Tuesday, 6 November 2012

Bishop Nazir-Ali on reception, provision and the ministry of women

This is an important statement, coming as it does from the Chairman of the Rochester Commission which reported in 2004. His criticisms of the current process and its ideological assumptions are all the more telling and deserve a very careful reading:
"...The Rochester Report  aimed, as it was asked, to prepare the Church for a theological and ecclesiological debate on the question of women in the ministry and especially in the episcopate.  It attempted, therefore, to set out all the arguments about the nature of women’s ministry in the Church and to critique each one from the point of view of the others.
It became clear, however, that many were not interested in such a fundamental debate but wished to initiate a process for the appointment of women bishops in the Church as soon as possible. This process takes for granted secular assumptions about justice and equality rather than asking what the Bible means by such terms.
Once again, rather than seeking God’s will for women and men and for the ministries to which he may be calling each, we seem to be succumbing to a “one size fits all” approach, incorporating women into male patterns of ministry, with all the problems resulting from such an approach.
A truly biblical anthropology reveals the equal dignity and responsibility of women and men but also their distinctiveness and complementarity. They participate in a common task but distinctively. This should inform our thinking also about ministry and mission in the Church.
For some, the question of a “catholic consent” for a radical change in our understanding of Holy Orders remains important. For others, it may be the unity of the episcopate, or sacramental assurance and the continuity in apostolic ministry.  For yet others, it may be what is appropriate for women and men to do and to be in church...
"....It is clear that for the process of “reception” to be meaningful, continuing debate has to be allowed in the church and people must be permitted to hold different opinions without being forced to accept the development which is to be received. It is to be hoped that reception in this sense leaves open the question as to whether a particular development will, in the end, be acceptable or not.
This means that adequate provision needs to be made for those who cannot accept the development which is in the process of reception without compromising their reasons for withholding consent.
The Church can make sure through legal and canonical means that all its decisions are recognized and respected.  But if there is not to be theological totalitarianism, and if reception is to have any meaning, a structured place has to be provided for those who disagree in a way that respects their integrity.
Such a process will ensure not only that minorities are accommodated but that the Church will genuinely be seen to be seeking for God’s will to be done rather than relentlessly pursuing an agenda based merely on secular assumptions.
It is my prayer that even now wisdom and charity will prevail and provision made in such a way that the process of reception is genuine and open. It may be that even now it is not too late for that debate which “Rochester” asked for, to take place for the sake of the Church’s unity and its future......"
Read it all here

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