Today I am feeling a bit less gloomy than I did yesterday, partly because I actually had some sleep last night and partly because I’ve been speaking to others in the constituency and getting a feel for what might happen next.
One of the things to be clear on is the actual issues. In some of the media, and even by some religious commentators, the events of Monday at General Synod have been covered as if they were about the decision to have women bishops.
As the Manchester Report itself made clear, however, that was not the issue. It has been a foregone conclusion for some time that the Church of England would have women bishops. The issue was how provision would be made for those who could not receive their ministry. That is what Monday’s debate was about, and that is how the consequences of the Synod vote must be understood.
The Manchester Report also made clear that there would be consequences for taking the route opted for by the General Synod:
There is no doubt ... that proceeding with legislation that removed the earlier safeguards would trigger a period of uncertainty and turbulence within the Church of England. Many priests and congregations would undoubtedly leave. The Church of England that emerged at the end of the process might possibly be more cohesive. It would undoubtedly be less theologically diverse.
No one who supports Monday’s decision can therefore complain if the Church of England now enters just such a ‘period of uncertainty and turbulence’. Indeed, it would be odd if it did not, following the Manchester Report’s warning that it would.
I am reminded of that great line in Men in Black, just after Agent Kay, played by Tommy Lee Jones, has blown off the head of alien pawnbroker Jack Jeebs, much to the consternation of New York policeman James Edwards, played by Will Smith. (Don’t worry, it immediately grows back.) “I warned him!” says Kay to Edwards, “You warned him!” (which is true, but Edwards hadn’t actually expected him to do it).
So here we are, but why does it matter? As critics of GAFCON have observed, there are alliances today in the Anglican church which embrace those on both sides of the debate over women’s ordination. Is this not just a case of hopeless (or even devious) compromise?
To this we must reply that until Monday, the Church of England was also an organization which embraced both sides in the women’s ordination debate. And on Monday it was perfectly possible for the Synod to continue to do so. The problem is that it has chosen not to — or rather it has chosen to do so in a way (the ‘Code of Practice’) which those who voted for the final motion knew would not be acceptable to precisely those for whom it is intended. This is a bit like serving meat to a vegetarian on the grounds that it is organic, and therefore ethically acceptable.
There is more than this, however, as I have pointed out elsewhere. It is well-known that thanks to a widespread lack of discipline, the ministry of the Church of England is deeply compromised on doctrinal specifics. It is no accident that whereas the Church has managed to produce a new Clergy Discipline Measure to deal with structural infringements (such as preaching the gospel in someone else’s parish without proper permission), it has stalled on the second, though promised, Discipline Measure to deal with matters of doctrine.
The reason is simple: whilst there are very few infringements of the Church’s practical requirements (most clergy work hard and keep their noses clean), the introduction of a doctrinal discipline would result in chaos, since so many clergy sit so light to the Church’s declared doctrines. Such is the Anglican way of muddling along.
However, into this soup of faith there now drops a crouton of clarity: the ordination and consecration of women. Let me stress, it would not be such a problem having women ordained as priests, or perhaps even consecrated as bishops, if the Church’s doctrinal discipline showed any coherence whatsoever. The problem is that is manifestly does not.
Take this interview on Radio 4’s Sunday programme, with Rosemary Lain-Priestly:
Roger Bolton: [...] Do you believe it doesn’t matter whether [the resurrection] was about a body or not, or do you believe it definitely wasn’t?
Rosemary Lain-Priestly: The Scriptures tell us that the tomb was empty and it may well have been. Who am I to limit what God might choose to do? But my faith in the resurrection doesn’t stand or fall on whether there were human remains in Christ’s tomb. [...] So perhaps it doesn’t matter whether or not Jesus took his [physical body] with him.
RB: [...] Would it matter to you, would it shake your faith if a tomb was opened up and the bones in it were confirmed as those of Jesus? Your answer to that is it wouldn’t matter at all ...?
R L-P: I don’t think it would matter because the resurrection that I believe in, I think has continuity with what we experience in this life but in some very profound sense is about transformation, it’s about something other than what we have already experienced.
Is this anywhere close to what the Apostles preached or what the Creeds declare? Yet Rosemary Lain-Priestly is a Dean of Women’s Ministry. I therefore wrote to a relevant bishop and queried how this was possible. His reply was brief, “She’s a quite articulate and intelligent liberal. But she doesn’t speak for anyone apart from herself.”
Now with respect, the last part of that sentence is not true. As a minister of the Church, she speaks for the Church. In her particular ministry I presume she also speaks for the Church to other ministers. In matters of the faith, she is not a private individual and hers were certainly not privately expressed views.
But you can see why there is no Clergy Discipline Measure (Doctrine).
The situation we are now heading for is thus that whilst those with such views can, and do, enjoy deployment and promotion to senior responsibilities, no such leeway will be available for those who do not accept the ordination and consecration of women. We thus have inflexibility where perhaps we might at least have flexibility (and so avoid more trouble in the Church), whereas there is continuing flexibility where there ought to be inflexibility.
Moreover, as we well know from those who campaigned hardest for this situation, next on the agenda is ‘full inclusion’ on sexuality and the modification of the image of God. It is there in black and white on their websites and in their publications.
I warned you!
9 July 2008