions, why can’t we! If there is a will to enable both integrities to survive and thrive in love and friendship, then it should not be beyond our wit to come up with a solution, which recognizes (as the Eames reportReport suggested) that both sides are loyal Anglicans. The danger is in one side seeking to unchurch or disinherit the other.

5. The Church of England has in its history many novel and sometimes ingenious solutions to our problems. This is a sign of a healthy, flexible and vibrant Church life. In parish life there have been proprietary chapels, royal and even (it is easily forgotten) ecclesiastical peculiars. If it must be a diocese or province I urge that it is a representative province that will welcome in its borders all those who hold the big creedal and moral doctrines of the faith, who find the consecration of a woman bishop, on conscientious grounds of faith and order, to be a novelty too far.

2. A way forward after the consecration of women as bishops in the Church of England

Gerald Bray

Now that the Ggeneral Synod of the Church of England has cleared the way for legislation to be prepared making it possible for women to be consecrated as bishops, the question remains of what provision(s) should be made for those who cannot accept this move. People on both sides of the debate recognize that there are ‘two integrities’ on this matter, i.e. views which are incompatible with each other, but which do not touch fundamental Christian truths as to make any form of communion between them impossible. It is also generally understood that those who cannot accept women bishops are in the minority, so that provision for them will in effect be provision for a group which dissents from the majority opinion in the Cchurch. This is not equally acceptable to everyone, and particularly not to some on the majority side who believe that provision for the minority is (in effect) the institutionalization of discrimination against women in the Cchurch. The existence of organizations like ‘Women and the Church’ (WATCH) and the ‘Group for the Repeal of the Act of Synod’ (GRAS) are reminders of this, and any provision for the minority will have to take the aims and activities of such organizations into account. Given this situation, and the invitation issued to members of the Church of England to suggest possible ways forward in the present circumstances, I would like to make the following proposals.

Basic principles

The first need is to set out the basic principles on which provision for the minority can and should be made. As I see it they are as follows.:

1. It must be recognized that opponents of the move to consecrate women bishops have a serious case and are found among all varieties of churchmanship. Provision made for them must therefore be acceptable to churchmen of different persuasions, who must also be fairly represented in whatever structure is eventually set up.

This may seem obvious, but it is fundamental and needs to be stated as clearly as possible. The recent reportReport Women bishops in the Church of England?, popularly known as the ‘Rochester reportReport’ made it clear that objections to women bishops come as much from the Evangelical side as from the Anglo-Catholic one. One of the great weaknesses of the provisions made for those who objected to women presbyters after 1992 was that the objectors were held to be almost entirely Anglo-Catholic, and the appointment of provincial Episcopal visitors reflected that perception. When Evangelicals petitioned for a bishop of their persuasion to be appointed as well, they were turned down, for reasons which have never been made clear and which would probably not be accepted by that constituency. This should not be allowed to happen again, for several reasons. In a comprehensive Cchurch, it is unwise to create structures of any kind which cater for only one type of churchmanship. Exclusion of a significant constituency (in this case, the Cconservative Evangelicals) does not usually cause that constituency to disappear. On the contrary, it is liable to lead to developments which are unhealthy for the life of the Cchurch as a whole. The disquiet expressed in some quarters by the emergence of Reform, for example, shows what can happen if a legitimate interest is ignored. Had that interest been recognized and provided for at the time, it is at least possible that Cconservative Evangelical discontent would have been contained within the structures of the Cchurch and directed towards positive ends, of potential benefit to all. Finally, the restriction of provision to a certain type of churchmanship is liable to lead to its (unintentional?) ghettoization, with the result that it may become a new type of churchmanship, defined by criteria which may not fairly reflect the overall beliefs of its adherents and may produce a stigmatization which will hinder, rather than promote, spiritual unity between those of different opinions.

2. The Church of England is committed to recognizing two integrities on this issue. The minority integrity must be treated as such and not regarded as a ‘dying breed’ for whom merely transitional arrangements will suffice.

This again may seem obvious, but it needs to be stated and acted upon from the beginning. The existence of groups like WATCH and GRAS is deeply disturbing to the minority integrity, many of whose members feel threatened by essentially political manoeuvres over which they have no control. It is essential, if provision is to mean anything, that those taking advantage of it should be respected and allowed to exercise their ministry to the fullest extent possible, without impinging on the rights of the majority but also not living in fear of being terminated against their wishes. In this connection, it should be understood that in any majority-minority arrangement, generous treatment of the latter is both essential and liable to appear ‘unfair’ to certain members of the majority. For example, bilingualism in Wales means equal treatment for both Welsh and English, even though only about 20 percent% of the population is Welsh-speaking. Sometimes English-speaking voices are raised against what appears to be the unnecessary expense of official bilingualism, and of course Welsh-speakers possess an advantage, in that they are all bilingual, making it easier for them to occupy certain jobs where bilingual competence is required. But this apparent imbalance is the price which must be paid if the rights and interests of the minority are to be protected. Similarly, in a ‘two-integrity’ Church of England, it would (and should) always be possible for members of the minority integrity to minister freely within the majority community, but not the reverse. This fact must be faced up to at the start and recognized, so as to avoid potentially damaging misunderstandings regarding perceived ‘unfairness’ at a later stage.

