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.
11 July 2008