Tuesday, 8 July 2008

Pay now, or pay later: why Traditionalists must not wait to act

According to the BBC website, which topically likens the current situation in the Church of England to a game of tennis, “The traditionalists will continue to rally, but the score at the moment is ‘advantage liberals’.”

As I warned six weeks ago, that is indeed the case and it has consequences for the future. Then I wrote that the passage of the ‘Single Clause’ option would mean,

... a counter-Scriptural, egalitarian feminist agenda will have gained the centre-ground. Those Evangelical supporters (and, perhaps, opponents) of women’s ordination who endorse or accept the new arrangements will find themselves faced with a triumphant Liberalism whose next aim will undoubtedly be the inclusion of same-sex relationships and the modification of our concept of God.

The Liberal wing of the Church of England has achieved a massive gain. But their position is not without hazard. Both Archbishops advised against the step that has been taken. Other senior bishops also disapproved. Substantial numbers in the Synod voted against the final motion. Hundreds of clergy have indicated they would have to rethink their position in the Church.

For weeks, the talk in the media has been of split and schism, not only abroad over the issues addressed by GAFCON, but here in England over women bishops.

But swift action is the key. When Hitler occupied the Rhineland in 1936, his armies had order to retreat if attacked. The world waited to see what Britain and France would do, but they did nothing and so Hitler won.

The comparison here, though, is not with Hitler, but with the Allies. Every hour that they did nothing made doing something less likely. And by doing nothing they not only lost in the short-term, but made it inevitable they would have to fight harder in the long term.

This, then, is the situation confronting Traditionalists in the Church of England. The General Synod has effectively voted that they be marginalised. Archbishop John Sentamu denied strongly that they were being thrown out, and technically that is true. But they are being bypassed and rendered irrelevant. As Adrian Worsfold (who has a nose for these things) writes,

[This decision] represents the effective finishing of the traditionalist Anglo-Catholic so that now just the Affirming (or, roughly speaking, liberal) Anglo-Catholic has a future in the Church of England. Soon a situation could well arise where Conservative Evangelicals are leaving and evangelicals are weakened.

And he finishes on what ought to be a sombre note for Evangelicals who think they can stay and prosper:

By 2014 the Church of England should look rather more like The Episcopal Church in the United States, the Anglican Church of Canada, the New Zealand Church, and the others in these islands.

The Church of England now is a genuine ‘mixed economy’ containing Anglo-Catholics and Charismatics, Open and Conservative Evangelicals, Affirming Catholics and Radical Liberals, as well as plenty who are just ‘middle of the road’. As such, it embodies spiritual hope as well as error. And most importantly, at least in theory, people from any of these can become a bishop.

Of course it will be objected, and it is true, that no woman can yet become a bishop. But that is, of course, due to change. Thanks to the General Synod, however, there is another, quite unnecessary, change coming with it, for whilst the Church of England will indeed have women bishops, they will not be, except for a few limited purposes, be drawn from the ranks of conservatives.

Indeed, by 2014 the conservatives will be a diminishing presence, represented only by those for whom optimism triumphs constantly over experience. A compromise could have been reached. Instead, as the Manchester Report warned, the Church of England of the future will be “possibly be more cohesive [but] less theologically diverse.”

That is unless action is taken and taken now, for it is an undeniable fact that it is radical principled action which changes the Anglican church, not debate and dialogue. The Oxford Movement demonstrated this in the nineteenth century, the churches of North America have shown it in the last and in this, first by illegally ordaining women, then by ignoring the pleas of the Communion not to consecrate Gene Robinson.

Moreover, the shape that action should take is clear. The Synod was asked, as a result of a long process of consultation, to provide structural solutions for Traditionalists — structures which would best be expressed through new dioceses. And what is a diocese, other than a gathering of churches and parishes for mutual mission and support who, with their clergy, are under the oversight of a bishop?

The bishops necessary to this are in place. The churches, parishes and clergy know who they are. In fact everything was ready to go until Synod said no. At the moment, Liberalism has had the Church of England handed to it on a plate. In six months, or even six weeks, it will be too late to change that. Momentum will have been lost, gains will have been consolidated. We will have persuaded ourselves that perhaps the next meeting, or the next consultation, or the next vote may provide us with a way out.

Or we could act now. We could simply say to the Synod, “Thank you, but we consider you have made a mistake, and it is our duty as members of this Church not to put into effect what you desire. We will make our own arrangements, and you may think again.”

John Richardson
8 July 2008

No comments will be posted without a full name and location, see the policy.


