Friday, 11 July 2008

Next for REFORM: 'time to feel the FORCE'

As the Yom Kippur war showed, the holiday period is always a good time to launch an attack on your enemy if you are prepared and he is not. So the 7/7 vote by the General Synod on women bishops is meeting with a sluggish response in some circles, particularly from Conservative Evangelicals, partly because so many (including myself) are (or are meant to be) on holiday.

Phoning around during the week, I was told that the Reform Council has a scheduled meeting in September, but beyond a press release expressing disappointment and promising to look at the Code of Practice proposals in February next year, it is not clear what more immediate action will be forthcoming. Thus although the same press release states that Synod’s action, “will no doubt further rouse the ‘sleeping giant’ of orthodox and evangelical Anglicanism,” it is by no means clear what time the ‘giant’ has set his alarm clock for.

And when the giant does finally stumble out of bed, what is he to do?

There is some talk going around about quota capping or cutting. But then there is always talk about quota capping or cutting. It is the standard Conservative Evangelical response to every such crisis, and it is completely the wrong answer. Apart from the fact that it almost never happens (and see here for an alternative that also never got off the ground), the problem is that in this case it is particularly hard to see the connection with the presenting issue.

The problem is not money. And depriving the Church of England of a chunk of its income isn’t going to address what has happened. In any case, does anyone seriously think that even if every Reform parish (and there aren’t that many) withheld all its money tomorrow, the General Synod would be persuaded to change its mind?

Others have mentioned GAFCON in a slightly vague ‘mightn’t this be grounds for an appeal?’ way. But what form could an appeal take? As is well-known, GAFCON includes those (some of them evangelicals) who do ordain women as well as those who don’t. One can hardly appeal to GAFCON on the grounds that the Church of England has decided to do what some of them find unexceptionable.

Nor can it be argued that Traditionalists are being ‘excluded’ from the Church of England. First, we don’t know what form the Code of Practice will take, so it might be argued that we would all have to ‘wait and see’. Secondly, there is no absolute certainty that Synod will vote through the required legislation. I note that in the Church Times poll on the Synod vote, it currently (11/07, 2.30pm) shows 92% of respondents think Synod took the wrong decision — and that in a ‘Liberal establishment’ journal! (Go here to vote.) A new Synod might well make life difficult for the legislation currently proposed.

So another problem with the ‘appeal to GAFCON’ approach’ is that it means waiting to see the outcome of the Synodical process, when what is needed is action now.

Whatever Reform proposes to do, therefore, it must take account of the true nature of the problem facing us, which is not that we will have women bishops but that we will have no adequate structural provision for those who cannot accept their ministry. As a result, the whole Church will be affected by the marginalizing of Conservative and Traditionalist views. What is needed, then, is something which will address the structures effectively, keeping us firmly in, instead of pushing us further out.

And here (as I have been arguing for some time) there is only one obvious contender, which is the legislation already in place, and which will remain in place unless or until it is repealed. I refer, of course, to Resolutions A and B from the Priest (Ordination of Women) Measure and the so-called ‘Resolution C’ of the Episcopal Ministry Act of Synod 1993.

Unfortunately, it is precisely here that the sleeping giant’s slumber has been deepest, for despite making the issue of gender and leadership in the Church a priority in the Reform Covenant, only a tiny handful of Reform parishes have passed Resolution C. On the contrary, many in Reform have strenuously resisted the suggestion that Resolution C provides any sort of solution for the problems facing them and the wider Church.

It is a direct result of that policy that Conservative Evangelicals find themselves today without any ecclessiologically coherent strategy. Reform has patterned itself on the voluntary organizations of old, such as CPAS or Eclectics. It is a pastoral club, when what is needed is an ecclesial structure, comparable to the other structures of the Church as a whole.

As of last Monday, the Church of England is set on a course which will inevitably take is in the same direction as TEC and the Anglican Church in Canada — to say nothing of the Church in Wales and Scotland.