3. Any provision made for the minority must be accompanied by safeguards which would ensure that it cannot be removed without the consent of those directly affected.

This third principle follows on logically from the second, and for those immediately affected, it may appear to be the most important one of all. It is certainly true that issues and perceptions will change over time, and it is possible that a century or so from now, provisions made at this stage may come to seem unnecessary, or even be abused. For example, if the minority integrity is accorded certain advantages which do not apply to the majority, there may be a temptation for some people to opt for it for reasons which have nothing to do with the original intention(s) which led to its creation. The result would be a kind of ‘rotten borough’ which could then be used to manipulate church affairs in ways totally unrelated to the purpose for which the special provision was made. For this and for other, similar, reasons, some mechanism for ending the special provision at some future date should be allowed for, but whatever it is, there should be safeguards to protect those who make legitimate use of the provision from the so-called ‘tyranny of the majority’. At the very least, the provision should not be altered without the consent of the majority of those directly affected by it, and if that were ever to happen, it should not apply to those already in possession of the special protection which the provision offers, unless they voluntarily agree to it.


Having established the basic principles which ought to govern whatever arrangements are made to provide for the minority integrity, it is time to outline what shape those arrangements might take.

1. Adequate provision for the dissenting minority requires the creation of a new form of peculiar jurisdiction.

Peculiar jurisdictions have a residual existence in the Church of England, but they are now almost all royal (Windsor) or collegiate (Oxbridge colleges). The old Episcopal peculiars disappeared after 1837, when legislation was passed which ordered bishops to surrender their jurisdiction over parishes which did not lie within their dioceses. So far have they been forgotten that it is now possible for some to claim that it is somehow ‘un-Anglican’ for one bishop to operate on the territory of another— - a misconception which must be exposed as historically false. From shortly after 1066 until the decade after 1837 there were several important Episcopal peculiars. Canterbury had them in Chichester (Pagham, Terring), Winchester (Croydon) and London (St Mary-le-Bow), the memory of this last still surviving in the title ‘Dean of the Arches’ for the archbishop’s official principal. Rochester had one in Ely (Isleham) and others in Oxford; York had one in Durham (Hexhamshire) and Durham had two in York (Allertonshire and Howdenshire). The working party should study these peculiars to see how they functioned and what lessons can be learned and applied from them to the current situation. The Durham peculiars in York are especially relevant since both of them were separately represented in convocation, making them practically independent of their home diocese, and they have been thoroughly studied by Frank Barlow, Durham jurisdictional peculiars (Oxford and London, 1950), a work of scholarship which deserves and will repay careful study.

Peculiar jurisdictions are especially attractive because they would not have to follow a standard model and could offer flexible arrangements to suit different circumstances. This was the case with the ancient Episcopal peculiars, each of which related to its bishop and diocese(s) in a different way. It ought to be possible, for example, to cater for parishes prepared to accept women priests but not bishops, and for parishes in team or group ministries, by adjusting the terms of the peculiar jurisdiction to meet the needs of such parishes.

One major difference between the historical Episcopal peculiars and the ones envisaged by this proposal is that the former belonged to other bishops of the province working within a commonly accepted system. The bishop of London was not automatically excluded from the archbishop’s London peculiars, and in some respects the latter were regarded as part of the London, not of the Canterbury, diocese. Which bishop did what was regulated by custom or by formal agreement, like the one in 1175 which determined the rights of York and Durham in each other’s diocese (see Barlow). The consecration of women as bishops, however, would make such a solution impossible, because the woman bishop would not be able to function within the peculiar jurisdiction. For that reason, a different arrangement would be required.

The best way to do this would be to establish peculiar jurisdictions at the provincial level. Instead of having a dean, as the ancient peculiars did (and do), they would have a bishop who would be a suffragan of the archbishop in the same way as the other diocesan bishops are. In the event that a woman should be elected archbishop, she would have to delegate her responsibility for the peculiar jurisdictions in her province to a commissary, who ought probably to be the senior male diocesan within the province. This arrangement would last only for the tenure of the woman archbishop, and metropolitan rights would revert to the archbishopric when another male was appointed to it.

2. Bishops operating within the peculiar jurisdictions could not be appointed under the current rules, since bishops who reject the ministry of ordained women could not be chosen or consecrated by them.

