(1) Our bishops en masse and then individual bishops within any individual diocese in which clergy/ministry units seek oversight would need to agree to 'alternative episcopal oversight' (AEO).* Why should they? They have, after all, been discerned, elected, consecrated and installed to preside over diverse rather than monochrome Anglicanism.
*At this stage I leave the specifics of what such oversight might look like, but, at a minimum, AEO necessarily involves some kind of delegation of authority by the present bishop(s) to another bishop or set of bishops.
(2) What would be achieved by AEO? If (say) a clergyperson or a ministry unit are 'offside' with their bishop on a matter of difference, it is true that they do not have to 'host' that bishop for (say) confirmations but could host another, more suitable, acceptable bishop, but save for that pastoral nicety, what else is achieved? If the ministry unit needs to engage with the diocese about property matters, if (say) seeking agreement to license a new clerical member of staff, then it is bound to engage in other ways with the bishop with whom it has difference. If, conversely, AEO included a separation of property (on the one hand) and a complete delegation of licensing authority on the other hand, is not a separate or quasi-separate church thereby established? Noting that in our Aotearoa NZ context we kind of have that with our three tikanga structure does not take us very far because it is a tricky ecclesiological issue to justify these arrangements as coherent with a notion of 'one church of God.' AEO, from that perspective, would compound a poor ecclesiology rather than develop a bold, new ecclesiology.
(3) Might there be fruitfulness in exploring development of current episcopal arrangements rather than establishment of AEO? Reflecting on the voting in the recent Auckland synod, for instance, suggests roughly two-thirds support for change and one-third support for status quo. There are two bishops there, both voting with the two-thirds. What if there was a third bishop, drawn from the 'one-third'? Might that assist that diocese in 'living together' with difference?
(4) AEO would not necessarily make any difference to some (at least) conservative [on this issue] clergy and ministry units. A sticking point re change is the authority of General Synod (under which licensed clergy and lay ministers/officers minister, by virtue of signing the 'declarations' on receipt of licence). AEO would not (as best I understand it) alter that authority, even if it altered the authority of the bishops.
(5) There is also a perspective provided by Malcolm in a comment to yesterday's post:
"As I tried to indicate in a comment on a previous post, I do not think that devolving decisions on chastity and marriage to individual dioceses is feasible.
This is a communion level issue, and the decision of our General Synod will have far-reaching implications for our relationships with other Anglican provinces and ecumenical conversations.
This context cannot be avoided by simply claiming some local option. Nor will alternative episcopal be able to paper over the cracks."
So, there is something of a maze to negotiate re the possibility of AEO as a consequence of a possible GS decision in 2014 to change the current status quo. Can you find a way out of the maze and offer the route in a comment here?
Response from Edward Prebble:
Thank you for your commitment to providing a substantive response to my idea for putting into shape what Brian Dawson, in an earlier posting, called a “mixed economy”.
First, let me say that your website is only the second time I have suggested this idea to anyone. The first time rather illustrated your comment today about bishops. I suggested it to a recently retired bishop, whose immediate comment was “I would not want the Bishop of ****** swanning around my diocese”.
The second point relates to the question of “compromise” or “olive branches”. We acknowledge that we cannot see a way to reconcile the two major views on this subject. The group to which I belong, which to avoid the increasingly unhelpful labels, I will call Group B, has come to the conviction that homosexuality is essentially a matter of who some people are (i.e. not primarily about what those people do). We would wish to answer in the affirmative the question posed a couple of years ago by Archbishop Philip Richardson: Do we regard sexual orientation as an expression of God-given diversity? Given that conviction, it is extremely difficult for Group B people to contemplate a compromise; treating GLBT people with equality becomes a matter of gospel-driven justice.
On the other hand, Group A members (I offer that “priority” of title for the groups in recognition that this is the historical position of the church) are remarkably short of wiggle room as well. They argue that we are not able to alter the doctrine of the church in this matter. Carl Jacobs illustrated this in a comment on the earlier posting, where I had suggested there are two groups each passionately seeing their respective positions to be derived from scripture, from the call of the gospel, and from commitment to Anglican traditions. His comment was No, you don't. You have one side rooted in Scripture and another side rooted in rebellion against Scripture." One side in this argument is illegitimate. His other remarks show Carl to be a Group A person, but his comment could easily be made with an opposite meaning by a Group B adherent.
So, if we cannot compromise on principle, but we also wish to remain together, motivated by other deeply held principles, then where can we compromise? My idea is driven by the idea that we compromise in the application, searching for every way we can to provide the “opposite” group with room to live, and move and have their being.
Yes, my idea would be very difficult to implement, unless we can generate the necessary good will. The idea is likely to fail because of the detailed complexity of its application, not because of any theological shortcomings. So what would happen to parish trust funds held by their “home” diocese? I don’t know. I think the necessary trust could only be generated if this were seen as a relatively brief, transitional arrangement, with a very firm sunset clause, and an agreement that the issues would be roundly debated again in 10 or however many years.
In response to Malcolm, I don’t see this as essentially a decision at diocesan level. It would depend on a very strong consensus at provincial level that we were willing to accommodate two modes of practice among us as a Church.
Finally Peter, a comment on your now repeated suggestion that it would behove the Auckland diocese to have a third bishop, selected among the 1/3 of synod who belong to Group A. Christchurch is, as I understand it, much closer to 50:50. Are you suggesting that there needs to be another bishop? And to achieve that, does +Victoria need to declare herself for A or B? Or is it OK to continue with only one so long as she maintains what you see to be a centrist position, but one that may be increasingly uncomfortable to the Group B members of your diocese? I think your plan has as many fish-hooks as mine!"
Peter replies ... On the last paragraph's question, I agree there are fishhooks but these may depend on the fish, and the school or schools they swim in. Diocese X might wish to develop its current episcopal arrangements, not least because that might be a fruitful way to respond to difference. Diocese Y might choose to work out its differences under its current episcopal arrangements: again, not least because of local recognition that this would be more fruitful than enlarging the number of local bishops. The thought then strikes me whether our church might permit Diocese Z, if it chose, to work with the bishop of another diocese in order work through its differences, if that was a fruitful thing to do. (And, noting a point Edward has made below, for a time-limited period).
Might I also pick up a point that Bryden Black has recently made on this site, here, that episcopacy is about unity: "Bishops are also necessarily foci of unity AMONG DIOCESES." However we move forward on these matters, we need our bishops to be foci of unity among the dioceses. That behoves the bishops to be talking well together.