  1. (Chelmsford)

    The problem with your situation is that the "our own arrangements" you insist on involve parliamentary legislation. At least that is what your friends seemed to be holding out for in Synod, when you reject even in principle a binding code of conduct. And there is no way that Parliament will grant you that, even less outside the official Church of England structures than inside them.

    Meanwhile you are welcome to leave the Diocese of Chelmsford. But please leave Ugley and Elsenham churches with their fittings as assets of the Diocese as that will help to limit the pressure on the Parish Share of those of us who remain.

  2. But John I'm not liberal and I'm not a feminist...re what you said 6 weeks ago - why is it a feminist agenda? - that would be one in which women are claiming superiority to men. Is it not that women are now able to celebrate their ability to equally serve Christ's body the church at a time when it's so battered and bruised it needs all the help it can get. I don't have a feminist agenda or see myself above any man. We as men and women are to serve and submit to Christ and each other and our neighbours, whoever they might be.
    Blessings Rachel

  3. All the necessary structures have been running in "shadow" for years now. All it takes is the will to flick a switch to turn the "shadow" structures into real structures. Never mind what Synod, or indeed Parliament, thinks about it: what is needed is a clear and meticulously-coordinated campaign of "civil disobedience", a principled determination to act as though the law were as it ought to be, disregarding how it actually is.

    But is +Ebbsfleet so besotted with making his submission to Rome that everything will end up being subordinated to that agenda?

    Fr William Perry, Southampton

  4. Rachel,

    I'm a woman, considered myself a feminist up until about 10 years ago, that changed not becase my beliefs had changed, but because I started picking up on the fact that the woman's movement had morphed into an elitist, narrow minded and focused, extremist movement. It didn't represent women, as much as women who lived above the glass ceiling. The issues it revolved around were increasingly fewer, and the leadership treated the legitimate concerns of the working poor and middle class women with disrespect.

    I have no problem recognizing the "activism" of WATCH and others as part of the feminist agenda. This isn't in aid of equality, an opportunity for women to serve. This is about exploiting religion, and positions of authority in the church purely for power's sake, and what can be done with said power.

    Face it, if you examine the actions of women in the clergy and hierarchy of TEC in the States, it's not been a good thing. I've not met one female member of clergy who views her duties as being pastoral. I've heard them preach buddhism and meditation, and just about everything but Christ's teachings. I've spoken with the woman who became pastor of my church after she treated the subject of poverty and suffering in the US cavalierly, and was offended by her unChristian attitude.

    I base my judgements on walking the walk, and on this subject, I can only say it's easy to talk, but following through sincerely is another matter.

    If women in the clergy is such a good thing, where are examples of this? I ask in all sincerity, as someone who previously thought it would be a grand thing. The ones I have seen and whose writings I've read, do not seem to even respect Christ, or value the faith they claim to represent.

    My opinion of what has been happening in the church, especially of late, with the critique of GAFCon, the Synod and after the fact, is that this seems to be an example of a powerful lobby that has taken hold, who seek to destroy the church from within. They are aided by others who are weak in their faith, or who are corrupted.

    Demonizing and dehumanizing those who have a different opinion, because it is based on the gospels, is not the sign of a Christian. What harm would have been done by allowing those who differed to coexist within the Anglican church? Quite honestly, it would have been the Christian thing to do. I believe they showed their hand by demanding no quarter be given.

  5. John
    You are absolutely right and thanks for commenting on my Churchman article which has largely been ignored. I absolutely support what you say but what do you sugget we do to "secure our own arrangements". A first step would be for ALL of us to stop the quota but them what?
    A prophet without honour

  6. Wow. anonymous comments from supporters all over the place. You must be really rattled.

  7. Well, Madeline, considering you've never complied with the posting policy and I've always published your comments, I thought I might as well allow other people a go.

    Incidentally, sometimes if you click on a poster's name you will find their profile includes a proper name and location. It may be worth your checking these.

  8. m
    Is it then that if I enter the church as I hope at some point to do so, I already am the church, but what I of course mean, is if I am one day ministering, let's say for the sake of argument, I'm ordained, (that is only for God to decide), but anyway, if this Rach, poor vessel that I am, becomes a vicar, is it only because I'm on some sort of feminist power trip and if that can be said of me, why when men progress career-wise in the church, are they not thought to be on some testosterone-fuelled power-trip? It will affect me, of course, because I'm only human, if people impute to me unchristian motives for my wanting to work in the Church.
    Yours somewhat nervously, Rachel