|The Bishop of Lewes|
Last month saw the death of ‘Lonesome George’, the last Pinta Island tortoise.
Next month sees the departure of another ‘last of his kind’, Wallace Benn, the Suffragan Bishop of Lewes in the Diocese of Chichester, who is the only surviving Conservative Evangelical bishop in England who takes the traditionalist line on the ordination and consecration of women.
In fact, Benn was the last such to be appointed, when he took up his present post in 1997. Since then there has been not a single appointment of an evangelical with the same views.
Now those of us watching the debate on the consecration of women cannot help but take note of this fact.
Much has been made by its opponents of what they see as the defects of the 1993 Episcopal Ministry Act of Synod. But as anyone reading the accounts in Hansard will know, the Act of Synod was an essential provision in persuading parliament at the time (and the House of Lord’s in particular) that traditionalist views were genuinely being safeguarded.
And the first provision of the Act was that, “There will be no discrimination against candidates either for ordination or for appointment to senior office in the Church of England on the grounds of their views about the ordination of women to the priesthood.”
Of course, the Act of Synod (as we have often been reminded) is not ‘law’. But it was a commitment in writing. Yet it has clearly, emphatically, been ignored. Indeed in the case of the appointment of the current Bishop of Salisbury, the diocesan Statement of Needs was actually overtly ‘discriminatory’ in this regard — something which I still believe should have been the subject of a Judicial Review.
Yet we — those of us who still have our reservations about women bishops — have been told that graciousness will be enough to safeguard our position and that we ought to accept the assurances we have been given.
Meanwhile, there have been hints, such as when the latest Provincial Episcopal Visitors were being appointed, that ‘something will be done for Conservative Evangelicals’. Yet our own ‘Lonesome George’ is about to pass on, and then there will be no one of that theology who is a serving bishop in the Church of England.
This is one of the reasons why I continue to urge evangelicals to pass Resolution C and why, if and when the new legislation is introduced, I will urge them to petition for whatever alternative provisions are made available.
And this is also why opposition to the House of Bishops’ amendments is so invidious.
If a belief regarding the Church’s ministry is to be upheld in an episcopal church, it must be upheld in the episcopate itself. It is not enough to say, “We acknowledge your views on the ministry, but you do not need actual ministers with those views.”
That is to deny the validity of the views at precisely the point where they are most relevant — something which the Archbishop of Canterbury can recognize, but which seems to escape some of our senior clergy who are widely regarded as candidates for the episcopate.
Whatever happens next weekend, it is time that the Church of England honoured those who belong to its Conservative Evangelical tradition, and demonstrated its own trustworthiness by righting this evident wrong.
All it needs is a diocesan bishop out there with the guts to act.Please give a full name and location when posting. Comments without this information may be deleted. Recommend: