Thursday, 22 November 2012

The statistics of representation

I promised in my last post to say something about the things which are going around the web which I think are unhelpful.

One is that there is something fundamentally wrong with the way General Synod operates. How can it be that it voted down something which was overwhelmingly approved by the Dioceses (42 to 44), and which has such significant support in the wider Church? Well the answer is that our representative system doesn't work the way that these questions presuppose.

Yes, they are skewed towards the pressure groups and factionalism that political processes formalize. But how could they not be so? How many Members of Parliament are not members of a pressure group or faction(/party)? And yes, General Synod is skewed towards those with time and resources to be able to attend meetings - but tell me which church council isn't!

Most important to remember, General Synod members are not elected simply to vote in accordance with the views of those who elected them. How are they supposed to know those views? From opinion polls? But how many polls are broken down on a Diocese by Diocese basis? How many include only regular church-goers? Perhaps from the letters they get then? And I'm sure many members do take full account of letters. But these will be not much more representative than the Synod members themselves: the same people who care enough about Church politics to write letters are those who put themselves forward for elections.

No, Synod, members are elected on the basis of having knowledge and experience of the Church, of the Bible, of theology, perhaps even for their known spiritual life. They are, in short, relatively expert in the kind of thing Synod discusses. How many people "in the pews" really understand what Synod was discussing? Or have taken time to familiarize themselves with the theological and biblical arguments on each side? Precious few, I would hazard to guess. And why should they, really? We have representatives to do that stuff for us. Again there is the parallel to MPs (consider how many MPs would vote for the restoration of the death sentence(very few) and what opinion polls tell us of the public's views).

And we should remember that the Diocesan Synods are generally somewhat less expert than General Synods (like local councils to Parliament). Moreover, if the Diocesan Synods had used the same system of 2/3rd majority in each of three houses it would have been passed in 33 of them, rather than 42 of 44. So 25% would have been against, a much larger minority than the debate tends to acknowledge.

Diocesan and General Synod votes cannot be directly compared, of course, because the memberships are different, and they are voting at different stages in a legislative process (so the psychology of members will be different accordingly).

There again, if a survey this year is to be believed, 31% of regular Anglican church-goers want to see women as bishops either never or when there is consensus with other churches. Now since 36% of the House of Laity voted against the Measure, compared to 23% of Clergy and only 6% of Bishops, it turns out that the Laity were more in line with the mind of the Church than the others. I don't suppose anyone is proposing to reform the Houses of Bishops or Clergy to bring them into line.

The Synodical system isn't perfect, and reform may be appropriate. But before we start to make changes, let's make sure we understand what we've got properly.

Women bishops - Same as it was before

Well, I have to admit to being shaken when I heard the result read out. Literally.

We knew all along it was a possibility, I'd actually predicted it to a couple of people, but actually knowing it had happened was a different thing.

I've given it a couple of days before blogging to let it sink in. And because there's been a huge amount written on the web about it. I said in advance of the vote that we need to look for what the Holy Spirit is doing in all this. I still think that, perhaps even more so - though that implies I wasn't sure before hand.

It seems to me though, that nothing very much has actually changed. The General Synod in particular, and the Church of England in general were discussing how to proceed towards having women as bishops last week; and discussing it on Tuesday; and we're still discussing it now.

Make no mistake - no one is really suggesting that there won't be women as bishops. We're not back to square one. It's just his very specific way of doing it that has been rejected. In a hundred years from now, Tuesday's vote will surely be not much more than a footnote in the pages of history.

But there are various things being said around the web which I think are unhelpful, and I want to respond to a couple of them - but I'll do it in separate posts, to keep tings neater and shorter here.

Tuesday, 20 November 2012

Women Bishops - Voting Today Part 2

Well, I've said what I think, and how I would vote.

However, when all is said and done, the only right thing is to pray. And not to pray for any particular outcome, as many seem to be doing. But to pray that God's will may be done, whatever that is. Let us pray that the Holy Spirit will work through General Synod today.

Indeed, we kind of have to trust that the Holy Spirit is involved, otherwise all the decisions to date are questionable, including that to ordain women as priests. Let's not even go there - that way madness lies!

And having prayed that the Holy Spirit will guide and inspire the Synod members, let's assume that prayer has been answered, whatever the result.

If it is "yes" that doesn't mean that the Holy Spirit approves of women bishops. Perhaps we are being led into a parting of the ways, and the "traditionalists" will thrive while the "progressives" fade.

If it is "no" that doesn't mean that the Holy Spirit disapproves of women bishops. Perhaps we are being led to work harder on the provision for "traditionalists." Perhaps we are being led to reject any provision at all.

Either way, more work will need to be done. Either way, the Holy Spirit will be taking us into a future whose shape we can only begin to grasp. Perhaps the will of the Holy Spirit is that the Church will become weaker before it can become stronger.

"Thy will be done."

Women Bishops - Voting today Part 1

Well, push has come to shove. The vote on women bishops is today.

No-one seems to be pretending they know which way it will go. Everyone thinks it's too close to call.

For what it's worth (nothing), I suspect the Measure will pass, if only because the waverers will have been influenced by the warnings of doom if it doesn't.

For what it's worth (less than nothing(?!)), if I was there and voting, I'd vote no. The clear view of the majority within the Church is that women should be bishops. That ought to be respected. But note that it is not, as some reports have it "an overwhelming majority." By definition if it were an overwhelming majority the minority would be overwhelmed - the vote would not be on a knife-edge. But pedantry aside, a recent set of surveys suggest that opposition runs at about 12-16%, but if you add in those undecided or thinking it's right to wait then you get higher figures: about 25-30%. Obviously we should be careful with statistics and surveys, but I wouldn't call that "overwhelming."

And for the minority opposed, is the provision in the Measure sufficient? Well, I happen to think it's stronger than most opponents allow, but I'm clearly in a minority on that one. And given that the point of having  a compromise at all is to help those opposed to stay in the Church, it has a crumbs from the table feel to it. At least the original Clause 5(1)c received a cautious welcome from opponents. Personally, I think a better compromise can be found. Lots of people, urging a yes vote, disagree. They may well be right. It certainly seems that the adversarial style of the debate surrounding the factions in Synod works against compromise.

Perhaps if the vote is "no," rather than looking to bring in a new measure at some point soon, we should be having  a debate about how Synod works - or, in this case perhaps, doesn't work.

But he thing which finally decided me that a "no" vote would be my choice, that the Measure is not fit for purpose, is reading this morning of one part of the Q&A session at Synod yesterday. There will be a Code of Practice governing how parishes which want to opt out of ordained women's ministry are to be treated. If a parish doesn't think the Code has been followed properly it has the right to take it to judicial review. Now, I can't really get behind the idea that a secular court should decide these things (1 Corinthians 6.1-7), but what really troubles me is that the Church might pay the legal costs of a bishop, but would definitely not pay the costs of a parish.

This is a huge imbalance of power. What parish could afford to go to judicial review? Almost certainly none. Is the Code therefore enforceable in practice rather than just in theory? Almost certainly not. And this huge imbalance of power is just the sort of thing feminists work against. This is surely a liberation issue. This is surely about opposing kyriarchy. Personally, I think we need something better. I think feminists should vote "no" - not because they oppose women as bishops or don't want to fight patriarchy, but because, far more fundamentally they oppose kyriarchy in all its forms. The Measure is not fit for purpose.

Monday, 12 November 2012

Galatians 3.28 Part Three: 1 Timothy 2.15

On Thursday I promised to write about 1 Timothy 2.15, and why we should conform to the world. This is where this whole set of three blogs really arose, because it was 1 Tim 2.15 that took up most of the last College discussion group.

In Part Two, I argued that Galatians 2.38 ("in Christ there does not exist male and female") has been used out of context by proponents of the consecration of women to the episcopate. In particular, I suggested that Galatians is a letter about Christians not conforming themselves to the world outside their community. This means that the line taken by  "Enough Waiting" and others, that we risk looking ridiculous in the eyes of the world if we don't pass the Measure next week, is not one Paul would take.This is true whatever Paul actually thought about the proper relationship between male and female in the Church (and therefore in ministry).

But of course, there are counter-arguments to this. the most interesting and challenging I've met in quite a while arose out of last week's discussion of 1 Timothy 2.15. Now in case anyone isn't familiar with that verse it reads in the NRSV:
Yet she will be saved through childbearing, provided they continue in faith and love and holiness, with modesty.
As usual, there are huge difficulties of interpretation. For a whole range of intepretations see here, but I'll summarize what we discussed last week.

