Tuesday, November 27, 2012

of bishops & supreme heads

There was a short letter in Irish Times today on the topic of the CofE's recent vote: 

It makes no sense to deny women from being ordained as bishops when Queen Elizabeth (a woman herself, I believe) is the supreme head of the Anglican church.

For such a short letter, it contains a remarkable amount of inaccuracies. I think the only thing he got right was the Queen's name, title, & gender ... & since the writer makes an unneeded smart comment about that last one, he still earns himself a thumbs down from me on for it. 

But to the meat of things. First, Queen Elizabeth is not the 'supreme head of the Anglican Church.' She is the Supreme Governor of the Church of England. 

The second major error is that there is, in fact, no 'Anglican Church' as such ... certainly not in the sense of there being a single, unified entity called the Anglican Church; rather there is a collection of independent Anglican churches. The majority of these are in communion with each other and the Church of England through what is called the Anglican Communion. 

But the Queen is neither the head nor governor of that organisation. 
To make it as clear as I can: the Queen's role does not extend beyond the CofE. As a member of the Church of Ireland I have grown a little weary of having to explain to people that the Queen is not the head, governor, or anything else to do with the CofI. It is not only that it is simply wrong, but there is also the (not always so thinly) veiled suggestion that it is somehow disloyal for an Irish person to be CofI, that our allegiance to it in some way pledges us to a foreign power (a sort of inverted Rome-rule I suppose).

Also, I believe it mischaracterises what went on at the CofE's General Synod to say that it denies women from being ordained bishops in the CofE. They can not be ordained right now, true. And it was a dreadfully disappointing day for those in favour. But the Church of England has agreed overwhelmingly that it will have women bishops. The failure of the measure hasn't put the kibosh on that. The vote was part of a process of working out how the CofE could  make a not insignificant change while keeping a place within it for those who disagree with the change. That process continues. 

Finally, the argument itself is specious. The gender of the governor is irrelevant to the issue. The role of the Supreme Governor falls to the monarch, irrespective of their sex. It has always been so - in fact the first Supreme Governor was a woman, Elizabeth I (Henry VIII  & his immediate successors styled themselves Supreme Head; Elizabeth was the first to use the current title). Indeed, I always reckon that it was she, rather than Henry who is the true founder of what we now call the Church of England  ... the Elizabethan settlement and all that. Henry's Ecclesia Anglicana was a very different kettle of codpieces altogether. 

The short letter was aiming for right-on. In fact it is actually way off. A little research goes a long way. But often that is too much trouble for those who are simply try to score points rather than advance an argument.

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