This raises issues similar to those associated with the idea of a ‘third province’. Probably the best way forward would be to group parishes seeking peculiar jurisdiction territorially as follows.:

a1. Province of York. Two jurisdictions, one covering the west and the other the east of the province. The fourteen existing dioceses could be apportioned evenly, with parishes in Carlisle, Blackburn, Manchester, Liverpool, Chester, Sodor and Man and Bradford being assigned to one peculiar jurisdiction and those in Newcastle, Durham, York, Ripon/Leeds, Sheffield, Wakefield and Southwell to the other.

b2. Province of Canterbury. Four jurisdictions, three containing eight diocese and the other containing five plus Europe. A possible division might be:

  • A. London, Canterbury, Rochester, Guildford, Southwark, Europe.
  • B. Chelmsford, St Edmundsbury/Ipswich, Norwich, Ely, Peterborough, St Albans, Lincoln, Leicester.
  • C. Truro, Exeter, Bath/Wells, Salisbury, Bristol, Gloucester, Hereford, Worcester.
  • D. Winchester, Portsmouth, Chichester, Oxford, Birmingham, Coventry, Lichfield, Derby.

Other divisions are no doubt possible; the above is meant to be paradigmatic and suggestive only! It may well be necessary to create further jurisdictions or rearrange them according to circumstances, but no jurisdiction should extend over an area too large to be covered by a single bishop, and there should be a minimum of two jurisdictions in each province.

The bishops would initially be appointed by a joint committee of the two provinces, but their successors would be chosen from within the peculiar jurisdictions themselves. This could be done in a number of different ways; the essential point being that no-one from outside the jurisdictions (other than the archbishops or their commissaries) would be directly involved. They would also be consecrated and function entirely within the peculiar jurisdictions, unless invited to minister elsewhere by a diocesan bishop or the metropolitan of the province. As provincial suffragans, these bishops would be diocesans in every respect, apart from the right to sit in the House of Lords. They would all be ex officio members of the House of Bishops in General Synod, which would not make any ruling concerning their peculiars without their consent.

3. Parishes opting for a peculiar jurisdiction could maintain links with their present diocese.

Once again, the beauty of peculiar jurisdictions is their great flexibility, and parishes opting for them could be permitted to retain links with their present dioceses where these seem appropriate. For example, they would probably want to continue operating within their present diocesan structures for some administrative purposes, particularly where co-operation with neighbouring parishes is desirable. But in essence they would leave the jurisdiction of the diocese and join the regional peculiar, which would have its own administration and financial arrangements just like any other diocese.

Parishes should be free to enter or to leave a peculiar jurisdiction by a two-thirds vote of the PCC and a majority of those on the electoral roll. Any decision, once taken, would remain valid for ten years, after which time it could be reviewed and another vote taken. No other time limit should be imposed either way.

4. The peculiar jurisdictions would not have their own cathedrals or diocesan establishments.

There would be no need for bishops in peculiar jurisdictions to have their own cathedrals, and no need to create a cathedral establishment as such. They could however be encouraged to select a major church within their jurisdiction which could be used for ordinations and the like. They would also be able to appoint honorary canons within the jurisdiction, a practice which was once common in collegiate churches and which existed in Sodor and Man from 1895 to 1980, when there was no cathedral in the diocese!

5. The peculiar jurisdictions would have their own synods and their own representation in General Synod.

In these respects, each peculiar jurisdiction would function like a diocese and be represented in General Synod accordingly, with the proviso that no act of General Synod would apply to the peculiar jurisdictions without their consent. The peculiar jurisdictions would over time develop their own ecclesiastical law, with canons designed to meet their needs, and the law of the church as a whole would apply to them only in so far as it is compatible with their constitution. The synods of the peculiar jurisdictions would also be able to make rules applying to them alone, subject to the agreement of a majority of the General Synod.

6. There would have to be separate training facilities for the clergy and special provision for ministering within the peculiar jurisdictions.

Opponents of women’s ordination/consecration have a distinct ministerial ethos which must be respected by providing training facilities designed to meet their needs. Theological colleges should be able to join a peculiar jurisdiction or agree to train candidates for the peculiars, which should also have the right to organise local ministerial training courses. Ordinations could be performed in conjunction with the wider Cchurch (for example, by a bishop outside the peculiar jurisdictions), but the peculiars would be able to select, train and ordain their own men, subject only to the standard spiritual and educational requirements demanded of all clergy. To minister within a peculiar jurisdiction, a clergyman would have to obtain the licence of the appropriate bishop. Ordained women could minister within the peculiar jurisdictions in certain circumstances, to be agreed by the parish and the bishop concerned, but no ordained woman could be a full member of the peculiar jurisdiction or vote for its clergy representatives in General Synod.