Who is "she"? Well immediately preceding this verse we have mention of Eve, so "she" could be Eve, but then "will be saved" makes little sense, since Eve is in the past. In any case verses 13-14 about Eve are explaining what was said in verse 12:
I permit no woman to teach or have authority over a man; she is to keep silent.
This means the Eve reference should probably be put in brackets, so that "she" is the woman who is not to teach. Note that the Greek here could read "wife" and "husband" for "woman" and "man." I don't think that's the most natural way to take it, but equally, it doesn't make much difference to the general point.

Next we ask about how child-bearing can save. One option is to say that this is the specific child-bearing of Mary - woman (and man for that matter) is saved by the birth of Jesus Christ - by the Incarnation. whilst his is possible, it hardly seems likely in the context. If that's what Paul meant, you'd expect something much more explicit about Mary and Jesus being involved.

Alternatively, one interpretation offered (we were consulting commentaries) is that Paul thought that Christian woman are saved from childbearing - that they don't experience labour-pains or perinatal mortality. We found that explanation pretty ridiculous.

And who are "they"? The childbearing women? Then why the change to plural from singular? The children? Since when did the conduct of children bear on the salvation of the parent?

If we believe that salvation comes through grace and faith not works, this mention of child-bearing is really problematic. Somehow, there must be something about the way that a woman take her place in the household of God, which includes bearing and nurturing and teaching her children, which relates to her salvation. All these things would be marks of the fact that her faith is genuine. This is a fairly generalized account of what this verse might mean. The specifics are beyond our understanding, nearly two thousand years out of context - how do we deal with women who cannot have children, for whatever reason? Surely we don't think the cannot be saved?

What we seem to have here though, is a clear text showing that for Christians, male and female are not simply interchangeable. Paul thinks that there is a real difference. No man can ever bear children. Here then is a proof-text which shows that Galatians 3.28 cannot mean what the proponents of women's consecration think it means.

This interpretation, which is the best we could come up with that actually does justice to the text, is not without difficulty. It suggests a status for women which is hardly progressive, and not one that most people today would wish to stand up for. The world has moved on.

Which leaves the difficulty of what to do with this text. I have so far written about what "Paul" thought, but most scholars would say that this Epistle was almost certainly not by Paul. One tactic used is therefore just to dismiss this passage. Not by Paul, it is unworthy of Christianity.

Well, I think the scholars are right (I'm not totally convinced by the arguments). But, like it or not, 1 Timothy is in the canon of scripture, and I don't wish to discard any part of scripture. That's just making scripture mean what we want it to, rather than letting ourselves be changed by it. So fine, not by Paul, but is Christianity worthy of it?

At the end of the day, I think we have to admit that it's a struggle. We don't quite know what's going on here, and even what we think we understand, we don'y know how to deal with.

The only possible answer is to say that we need to look at the rest of scripture. Article XX:  the Church  may not "so expound one place of Scripture, that it be repugnant to another." Just as Gal 3.28 should not be used as a proof text, so 1 Tim 2.15 should not either. Perhaps the best arrangement would be for both sides to pretend these two verses don't exist, and to see what is left in scripture.

I don't think either side would change its views, but I think we'd have a healthier debate, which didn't rel yon just one verse, as if it closed down the argument..

Thursday, 8 November 2012

Galatians 3.28 Part Two

On Tuesday I blogged about Stephen Cottrell's use of Galatians 3.28 in his video supporting the consecration of women as bishops. I looked at he difficulties of translation, and how this suggest that proof-texting of the kind he employs is rather unsafe.

I suspect he knows better, but you can't go through the entire Biblical debate about the role of women in ministry in a short video. But then I'm puzzled about who exactly is the target for this "Enough Waiting" campaign. The worry one might have is that lots of General Synod members haven't actually worked on the Biblical material very hard. Ho hum.

Now, I think a good Biblical case can be made on both sides of this discussion, but I definitely want to challenge the over-reliance there seems to be on Galatians 3.28, as if it simply closes down the argument. It is treated as if it states in simple terms that women are absolutely equal with men in Christianity, end of any discussion. I happen to think that women and men are absolutely equal - hardly controversial - but there is a real debate to be had about whether they are interchangeable without loss in all aspects of the Christian life. Proponents of women's ordination will say they are interchangeable in ordained ministry with gain - the House of Bishops will be enriched by their presence, it is claimed. I'm not so sure it will make any real difference beyond the obvious "equality of opportunity." I don't think parochial ministry has been enriched (or changed much either way for that matter), but maybe that's just me. And perhaps any changes there have been have been more to do with wider changes in society than the occupants of vicarages. But I digress.

