Correction: It has been pointed out to me that it is not correct to say, as I have below, that "the platform and presentations did not feature any ordained women". In fact, the gospel was read by an ordained ( priest) woman, the Rev Erin Clifford, Associate Minister at St Michael's Chester Square, and one of those offering prayer was Rev Carrie Sandom ( a deacon), now based in London. This doubtless will not satisfy some people, but it does put things in a (slightly) different perspective from what my comments may have suggested.
On the second evening after the ‘Longest Day’ (the July 6th launch of FCA UK, which, as I’ve said before, was a bit over-packed), I find myself reflecting that the Church of England may be in even worse trouble than I imagined last night —and that was bad enough.
The reasons for this lie in three reactions to the day I am picking up —two of them simply disappointing, and one of them more challenging.
The first reaction is the not-unexpected, but still sad to behold, visceral dislike from those who have been hostile to GAFCON and were inevitably therefore going to look askance at FCA. These I would generally characterize as ‘liberals’ from all wings of the Church, as well as most wings of the media. Since their opprobrium was inevitable, however, one tends to greet it with the sense that if these are the people one has upset, one has probably done at least something right. Nevertheless, it is still sad.
More disappointing, though, is the response of some who were there as supporters, yet who didn’t feel their ‘side’ was sufficiently represented.
Personally, the lack of ‘balance’ is something I have already noted —and it was not just a matter of breadth of churchmanship. However, this was a launch, not a last word, and on other days the swings may compensate for the roundabouts. More importantly, FCA is attempting to bring together groupings within the Church of England which have a past history of open conflict, yet without compromising or ‘fudging’ their integrity. (In this, I would argue, it is being more bold than anything attempted by ‘Open’ Evangelicalism.)
If this is to become a reality, all of us are going to have to swallow some things which we find unpalatable, and there will be times when ‘our’ point of view takes second place. For me, one such moment was seeing rows of ciboria, neatly labelled as containing so many ‘hosts’, waiting for the end-of-launch communion. The Protestant in me still finds such manifestations of ‘Catholic’ spirituality slightly uncomfortable —but hey, that’s life. Or at least, it will be life if FCA as presently conceived is to succeed.
By the same token, however, I made sure I wore my dog-collar to London (not something which Conservative Evangelical clergy are generally inclined to do), specifically because I wanted to take seriously the sensibilities of Anglo-Catholic clergy who would be there and whom I might meet.
The third reaction, however, is more serious because it is the most challenging. It concerns the ordination of women, but not necessarily in the way people might think.
It has been observed, both by supporters and opponents of FCA, that the platform and presentations did not feature any ordained women [but see correction above], and that, indeed, several known individuals and organizations opposed to the ordination of women were in evidence.
The latter cannot be helped. The truth is that FCA, and GAFCON before it, is attempting to embrace both viewpoints. That being the case, those opposed to the ordination of women will (inevitably) be welcomed, seen and heard. This is not, after all, the House of Bishops or the General Synod!
However, the more challenging reaction is from those on the Anglo-Catholic side who have complained about the very fact that FCA is trying to treat this as a ‘second-order’ issue —one, that is to say, on which Christian brethren can agree to disagree.
Indeed it is rather ironic that at this point Traditionalist Anglo-Catholic and Liberal ‘others’ share the same point of view —in the eyes of both, women’s ordination is a first-order issue, standing in the way of full cooperation with those who think otherwise.
It may, therefore, be the case that FCA cannot finally work, not because it contains those who accept and those who disagree with women’s ordination, but because it cannot contain both those who view this as a first-order issue and those who do not.
The matter is further complicated by the fact that, for Conservative Evangelicals like myself, ordination itself is not a first-order issue. Indeed, I once remarked, slightly tongue in cheek, that this was why I could happily sit down with Anglo-Catholics who have a view of priesthood and sacrament which I regard as somewhat beyond the Pale of true Anglicanism. It is because I don’t think ordination is worth that big a fight that I don’t think someone’s (in my view) extreme position on ordination is similarly worth a major falling out —not when I find myself agreeing with them on so many other things. To illustrate it from another angle, I have previously enjoyed Christian fellowship with Seventh-Day Adventists whose views of the Sabbath are, I think, quite misguided, because I found them to be co-believers in Christ and co-belligerents for the gospel in a very tough situation.
By the same token, however, I can also accept ministry —including sacramental ministry —from an ordained woman, even though I might have serious reservations about women’s ordination generally and women’s consecration specifically. In this respect, it is genuinely, for me, a second-order issue.
However, I have considerable difficulty with those for whom the acceptance of women’s ordination is a first-order issue, especially when the worthiness or otherwise of any enterprise or event is judged by whether or not the women on the platform or the organizing committee were ordained women. To me, this is to elevate ordination to the point where you are not at the ‘pinnacle’ of spiritual development unless you have been endowed with that ‘quality’. Frankly, it smacks of the old concept of priestly ‘character’. Someone who insists at this point that I must see things their way is making a demand with which I simply cannot comply.
And so I find myself surveying the Church of England on this second post-FCA evening with rather less confidence (even) than I had last night. If the FCA cannot work because we are too defensive about our own positions, that will be bad enough. If it turns out that women’s ordination has become a first-order issue on both wings of the Church —the Traditionalist and the Liberal —then those of us who are presently ‘in the middle’ may well wonder if the institution can truly embrace a diversity of views. The only other alternative, I suppose, is that we must adopt the same position ourselves, whichever may be the side on which we come down.
Revd John Richardson
7 July 2009