Men trained and ordained outside the peculiar jurisdictions could be accepted for ministry within them, but only if they are prepared to accept its rules and ethos. Similarly, men trained within the jurisdictions could minister elsewhere if called to do so. Clergymen ordained in a Cchurch other than the Church of England would be accepted into the peculiar jurisdictions on the same basis as other overseas clergy, subject to the requirements of the jurisdiction itself.

7. The peculiar jurisdictions would be free to engage in mission as they saw fit.

The business of the Cchurch is to preach the Gospel, not to preserve rights and privileges, and the peculiar jurisdictions should be expected to demonstrate this in their life and behaviour. They would be encouraged to work across denominational lines wherever possible and to plant new churches, even if these are in other parishes. Such churches could be integrated into one of the peculiar jurisdictions (perhaps as proprietary chapels), without disturbing existing parochial arrangements. The peculiar jurisdictions would also be encouraged to engage in the worldwide mission of the Cchurch, and particularly in the structures of the Anglican Communion, bearing in mind that there are churches and provinces where the ministerial principles upheld within the jurisdictions are the canonical norm. Given that fact, it may well turn out that the jurisdictions can function as a bridge between the Church of England and more conservative churches elsewhere, a development which should be supported and encouraged by the Cchurch as a whole.

Obviously a number of other details would have to be worked out, but I hope that these general principles and suggestions can offer suitable guidelines for the kind of arrangement(s) to be put in place in the event that the episcopate is opened to women in the near future.

3. Reception

Roger Beckwith

One of the subjects which comes up most often in the Rochester reportReport is that of reception. It is used by supporters of the ordination and consecration of women as a justification for introducing such changes in the face of substantial opposition, and it is used by opponents as an objection to the introduction of women bishops before women presbyters have truly been received. Both these arguments, and others, are quoted in the reportReport, without much attempt to assess their respective merits.

‘Reception’ is a term derived from the study of the Fathers and the Councils which has recently been applied to new uses, both ecumenical and domestically Anglican. Ecumenically, it has been applied to the acceptance of statements jointly composed, such as the Lima document Baptism, Eucharist and Ministry, as true to the understanding of the subject recognised in a particular denomination.(1) In domestic Anglican usage, the first Eames Commission used the term of the way it recommended the Anglican churches to handle the issue of women presbyters and bishops, and this use of it was taken up internationally by the 1998 Lambeth Conference in its reportReport, and locally by the English House of Bishops in its 1993 Act of Synod.

The decisions of the Ecumenical Councils, though often made by the bishops with virtual unanimity, as at Nicaea, or with a very substantial majority, as at Constantinople (where four-fifths voted in favour), still needed to be ‘received’ by the Church at large. Generally speaking, Christians did receive their decisions, though there was a powerful Arian reaction between Nicaea and Constantinople; and the decisions of Ephesus and Chalcedon were not received by the Nestorians and Monophysites of Syria and Egypt, resulting in schism, which continues to this day. In the cases of some other councils, which were similarly convened by the Emperor and attended by numerous bishops, the rejection of their decisions by the Church at large was much more general. This applies in particular to the Arian decisions of the council of Ariminum in 359 and to the Monophysite decisions of the second council of Ephesus in 449. As a result, those councils were not recognised as Ecumenical. Reception was thus by no means automatic, and, even when it occurred, it might not be universal.

Following the teaching of the nineteenth-century Russian theologian Khomiakov, the Eastern Orthodox tend today to regard reception as the main test of an Ecumenical council. (2) The Church of Rome requires also the assent of the Pope, a requirement which no doubt originated in the Eastern location of most of the early councils, so that the Pope’s endorsement was needed to commend a council’s decisions to Christians in the West.(3) The Church of England requires instead agreement with Scripture (Article 21), a requirement prompted by Rome’s claim of ecumenicity for mediaeval Western councils.

Applying these considerations to the ordination of women, it is already apparent that, even if this matter is closely comparable to the matters decided at the ancient councils, reception cannot be expected to yield quick or certain results. But there are also four differences in the way the Anglican synods are proceeding which make the likelihood of change being received even more problematical. In the first place, the issue is being debated and decided by Anglicans on a provincial (or local) and not on a worldwide basis. This is an understandable consequence of Anglican ecclesiology, but it means that Anglican provinces are free to decide the matter in opposite ways, without waiting for general agreement. It is worth reflecting that the Eastern Orthodox, who have a similar ecclesiology, refrain from making even less serious changes until they can act together. Thus, they are postponing alterations in the rules of fasting until they can convoke a worldwide synod of their churches to agree what alterations to make.

A second difference is that the degree of unanimity at the Ecumenical Councils (normally upwards of four-fifths) was far higher than Anglicans are requiring for the introduction of women presbyters and bishops (half or two-thirds). Two-thirds is only a sixth more than a half, and in some Anglican churches even two-thirds has not been required. But if a third of those voting are opposed, and if this is any way representative of the Church at large, it promises the Church a seriously divided future, in which general reception of the change is never likely to develop.