What I'm interested in in this post, and the next one, is whether St Paul's letters think that men and women are interchangeable in Christian life without loss. Does he really mean, what Gal. 3.28 appears to say, that in Christ male and female don't exist? This could mean that he believes in some kind of androgyne humanity - male and female really do cease to exist in the baptized because all sexual differentiation is eradicated.

I don't think Paul can mean this, since there seems to be no hint that he thinks Jesus is not a normal human being, as it happens in this case male, even now after his Resurrection. That leaves open the possibility that he thinks there is not male and female, but just male. Again, I don't think that's likely to be what Paul is saying. I would have though it say it explicitly, if that's what he meant. Both these ideas fly in the face of ordinary perceptions, which is why something more explicit would be required.

Instead we get all sorts of passages which make distinctions between men and women in the Christian community, some more controversial than others. 1 Corinthians 7, where he talks about marriage is a case in point. he describes marriage as able to be "in the Lord" (v.39). If it is "in the Lord" then we have the same situation as Gal.3.28 "in Christ," but the fact of marriage assumes male and female for Paul.

So male and female still exist in some sense for Christians. I say "in some sense" advisedly, for it is clear that Gal 3.28 is making an ontological statement. But it's something along the lines of not existing at the level of being part of the Body of Christ, rather than at the level of daily lives. All very complicated and paradoxical. And this doesn't tell us whether having ordained women is something which is right, because we should be working at that Body of Christ level, or not necessarily right because we must work at the level of daily life.

Which brings me around to Bishop Stephen's argument that
if we don’t pass this it would look terrible in the eyes of the world, would hold back our mission, and would also plunge us into years more debate on this issue.
Now, I happen to think that plunging into years more debate on the matter would be a bad thing, since it works against Church unity. That's a good argument for passing the Measure. Of course, it's not clear that it will stop the debate, as we'll then move on to discuss the Code of Practice, and then fight about whether the Code is being properly applied and so on ad nauseam.

But I also think that worrying about looking bad in the eyes of the world is a terribly bad way of making decisions about how we live our faith - and I think Paul would agree with me. the reason I think that is by reading Galatians.

For Galatians is essentially a rant about the Christians of Galatia succumbing to the desire to conform themselves to the community around them, specifically on the issue of circumcision. Paul is furious that they have been led astray by those who would have them conform to Jewish strictures. Whether this is a small group of teachers or pressure from a large body of Jewish Christians is unclear, but the pressure is coming from outside the churches Paul helped found, and it is trying to change them, to make them conform to the expectations and beliefs of others.

Which could look a lot like the way that secular values have come to have such an influence in terms of equality in the Church. If the argument being used in favour of women bishops is that the world expects it, and won't understand if we do it, I think Paul would say "Well, tell the world to [disappear away]!"

Or perhaps no he wouldn't, even if he was in Galatians-rant mood. I think he'd say "Well, tell the world to come and join in with our way of being."

Is that what the Church is doing over women bishops?

Next time: the very difficult case of 1 Timothy 2.15, or why we should conform to the world.

Tuesday, 6 November 2012

The women bishops debate again: Galatians 3.28 Part One

I stumbled across the piece by Stephen Cottrell (Bishop of Chelmsford, and generally speaking someone I rather like) for the Archbishop of Canterbury's "Enough Waiting" campaign, which is aiming to get the legislation on the consecration of women as bishops through the General Synod meeting in two weeks time.His main point is to expound Galatian 3.28 as one of the
climatic passages [of the Bible] – the one through which we then interpret many others 
Now this verse came up in the discussion group here in College yesterday evening, and I promised to blog about some of what we discussed, since it seemed pretty interesting and challenging stuff. But, as I come to think of it, there's so much here that it probably needs several blogs to go through it in anything like a thorough manner.

So here's the first installment.

Bishop Stephen reads Galatians 3.28:

"There is no such thing as Jew and Greek, slave and free, male and female, for you are all one person in Jesus Christ."

I haven't been able to track down the translation from which he's reading.

[Update 18/6/13: I've just found out that this is the reading of the New English Bible]

Although it's not a bad translation, it's not perfect, so I offer my own, extremely literal translation:

"neither exists Judaean nor Hellene, neither exists slave nor free, not exists male and female; all for you one are in Christ Jesus."

OK, that's pretty much gibberish in English, even if Yoda had been saying it. We need to supply auxiliary verbs, change the double negative construction, use more familiar terms and rearrange some words:

"there does not exist Jew nor Greek, does not exist slave or free, does not exist male and female, for all of you are one in Christ Jesus."

