Assent to the Five Guiding Principles

The House of Bishops’ Declaration contains five guiding principles to which ordinands and clergy moving to new appointments are being asked to assent.

In summary these are:

  1. The Church of England is unequivocally committed to all orders of ministry being equally open to all irrespective of gender, and believes that office holders deserve respect and canonical obedience
  2. Ministers in the Church of England must acknowledge that the Church has reached a clear decision on the matter
  3. This clear decision is set within a broader process of discernment within the Anglican Communion and the whole Church of God
  4. Those whose theological convictions mean they are unable to receive the ministry of women bishops or priests continue to be within the spectrum of teaching and tradition of the Anglican Communion, so the church of England remains committed to enabling them to flourish
  5. Pastoral and sacramental provision for the minority will be made without specifying a limit of time.

How can I assent to something I disagree with?
One of the concerns that some have expressed is that they cannot in conscience agree with the first principle. However, this is to misconstrue what is being required as well as the meaning of the five principles. What is being required is assent, not agreement. As Stephen Hofmeyer QC has put it, assenting merely requires acknowledgement of what the Church of England has done, as an entity. It does not require the individual to agree personally with the commitment or the decision.

It is important to realise too that the five principles are governed by the words introducing them: ‘They need to be read one with the other and held together in tension, rather than applied selectively.’ This means that each principle must be read in a way that produces consistency with the others, not inconsistency. Thus the first principle cannot mean that each and every person in the Church of England is fully and unequivocally committed to all orders of ministry being equally open to all irrespective of gender, because of the fourth principle respects the position of those who disagree.

The five principles give important safeguards to those who are in favour and those who are not in favour of women bishops and priests. When asked about his own position before his appointment, the present Bishop of Ebbsfleet said he is willing to assent to the five principles on the grounds that they promote mutual respect and do require him to act contrary to his theological convictions. When asked to give assent to the five principles, ordinands and others could therefore consider answering that they are willing to assent on the same grounds as the Bishop of Ebbsfleet.