A third difference is that the role of reception in regard to the Ecumenical Councils was not the same. It was simply to confirm what had already been authoritatively decided by the Church’s teachers. Here, the Church’s teachers are deeply divided, so much so that in the past a change of practice would hardly have been made in such an important matter until a higher degree of agreement had been achieved. One recalls how, in 1969, an overall majority of three-quarters was required by the General Synod for the approval of the Anglican-Methodist union scheme, and, as this was not attained, the scheme did not go forward. To look for the general reception of a change which has a majority of only half or two-thirds behind it is really to indulge in wishful thinking . It is to look for the reception of a decision which, properly speaking, is not yet made, and may never be made. This was what caused Peter Toon to give his erudite and incisive study of reception the intriguing title Reforming Forwards?? (4)

A fourth and final difference is that the decisions of the Ecumenical Councils had a quite different relationship to Scripture and Tradition. At the Council of Nicaea, the Gospels were symbolically laid open as the authority on which the bishops would decide. Nothing of the kind could be done at the General Synod when debating the introduction of women presbyters and bishops. The most the supporters of the change could reasonably claim is that Scripture does not explicitly forbid it, and implicitly may even support it. That Scripture does actually support it, even implicitly, is hard to argue from texts that really concern baptism and salvation, not gifts and ministry. The texts that implicitly forbid it (especially 1 Timothy 2) are much more directly relevant. As to Tradition, the Ecumenical Councils constantly claimed to be maintaining the traditional Christian teaching. It is sometimes questioned whether they always were, but that was undeniably their intention. By contrast, the introduction of women presbyters and bishops is admitted by all sober advocates to be a complete innovation.

This being so, it is hardly surprising that the process of reception has made so little progress in the twelve years since the decision to have women presbyters in England was taken. Opposition is as firm as ever, and the Act of Synod, which was introduced at the demand of Parliament to protect the interest of opponents, is as much needed today as it was at the beginning. A very able symposium in defence of the Act of Synod, partly written by supporters and partly by opponents of the change in roughly equal numbers and edited by Paul Avis, appeared only last year.(5) The Act itself speaks of ‘the rightness or otherwise of the Church of England’s decision to ordain women to the priesthood’, and the 1998 Lambeth Conference calls on all provinces ‘to uphold the principle of “Open Reception” … …noting that “reception is a long and spiritual process”’ ‘ (resolution III 2); so it is recognised that the pace cannot be forced, and that acts like those of ECUSA and the Anglican Church of Canada, in repealing the conscience-clauses that they had initially passed for the protection of opponents, are wrong. But whether, in these circumstances, it would be sensible for the Church of England to proceed in the near future to the introduction of women bishops, and thus to compound the problems with which the Church is already faced through the introduction of women presbyters, looks extremely doubtful. This would indeed be forcing the pace, and would more likely result in schism than in general reception of the further change or the earlier one.

Once the principle of reception has been introduced, as it was in the decision on women presbyters, it has to be honoured, however slow and uncertain its operation may be. To do otherwise would be to break faith, both with the Church and with Parliament. But whether the Church ought to make any use of it in regard to future decisions, including that on women bishops, is very questionable. To call for a higher majority (such as the three-quarters overall called for in 1969) would seem much more prudent.(6) It would, of course, risk defeat for the motion, as happened on that occasion, but if the motion succeeded, it would be a far more convincing decision, and one far more likely to be received by the Church at large.


1. On reception in ecumenical thought, see especially W.G. Rusch, Reception: an Ecumenical Opportunity (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1988).

2. See K.T. Ware, The Orthodox Church (Penguin, 1963), pp.255-8. For Orthodox thinking, see also J. Zizioulas, ‘The Theological Problem of Reception’, in One inChrist 21 (1985).

3. For the Roman Catholic view of reception, see Y. Congar, ‘Reception as an Ecclesiological Reality’, in Concilium 1972.

4. Latimer Studies 56/57 (Latimer Trust, 2004).

5. Seeking the Truth of Change in the Church (London: Continuum, 2004).

6. This would accord with the Constitution of the General Synod, as a decision to introduce women bishops would involve ‘permanent changes… in the Ordinal’ (clause 8). The Prayer Book service for the Consecration of Bishops (unlike that for the Ordering of Priests) envisages a single candidate, and in passing makers repeated references to the fact that he is a man. To adapt the service for use with a female candidate would therefore involve not just reinterpretation but amendment. The same necessity arose with women deacons (see Canon C4A).