Which just goes to show what a tricky job translation can be!

But what difference does it make? Well I think a few things stand out.

Firstly, the point that "there is no such thing/does not exist" as these three dualities. the Greek word used is stronger than the simple "there is" of the AV(KJV), and also used by NIV; even the "there is no longer" of NRSV doesn't quite get it. So the vast majority of Anglicans hearing or reading this passage won't appreciate what's going on here. There is an ontological claim being made - i.e. a claim about what does and doesn't exist at the level of true reality. This is reinforced by Bishop Stephen's translation saying, reasonably enough in terms of the Greek, "you are all one person" - in reality, there is only one Christian (i.e. Jesus) and our separateness is just an illusion (!).

Now it should be fairly obvious that in the first Christians' and our daily lives, these dualities and our separateness haven't just evaporated. So Paul isn't making a practical point about daily life here, he's talking about deep theological realities. Thus at the level of secular equality between men and women, this verse gives us no help at all - it is irrelevant. But then let's all hope that the Church is trying to be theological, rather than simply playing at gender politics.

What Gal. 3.28 does relate to is the change made by our baptism, as verse 27 makes clear "... for whoever is baptized into Christ has put on Christ..." Opponents of the consecration of women point out that Galatians 3.28 is about our baptismal status, and therefore says nothing about ordination.

But this depends on your view of what ordination is. For the Archbishop of Canterbury, ordained ministry is derived from the fact that all Christians are a "priestly people" by virtue of their baptism. Thus ordination does relate directly to baptism. This view of what ordained ministry is is a common one, and on this reading Gal. 3.28 is applicable to the debate.

On the other hand, it might be held that the priestly role of Christ is derived from being " a priest for ever according to the order of Melchizedek." ( Heb 5.6 NRSV, cf v.10). Since Melchizedek was not of Israel (Gen.14.18), this priesthood is independent of the priesthood of all believers. Both priesthoods meet in Christ, but they are not identical. On this understanding of ordained ministry, also widely held, Gal. 3.28 is not applicable to the debate.

See how difficult it is to rely on one verse to back up a theological viewpoint? I'm not the first to make this point (see Bishop Tom Wright on this passage) and doubtless won't be the last.

That's before we even get onto the other point which some translations obscure: the transition from "neither...nor" to "not...and" when it comes to "male and female."

Why this should be the case, I honestly don't know. Tom Wright has an explanation which seems to me plausible. I've seen this change given as grounds for believing that this phrase is a later interpolation (though sadly I can't track this down at the moment). I think that's unlikely (although it is odd that male/female occur nowhere else in Galatians), but in any case, it's in the canonical text, and whenever it was written, by whomever, we must not simply take it out. That would be to re-write the Bible to say what we want, rather than letting the Bible change us.

Whatever the explanation for the change, I think it shows that there is rather more going on in this passage than is imagined in the straightforward proof-texting approach of Bishop Stephen and so many others in favour of the consecration of women. The whole of scripture must be read in the light of the whole - this is the Anglican way: Article XX "it is not lawful for the Church to ... expound one place in Scripture, that it be repugnant to another."

Both sides can make arguments from scripture; neither should rely on single verses taken out of context.

To be continued...

Monday, 5 November 2012

On choosing Church leaders

I wonder whether the Crown Nominations Commission should resign en masses, and we should instead choose the next Archbishop of Canterbury in much the same way as the Copts choose their Pope:

Maybe there would be a process of nomination - all General Synod members secretly write down one name, the top twenty go onto the long-list. This would allow the possibility of those not already in the house of bishops to be considered, and General Synod members might be expected to have a sense of what the potential leading candidates are like (!).

Then there would be a vote to produce a short-list. Perhaps all clergy and PCC members in England could have the franchise in this. It ought to be easy enough to organize, rather than a vote of all Anglicans (after all we've no idea who would qualify for that).

Finally an innocent person chooses one name from the three in the bowl (why not have a Muslim do it, just as the keys to the Church of the Resurrection/Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem are held by a Muslim family, to stop the Christians arguing over it?).

You see, the thing is that this way God can get directly involved (see Acts 1.20-26). And this would give the poor so...chosen candidate a legitimacy which the current system denies. Something which the Church of England could very well use in settling arguments. Something along the lines of "I know there are legitimate disagreements here, but since God has put me here to give a lead, this is how we're going to go forward."

Anyone disagreeing would have to explain why they thought God wasn't careful enough when the choice was made.