The General Synod of the Church of England voted yesterday to allow women bishops:
House of Bishops: Yes 37 No 2 Abstentions 1
House of Clergy: Yes 162 No 25 Abstentions 4
House of Laity: Yes 152 No 45 Abstentions 5
Archbishop Justin Welby said:
Today is the completion of what was begun over 20 years with the ordination of women as priests. I am delighted with today’s result. Today marks the start of a great adventure of seeking mutual flourishing while still, in some cases disagreeing.
The challenge for us will be for the church to model good disagreement and to continue to demonstrate love for those who disagree on theological grounds. Very few institutions achieve this, but if we manage this we will be living our more fully the call of Jesus Christ to love one another. As delighted as I am for the outcome of this vote I am also mindful of those within the Church for whom the result will be difficult and a cause of sorrow.
“Good disagreement” is becoming the new approach, a significant shift from Archbishop Rowan Williams’ attempt to hammer out shared agreement.
Where are the edges of “good disagreement”? There are many, many Christians holding a sacramental theology who think that (sorry to put it so bluntly) one can no more ordain a woman a bishop than one can ordain a lampshade. Such a sacramental approach of “matter” and “form” thinks that a woman is the wrong “matter” for ordination. Just as many think two persons of the same sex are the wrong “matter” for marriage. And Ribena or grape juice is the wrong “matter” for the Eucharist. And so on.
Others approach things differently. For them it is not about what one cannot do, it is about what the Bible says you shall not do.
In both these above approaches this is about positions or principles more than people.
Increasingly, there is the use of another approach, “to clarify the implications of what it means for the Church of England to live with what the Archbishop of Canterbury has called ‘good disagreement’ on these issues.” (CofE General Synod Shared Conversations on Sexuality, Scripture and Mission 4)
In some ways, the debate about ordaining women can become a model, a paradigm, for other debates. Understanding about episcopacy, for example, divides between those who see it essential to the nature of Christianity and the Church (of the esse); those who think it is good for Christianity (bene esse); and those who see it as important for the fulness of Christianity (plene esse).
Certainly, it is easy to point to the “Anglican Covenant” project (the above-mentioned Rowan Williams approach) as not having succeeded. But, in saying that, one immediately encounters the question: “succeeded in what?” What was the purpose of that project? And is/was that an appropriate aim? Or a fundamentally flawed aim? Or merely an unrealistic goal in this context? [Sorry: saying that getting this number of people to agree on a basic list of tenets is impossible, is clearly false…]
Another example: many people who held a position against ordaining women change their position once they actually encounter an ordained woman, especially if they are helped by this person at a deep point of need. That is when person trumps principle.
In families, whanau (extended families; communities) there is often strong disagreement – but/and the family/whanau is healthy and loving. Is that a helpful model of “good disagreement”?
Or is “good disagreement” an oxymoron?