Resolution passed overwhelmingly at the Reform national conference 2005

This Conference (while valuing women’s ministry) regards the proposal to introduce women bishops as inconsistent with Holy Scripture, but, if the proposal goes ahead, believes that the provision for those who dissent must include the appointment of a significant number of dissenting bishops, chosen without regard to churchmanship by a new and permanent procedure, and presiding over fully independent dioceses covering the whole country.

4. The Issue of Justice in Relation to Female Episcopacy

Michael Ovey

1. Introductory

1.1. Our context

Our General Synod has taken the next step towards the consecration of women to the episcopacy in the Church of England. The aim of this paper is not so much to answer questions of detail about what provision should be made for dissentients in the light of that decision, but rather to deal with some questions of principle that are logically anterior to matters of detail. For Synod’s move raises basic issues of justice in an acute way. The reason for this is that a very considerable part of the argument for the consecration of women to the episcopacy rested on arguments for justice and this naturally prompts two questions:

a. Are dissentients from Synod’s decision entitled to justice?

This question arises because of the following argument: since Synod impliedly accepts that it is only just that women be eligible for consecration to the episcopacy, dissentients are by definition those denying justice to women. Special consideration for dissentients therefore constitutes a reward for injustice, which is, on any view, a sin. We shall develop this at greater length below.

b. If they are, what shape or form should that justice take?

Assuming dissentients do have justice claims which relate to their treatment, obviously we should examine whether those claims mandate particular forms of compensatory treatment.

1.2. Justice – some preliminary considerations

1.2.1. Lawyers nurtured in the English tradition over the last two centuries have characteristically been taught to distinguish ‘law’ from ‘justice’. ‘Law’ means the rules actually enacted by a competent authority, whatever their content. A ‘law’, so the theory goes, may be valid yet unjust. To be a ‘just’ law, a law must not merely be enacted by a competent authority, it must bear certain ethical hallmarks.

1.2.2. The ethical hallmarks that go with being a just law are multifarious. Justice involves notions of procedural propriety, as well as substantive content. A law which justly regulates the law of contract may, for instance, be unjust in the way its procedures operate (because, for example, a defendant is never allowed to answer the charges against him or her). Not only are the hallmarks multifarious, but in a plural society they are disputed, because, naturally different people have different conceptions of what constitutes absolute justice and where it is to be found.

1.2.3. In our case, however, there is more prospect for agreement given our common confession as Christians that we believe in ‘God the Father almighty, maker of heaven of earth.’ Naturally, we believe that God is just, and for his people to be just is an appropriate God-like action. Of course, some qualification is necessary here: God is over all and his justice and authority is underived. Ours is not, but rather where we do exercise justice we do so in ways subordinate to God and accountable to him. Romans 13 indicates how true this is in the context of the political state and John of Salisbury generalised this to other forms of authority (ecclesiastical and familial) in his seminal work Policraticus.

1.2.4. It is also uncontroversial amongst us that we are objects of justice as those made in God’s image: because we as individuals bear God’s image we are to be treated in certain ways. Thus we are not to be prey for each other, and the poor are entitled to dignity and respect as image bearers. And the point has been rightly made by those advocating female episcopacy that, since we bear the same image, certain ideas of equality follow. Humans are of equal value, and to that extent the substance or content of our laws must respect this equality.

1.2.5. It is, naturally, just this equality of treatment arising from equality of value that has bulked so large in the case of those advocating female episcopacy. The point in such arguments is, obviously, that if we admit that men and women are alike in God’s image then we should avoid treating them differently, especially in terms of responsibility and ministry, lest we implicitly deny that they bear God’s image equally.

1.2.6. This equality of treatment can be invoked in a slightly different way, though. Cases requiring justice decisions which are essentially similar should be decided in a similar way. For people of the same value are involved. This constancy between cases again relates to the character of God. As one who is faithful to his promises and truthful, his judgment and justice is consistent: his rule is marked by constancy, not capriciousness, and this is evident in that he gives law to his people. Law, in this sense, involves the consistent application of norms to different individual cases. Thus it is consistently wrong to steal and so forth.

1.2.7. This constancy between different but similar cases relates to that virtue of legal systems frequently described as the rule of law. This is not the only virtue of a legal system, or an exhaustive feature of our notions of justice, but it remains rightly central in our considerations. It involves clarity about what the content of the law is and certainty about its operation. This enables individuals to guide their conduct responsibly and rationally, again something not unrelated to the dignity of humans as those made in God’s image. As such, a law that is obscure or ambiguous, or bites retrospectively, or is applied unequally in essentially similar cases features a breakdown in the rule of law. In particular, the idea of a ‘secret law’, a law whose contents, rationales or recognised consequences are known only by some, but not acknowledged before all even though it is applied to all, is rightly felt to infringe the rule of law. The nightmarish results of such secret laws are described in Kafka’s ‘The Trial’.

