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.”
8 July 2008