Distancing ourselves from the Church, by quota cuts or appeals overseas, will only make things worse for the Church as a whole. Resolution C is there begging. The Reform leadership needs to see this and to seize the opportunity it represents.

There has been much talk in the press since GAFCON about FOCA — a fellowship of confessing Anglicans. Within these shores, it is time for FORCE —a Fellowship of Resolution C Evangelicals. Reform’s policy of indifference and hostility towards Resolution C has been a mistake. There is time to correct it, but the time is now.

John Richardson
11 July 2008

When posting your comments please give a full name and location. Comments without this information may not be posted.


  1. I thought the Church Times poll was interesting too. I have voted, and count myself as one of the 92%. This does not mean I am against women bishops, but that I believe that synod went for the wrong option. As this was not an option on the Church Times poll, I had to vote "no"

    I would imagine I'm not the only one who's done that.

  2. Dear John,
    One thing I'll give you is that your acronym is a lot more zingy(and a lot less open to ridicule) than Foca.
    I happen to believe Synod's decision was the right one (even if they got there by a route many have not been happy with).
    I think that there are perhaps 2 problems with the idea of FORCE.

    Firstly, not many Reform parishes will particularly enjoy the oversight of a Anglo-Catholic Bishop - perhaps that's why more of them haven't voted in Resolution C. There aren't enough sufficiently conservative evangelical flying bishops to cover the (admittedly small but widespread) whole Reform parish grouping. Wouldn't it be better to hope for a good local suffragan's cover under the code?

    So, secondly, I feel there is little point hanging all your hopes on a resolution that will cease to exist when the code of practice comes in to effect.

    It is a universal truth that to change a system, you have to be part of it (the incarnation of Jesus being the primary example). I have little truck with the theology of Reform but at least they have set out with the aim of changing (reforming) the church from within. Opting for Resolution C oversight at the moment (and goodness knows how much longer this will be for) basically sends a message to your diocesan saying "forget it, mate" which is hardly conducive to getting him to change his mind about anything.

  3. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  4. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  5. It would be helpful for your overseas readers to post the text of Section C since we are not familiar with that particular piece of legislation. It also would give readers in the UK an opportunity to refamiliarize themselves or familiarize themselves for the first time with its provisions.

    My location is western Kentucky, in the United States. I am a regular overseas reader of your weblog and frequently post links to entries on your weblog from my own Anglicans Ablaze.

  6. Thank you Robin, those resolutions can all be found here.

  7. Dear Tim

    You posted the same thing three times I think. I've temporarily deleted two. If I left the wrong one up, let me know.

    FOCA is interesting, isn't it? It is now being chaired, as far as I am aware, by Archbishop Kije (formerly a Russian Lieutenant).

    As to Synod decision, it is extraordinary that almost 90% of respondents to the Church Times poll think it was wrong! That raises significant questions about the future, since all this legislation apparently has to come back to diocesan synods (so I understand, anyway).

    The lack of Reform C parishes and Conservative PEVs is not quite a 'chicken and egg' problem. Reform were told a while ago the lack of C parishes was the reason there were no bishops for them. The answer is simple, it just needs a push.

    As to a suitable suffragan applying the code of practice, all one can say is what code, when, and how? And, of course, why wait until then when you can do C now - indeed, will you look to that suffragan then if you won't do C now?

    This would indeed represent a real attempt at 'change from within'. Of course diocesan bishops won't like it. They have liked it less and less since 1993 when parishes have passed C. But this just shows why a 'Code of Practice' will be even worse. Do you think bishops will like being asked to come down and sort out the code's application if they don't like people passing C?

    The point is not whether bishops like it, but whether it is ecclesially coherent. The existing provisions have worked pretty well, actually. The Church hasn't fallen apart because of them. Yet there have been people like GRAS determined to overturn them - and who now seem to be successful.

    But whilst the legislation is still in place (and that could last another five or six years) it is worth going down this route.