Who has pottered by this way, then?

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Consultation paper on female Bishops

The Church of England has today published a consultation document on "Women in the Episopate - the Final Legislative Step". which you can read in pdf form.

It can be read in pdf form here.

What happens now?
This paper also goes into the procedure for how this process works and lays out the timetable. At this stage the next deadline appears to be August 24th by which any comments on this paper need to be emailed to william.fittall@churchofengland.org by Synod members and members of the House of Bishops. If you are not one of these, now is the time to be getting in touch with those who are, once you have read, pondered, prayed and worked out how to help them reach a decision, of course.

After this deadline, August 30th sees a Standing Committee meeting, the result of which will be a "more focussed paper" in preparation for the HoB meeting on September 10th-12th. This will be discussed on the afternoon of September 12th.

Interesting excerpts which struck me:
They seem to be allowing the House of Bishops a reasonable amount of room for manoeuvre, giving the option of leaving the amendment (Clause 5(1)(c) "as is", amending it or replacing it with a new clause, plus discussing the Code of Practice alongside the Measure itself. This seems wise and could provide a way forward in terms of making it explicit how things will work in practice. There is an "illustrative draft" of the Code of Practice at the very end of the paper.

That being said, it is only this Clause which the HoB will tinker with at this stage - the terms of the General Synod resolution make any other amendments beyond this one clause impossible within the part of the legislative process we've reached.

November will see a vote on whatever the Bishops come up with as a result of their September meeting. There will be no scope for further amendments, so the HoB have to come up with a response which will be passed or rejected. In other words, the whole legislation seems to hang on them getting this bit right. The document points out that this is, in fact, the proper role of the HoB under Article 7 of the Synod's Constitution - another reminder that it is this kind of ecclesiastical power and role which we are discussing whether women can fully participate in.

The paper is well worth a long and prayerful read. It says it offers 5 options (which somehow end up being 7 options by the time you read on to the actual options themselves!) which they believe they will discuss but leaves the door open for others to suggest other possibilities. The mechanism for suggestions is detailed above but needs to be done via a Bishop or General Synod member.

Sheep suggests you read the paper, discuss and send prayerfully considered thoughts and suggestions to member of Synod and the House of Bishops.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

I need to know about these hedgehogs...

I was reading through the book of Zephaniah this evening. This book is famous as a kind of 'double bluff' pub quiz question: "True or false, Zephaniah is a book of the Bible." It's not widely quoted, not famous for anything in particular and hides in the last few millimetres of the Old Testament, so as a pub quiz question it's quite a good one.

As I was reading through its prophetic words about destruction, I came across an interesting verse concerning what was going to pan out in Nineveh:
Chapter 2 verse 14 in the New American Standard Version reads: "Flocks will lie down in her midst, All beasts which range in herds; Both the pelican and the hedgehog will lodge in the tops of her pillars; birds will sing in the window, desolation will be on the threshold; For he has laid bare the cedar work."

The pelican and the hedgehog? What?! Ah, there is a footnote at this point... it says that instead of pelican, it might be "owl" or "jackdaw". Right, interesting, but I was more struck by the "hedgehog" reference if I'm honest. Picture the scene: the city of Nineveh (you know, the place which Jonah was so keen not to go to that he did the whole going to sea and getting eaten by a massive fish thing) is desolate, left parched of water and in ruins, so much so that livestock roam in their flocks and herds among them and on the top of the ruined pillars both pelicans and hedgehogs lodge.

How did the hedgehogs get up there? 

I'm sorry Zephaniah, I have no clue now what your book is about. I cannot shake this knotty theological problem about the hedgehogs out of my head to make space for what I am sure you intended to challenge me with.

If anyone can help explain how the hedgehogs got up to the tops of these pillars, please let me know so my theological studies can continue. Till then, my mind is full of Terry-Gilliamesque images.

Note: For 'pelicans and hedgehogs' on 'pillars', the King James has 'cormorant and bittern' on its 'upper linterns', while the NIV has 'the desert owl and screech owl' roosting on its 'columns'. And people wonder why I love the NASB!

Monday, July 9, 2012

The bottom line

Throughout history, there have been occasions where a whole society's assumptions get overturned and things change. One way of looking at these occasions is that they were when people challenged "the way things are" because they recognised that they were based on a fundamentally flawed way of looking at things. To put it another way, they're based on a lie. Very often this "lie" has been about the value of people, and often these changes have been spearheaded by the church - or more accurately, by groups of Christians (occasionally at odds with their leadership) who find their faith so at odds with some aspect of the environment they find themselves in that they act against these lies . By 'lies', I mean these ways of doing things which are based on accepting untrue statements which society tells us about people (or accepted ways of treating people) as a justification for "the ways things are". These are "big picture" changes, not merely changes of government or ruler I'm talking about here. 

For instance: 
Recognising the lie of slavery: that some people are less than human and only have value as a commodity. People argued and fought against that lie and truth won.
Recognising the lie of women not having the vote: the lie that some people, based on their gender alone, are not suitably qualified to participate in democracy.
People argued and fought against that lie and truth won.

So how about the lies of the moment? What are they?
There are many, but this is the one which is on my heart at the moment: the lie that it's fine to sacrifice some people for the sake of the nation's economy. Will the truth of the  intrinsic, universal value of people as being made in the image of God win against this lie?
The weak, the poor and the voiceless are the ones suffering most from the current economic turmoil and it seems that they are considered expendable in the grand scheme of things "for the greater good of the economy". Surely the economy is the servant of people, not its master? This isn't just a little, local issue. It seems to me that the way we have chosen to organise our world economy is based on this lie, among others. Whole nations are considered expendable for the good of western democracies and have been so for many decades. Now this issue has come centre-stage in our own society, and that of many other western democracies,  this is surely the time for people to question this lie and get the true value of each person centre stage in how we organise ourselves. This is not a call to a politics of Left or Right, but a call for a far deeper culture change in the political debate to be centred around the lives of the weakest and most vulnerable in society. Those on the margins who are being disproportionately affected by recent changes include young people in rural areas,the disabled and children in low-income families. The media campaign of vilification of those on benefits, especially incapacity, is not based on fact (a mere 0.5% of the Disability Living Allowance budget was down to fraud) but even without the facts being on the side of those bearing such hardship, followers of Jesus should always be fighting in their corner.

My faith leads me to hope that, in the footsteps of those within the church who argued against slavery, Christians will lead the way on this as they, more than anyone, should be aware that each person is made in the image of God, is a glimpse of the divine and thus is not expendable, not merely some part of a fiscal numbers game, but is the bottom line itself.