Monday, February 27, 2017

Discriminating between discriminations in Sheffield

At the time of writing, a bit of a furore is happening in the CofE Diocese of Sheffield. The Bishop appointed to the See is Bishop Philip North, a leading figure in the Society of St Wilfred and St Hilda. He is a traditionalist who does not believe that women can be ordained as priests.

This, of course, presents a bit of a problem for the 28% of incumbents in the Sheffield Diocese who are women. Essentially, they will be given oversight by a bishop who does not believe that they are priests - at least in the Catholic sense. Quite what he believes about them is another matter and one for him to explain. I suspect he will see them and work with them as cordially as the CofE does with Protestant ministers such as Methodists and Presbyterians. There is the possibility of of good collegiality here and, indeed, Bishop North is known for his desire to work alongside the women in his work as Bishop of Burnley.

This, of course, has angered the progressive element in the CofE. Both Modern Church and WATCH have called upon Bishop North either to decline the Bishopric or distance himself from Forward in Faith. They believe that to have a Diocesan Bishop who does not believe in the ordination of women is tantamount to sanctioning discrimination against women in the CofE, and will therefore devalue the work being done by female incumbents in the Sheffield Diocese.

Why should I care? I'm not in the CofE. Am I just poking my nose into someone else's affairs? I should say that this is a problem that the CofE have created by being established. They are the country's Church and thus open themselves for scrutiny for all in the country whether they are members or not. As I've said before, a Church that is part of the establishment is duty bound to follow the rules and adapt to that establishment.

As I am now "North of the Watford Gap", I am also affected by the decision. How will this affect my attempts at getting the Mission of St Anselm and St Odile started? So I do have an interest in proceedings. What I do not have is reason to be swayed one way or the other. As a consequence that my Church believes that the Catholic Faith is immutable, it accepts that God has not given it authority to ordain women, and that is that. There are no cliques for those that do, no "ordinariates" or "patrimonies" in which dissenters from that decision can be allowed to flourish. It isn't even a "clear decision" on our part - God made the decision and we are trying hard to be faithful to that.

The CofE has made a clear decision that women can be priests but it has also made the decision that people who dissent from this be given space to remain. They have made the clear decision that both supporters of women's ordination, and those who say that women can't be priests be allowed to flourish mutually.

And now we run into the problem.

Let us for a moment just replace the word "woman" with "black person" mutatis mutandis.

My above sentence now reads

The CofE has made a clear decision that black people can be priests, but it has also made the decision that those who dissent from this be given space to remain. They have made the clear decision that supporters of black people's ordination, and those who say that black people can't be priests be allowed to flourish mutually.

And now the whole situation sounds a bit like apartheid.

The whole issue now does turn into a question of whether the CofE is allowing discrimination to thrive.

For a mathematician, the word discrimination has a very simple meaning. It just means telling one thing from another. A quadratic equation possesses a discriminant which discriminates between equations with two real answers, one real answer, or no real answers. Likewise, the toilet door still does discriminate between male and female, not because of unfairness, but because women would have problems with the fixtures and fittings in the men's restroom.

However, we now use the word "discrimination" to mean an unjust or prejudicial treatment of different categories of people, especially on the grounds of race, age, or sex. This is where the CofE could find itself accused of not being entirely fair.

Here's the problem. The CofE says that women can be priests. It ordains women as priests, and now as bishops. There is an expectation that these women are recognised for what they are, that their sacraments are valid, and that they they really are doing what they say they're doing. Within the Canon Law of the CofE, it is fair that anyone, male or female should be recognised for what they are. Yet, there are those who object to this. If I object to the judgement against me of a female judge because I don't believe that women can be judges, then I still stand condemned because the law of the Society to which I subscribe does recognise the authority of  a female judge.

However, this whole thing rests on whether this really is discrimination.

For me, as an Anglican Catholic, the Catholic Faith is clear. There is no authority for the Church to ordain women and no change in Canon Law can stop that, because it is not Law, it is Catholic Faith, and Catholic means for all time. It is accepted that getting a white actor to "black up" and play Martin Luther King is the height of offence. Indeed, recently a white actor played Michael Jackson, and the internet erupted into cries of racism! It is not discrimination that only a black actor should play Martin Luther King. It is not discrimination that only a woman should play Elizabeth Bennett. It is not discrimination that only a man can play Our Lord in something like "Jesus of Nazareth". This is because it is a point of reality, not law. Martin Luther King was black. Elizabeth Bennett is a woman. Our Lord is male. No passing of any law can change these facts. It would be as absurd as legislating that the number pi be 4.

What God has put into existence is the Law, and no human law can change that.

However, that is not to say that people should not worry about whether there is discrimination going on. There are those who use theological arguments against women's ordination to hide their misogyny. There are those who cling to the Catholic Order, not because of obedience to the commands of Almighty God, but rather to disguise their attitude of "jobs for the boys". Personally, the CofE has made a legal rod for its own back by promising mutually exclusive parties that they can flourish. It would be so much better for all concerned if the Catholic Group were allowed to separate and allow flourishing in that situation.

If these men are serious in wishing to be obedient to God, then they should learn to see and value what every single person, male or female, can bring to God's Church. Only God gets to discriminate: He discriminates by the very fact of creation, and He discriminates only in the truest, purest love!


Fr. Gregory Wassen said...

Well said Father. I have never been in the CofE, and have no real sense of what Anglicanism is like from that perspective. I came to the ACC because I wanted to be Catholic and Rome was most inhospitable to me. I do not know what the future of our small, little Church is ... But I am grateful it exists. However, I have found that npt a few of those who believe in and / or are themselves female priests really seek to serve God and in that sense Bp. North's attitude seems reasonable? If one were on the CofE and a member of FiF?

Warwickensis said...

May I offer this

And its sequel

by way of some context and opinion of those who are truly in the CofE.

Warwickensis said...

The majority of female CofE priests that I have known have been lovely. However, I have known a significant minority who have been militant and very unpleasant. The Rural Dean who oversaw my departure was a shocker and even the other members of the establishment were appalled at the way she "massaged" parishes to leave FiF.

It has to be said though, I have known members of the ACC deliberately poke the bear when it comes to meeting female ministers. This actually happened at the ACC stand at the CRE a while back. It's not fair!

I believe that female ministers sincerely believe that they have been called to be ordained. However, instead of helping them find their true vocation, the Established Church has gone along with them in the same way that American Law seems to be siding with the "transexual" community. The institution has much to answer for, but I know that most of these women are doing a lot of good for many people! May God bless the work of their hands!

However, may God also show the Established Church the folly of its ways. Perhaps it must fall to pieces in order for whatever is Catholic within it to survive.