In an earlier post on this blog, I criticised Conservative Evangelicalism, which represents my own viewpoint within the Church of England, for lacking a strategy. It might reasonably be asked, however, whether I have anything better to offer.
As it happens, I believe I do. In fact, I have been proposing it to the Conservative constituency for several years, and that is that, as a matter of course, we should all aim to get Resolution C passed by our PCCs.
When the Church of England agreed to the ordination of women in 1993, careful provision was made for those who disagreed. Thus the ‘Priests (Ordination of Women) Measure’ contained two Resolutions which parochial church councils could adopt:
Resolution A: That this parochial church council would not accept a woman as the minister who presides at or celebrates the Holy Communion or pronounces the Absolution in the parish.
Resolution B: That this parochial church council would not accept a woman as the incumbent or priest-in-charge of the benefice or as a team vicar for the benefice.
There was, however, further provision made, via an Act of Synod, that a parochial church council could also petition ‘to the effect that appropriate episcopal duties in the parish should be carried out in accordance with this Act of Synod’ by someone who themselves did not agree with the ordination of women to the priesthood.
Under this Act, three Provincial Episcopal Visitors, PEVs or ‘Flying Bishops’, were appointed. However, although in 1993 it was clear that there would be a number of Evangelical parishes who would not accept a woman as an incumbent (it should be remembered that as late as 1977 the National Evangelical Anglican Congress agreed, amongst other things, that parish leadership should ‘normally’ be ‘singular and male’), it was rightly estimated that only Anglo-Catholic parishes would be so concerned as to seek the oversight of the PEVs. As a result, all the first PEVs were Anglo-Catholics.
Since then, although the Act of Synod declares that ‘no person or body shall discriminate against candidates either for ordination or for appointment to senior office in the Church of England on the grounds of their view or positions about the ordination of women to the priesthood’, there is nevertheless widespread discrimination against Conservative Evangelicals when it comes to senior appointments.
This may, of course, have nothing to do with their views on women’s ordination, but the fact is that there is only one Conservative Evangelical bishop in the Church of England and that is Wallace Benn, the Suffragan Bishop of Lewes. And as things stand, there are unlikely to be any more.
Conservative Evangelical parishes are not, however, without recourse. Their theology means that Resolution A (above) is of little interest, but they can, and should, pass resolution B.
In my view, however, the real issue is that they should pass Resolution C. First, it would be consistent with their declared understanding of what the Bible teaches about the Church. (People may not agree with this viewpoint, but the Act of Synod declares that ‘the integrity of differing beliefs and positions concerning the ordination of women to the priesthood should be mutually recognised and respected’, and within Anglicanism that should be accepted.)
Secondly, as was pointed out by Phillip Jensen at the 2004 Reform Conference, this would make it clear that they did not want women bishops.
Thirdly, however, it would also have the effect of creating a demand for Evangelical PEVs. At present there is a ‘chicken and egg’ situation. All the PEVs are Anglo–Catholic because Evangelicals do not pass Resolution C. But Evangelicals do not pass Resolution C because all the PEVs are Anglo-Catholic.
To some Conservative Evangelicals, this is a sufficient argument in itself against Resolution C. I have heard it said that it will bring into your church all the ‘mumbo-jumbo’ of Catholicism and that in any case you are still under the oversight of the existing diocesan bishop.
To the latter point, my response is simply to say, ‘So what? You would still be acting in accordance with your principles and availing yourself of the way in which the Church of England legitimately allows you to do this.’
On the first point, I have to say it reflects the ignorance of those who have little to do with Anglo-Catholics and seems to accept that no loaf at all is better than half.
In the Diocese of Chelmsford, five Conservative Evangelical parishes, three in our benefice and two others, have recently passed Resolution C. A couple of weeks ago the four clergy involved met with our PEV, the Rt Revd Keith Newton, the Bishop of Richborough. What all of us remarked on afterwards was how unusual but refreshing it was to sit down with a bishop who understood our position and shared our concerns. What was also odd was to be aware of how widely we differed on some issues and yet how closely we agreed on many essentials. (Peter Jensen sums up brilliantly why this is so in his talk here.)
There is, however, one very bad reason for passing Resolution C and that is if you have a bad bishop. The truth is that neither Resolutions A and B, nor C, were put in place to deal with the issue of heterodoxy in the episcopate. Resolution C is thus not a way of getting ‘out from under’ a bishop you dislike. On the contrary, if you agree with the Conservative view of the church and ministry, you should pass Resolution C even if you have a good bishop!
The point is, we should all pass this together. In fact, we should all have passed it years ago (as Nigel Atkinson has been saying for some time). The fact that we haven’t speaks volumes for the Conservative Evangelical wing of the Church of England — volumes which those who are not its friends hear all too well.
Revd John P Richardson
6 June 2007