1.2.8. This idea of the rule of law has also been employed by advocates of female episcopacy, as they stress that the decision to ordain women to the presbyterate raised essentially similar considerations to the decision to consecrate women to the episcopacy. There was, in effect a simple syllogism.:

Ordaining women to the presbyterate and consecrating women to the episcopacy are theologically similar:

  • 1. We have decided to ordain women to the presbyterate;
  • 2. We should, on the basis of the rule of law, consecrate women to the episcopate.

This means that the argument from justice has been used in two ways in the current debate. First, an argument for equality of treatment based on equal value. Secondly, an argument for equality between cases, based on the rule of law. Both, as we have seen, have significant theological bases in the character of God and our creation in his image. Moreover, given the provisional acceptance, so to speak, of the case of those advocating female episcopacy by our General Synod, both are notions of justice accepted by proponents and Synod more generally. We turn now to the justice questions outlined in 1.1. (a) and (b) above.

2. Are dissentients from Synod’s decision entitled to justice?

2.1. The Argument that dissentients are not entitled to justice

2.1.1. The argument that dissentients are not entitled to any special consideration or provision can be made in several rather different ways. First it may be said that special provision will be prohibitively expensive. Estimates of the cost of provision made in various ways for dissentients after the opening of the presbyterate to women vary, but the point has often been made that it was expensive for a denomination facing some financial difficulties. This, though, is not an argument that dissentients are not entitled to justice, but rather an argument that, whatever the entitlement, the Church of England cannot afford to do justice. If this is so, then naturally one would expect it to be openly stated, without the assertion that dissentients have no moral entitlement.

2.1.2. Secondly, it may be said that the entitlement to justice has already been observed by the Church of England. It might be said that after the ordination of women to the presbyterate was settled in the way it was, it was perfectly obvious that Episcopal consecration was the next logical step. Dissentients to the principle of equal participation in ministry had their day in court, as it were, then. Further provision amounts to double compensation.

2.1.3. Thirdly, it may be said that Synod has implicitly judged the dissentients’ position unjust as a denial of the principles of equality of value and equality between essentially similar cases. As such, so the argument runs, it is nonsensical to compensate or otherwise make provision for attitudes and structures that have been deemed unjust. That amounts to rewarding sin, not trying to reform it. On this basis the argument in essence is that there should be no provision for sin. Dissentients have no entitlement in justice.

2.1.4. It is, then, these two latter arguments, that dissentients have either already had adequate provision, or that they have in any event no entitlement to provision in justice, that require attention.

2.2. Why dissentients are entitled to justice

2.2.1. It is fruitful to recall at this point some of the framework of decision from 1992-1993 when Synod voted for the ordination of women to the presbyterate and subsequent consideration by Parliament of the proposed Measure. Clearly the vote of 1992 was not construed as being an adjudication that traditionalists were guilty of sinful attitudes in their views on female ordination. If it had been, the Act of Synod would not have been passed in terms that recognised the integrity and validity of the traditionalist views.

2.2.2. The existence of the Act of Synod continues to be a recognition of the integrity of traditionalist views. Accordingly the argument set out in 2.1.3. that traditionalist views on female episcopacy have been adjudged sinful must fail. First, that was not an explicit part of Synod’s decision (as distinct from being implied by some contributions by individual members of Synod), nor, secondly, is it necessarily implied by the decision itself, given that the Act of Synod remains unrepealed.

2.2.3. The argument of implication is any case dubious. Both the Report preceding the Synod’s discussions and the debates themselves were not couched in terms of adjudicating traditionalist views sinfully unjust. To infer the vote of Synod over female episcopacy made them so is contrary to the concepts of rule of law in a number of respects. First, because such a decision is retrospective in effect, rendering sinful beliefs held in good faith by presbyters who would not have been ordained in the Church of England had the Church at that time held the practice of female episcopacy. Secondly, because a decision adjudicating beliefs as sinful by implication rather than expressly fails to satisfy requirements of clarity about rights, obligations and liabilities. This was not the apparent scope of the question before Synod, and this would therefore be, in the worst sense, a secret law. In particular, those who would wish to defend themselves against such a charge have not been afforded proper notice of the details of the charges against them, let alone a chance to answer them, nor a clear notice of the penalties they face. Thirdly, the degree of uncertainty injected into our Church’s affairs is considerable: the obvious question is what other areas of practice and belief can be adjudged sinful in this way.

2.2.4. Turning to the argument of 2.1.2., that justice has already been observed by the provisions of 1992-1993, this too fails. If the decision of 1992 really did render the decision over female episcopacy a foregone conclusion, then the rhetoric and understanding that the 1992 decision was open to rReception was misleading. Reception, as has often been noted, leaves open the possibility that a decision is not received. Moreover, the exceptions made over the episcopacy precisely implied that episcopacy might raise additional considerations. Furthermore, the Act of Synod indicated that traditionalist views had not become untenable.

2.2.5. Accordingly, this argument again infringes principles of the rule of law since it relies on the 1992 decision and provision for dissentients in fact involving different considerations (‘this is all there will be on female episcopacy too’) from those in the public arena. This is comparable to a law having secret clauses.

2.2.6. For these reasons, dissentients are not debarred from entitlements to justice and part of their claim involves exactly the same value that has featured in the case of advocates of female episcopacy, the rule of law and the need for similar cases to be decided in similar ways.

3. What shape or form should that justice for dissentients take?

3.1. The arguments outlined in 2.2.1-6 above stress the rule of law and the situation created by the prior decision of 1992. Given that Synod has embraced the principle of like cases requiring like decisions to the extent it has over ordination and consecration, it seems that this should apply to the provision for dissentients too.

3.2. One of the notable features of the ‘settlement’ arrived at under the eye of Parliamentary scrutiny was that the Act of Synod provided for the authentic place of traditionalist views. The Act does not stigmatise traditionalist views as inferior or inauthentically Anglican. To that extent, the principle was of preserving the place, as far as practicable, of traditionalists. This was felt just in 1992.

3.3. Accordingly, the principle of ‘like cases deserve like decisions’, invoked in favour of female episcopacy, requires in this case too the preservation of the place of traditionalists as authentically Anglican. This would obviously include protection from discrimination in terms of selection for ordination training or deployment (including discrimination based on ‘economic’ grounds about allegedly limited geographical deployability). Moreover, since the Church of England does have a system of pastoral care for its clergy and laity involving the Episcopal office, and since the 1992-1993 provided for eEpiscopal ministry to be exercised in ways traditionalists could in conscience accept, this too is required by considerations of justice.

3.4. These principles are naturally broad brush, and several ways in detail of satisfying the criteria could no doubt be devised. But the rule of law suggests these are the criteria, those of the settlement of 1992-1993, which allows the full participation with integrity on the part of dissentients.

3.5. The objections to such criteria are that they are unworkable in practice or undesirable in principle.

3.6 As regards unworkable in practice, the obvious question would be ‘from whose point of view?’ There is naturally a little suspicion about who would find further arrangements on the 1992-1993 lines unworkable. Moreover, if the objection is unworkability, then it should be frankly admitted that injustice is being done, and that dissentients are being marginalised and oppressed in the name of a putative greater good. Obviously it is undesirable that injustice be done, but it would be a double injustice if one were to deny a wrong one had knowingly, if regretfully, committed.

3.7. As regards undesirable in principle, the most obvious ground of complaint would be that this principle is schismatic. Since, though, the principle under discussion is the one acted on in 1992-1993 this would imply that that settlement was schismatic, again a point that has not been accepted by General Synod. Moreover, the purpose of the principle is not to establish schism, which implies unwarranted division and separation, but precisely to ensure the continued participation by dissentient but committed Anglicans within the Church of England. Put bluntly, Donatists, for example, did not want to participate in Augustine’s catholicCatholic Church, whereas dissentients do want to participate in the Church of England. What would be schismatic would be to make no provision for dissentients whereby they could in conscience continue in the Church of England. The reason why this would be schismatic is that if dissentients are forced out in practice, over time maybe, but in reality, they are being forced out over an issue which has not been defined as being of the essence of the Faith. Expulsion will have occurred, therefore, over a secondary issue— – a classic hallmark of schismatic action.

4. Concluding Remarks

It would be naïve to imagine these arguments in favour of a justice-based solution to the problem of dissentients will be met with great favour. They are, though, based on aspects of justice consistently invoked by proponents of female episcopacy. To deny others with different views the benefit of those same principles of justice would be unfortunate indeed, for such denial smacks of precisely the denial of equality of value between humans in God’s image that has been so prominent in the case of advocates of female episcopacy. George Orwell wrote in his satire ‘Animal Farm’ of the way the great law ‘All animals are equal’ was glossed with the addition ‘ … ‘…but some animals are more equal than others.’ May the Church of England avoid a similar error, or, more accurately, a similar sin.

About the Contributors

Gerald Bray is the Anglican Professor of Divinity, Beeson Divinity School, Samford University, Birmingham, Alabama, USA and editor of Churchman.

Roger Beckwith was warden of Latimer House Oxford, and taught liturgy at theological college. He has written on doctrine, worship and intertestamental studies.

Wallace Benn is the Bishop of Lewis, served on Rochester Commission and currently President of the Church of England Council, and President of Fellowship of Word and Spirit.

Mike Ovey trained as a civil service lawyer drafting government legislation. He is currently on the staff of Oak Hill theological college teaching Doctrine and some Philosophy. He has recently completed a PhD in the field of Trinitarian theology.