Coming back from a couple of days break, I have finally got around to beginning to read the House of Bishop’s report, GS 1886, on the next stages in the legislation to introduce women bishops.
Let me say first of all, even doing this fills me with a sense of terrible weariness. OK, the majority of the Church of England’s legislature wants to have women bishops — indeed, probably the majority of its active members wouldn’t mind. But why can’t we find a way that accommodates more positively a group who, whilst they may be in the minority amongst modern Anglicans, are standing by the tradition of the ‘catholic’ Church?
At the moment I’m reading Doris Kearns’ Team of Rivals, the massive tome on which was based Stephen Spielberg’s Lincoln. One thing I have gathered early on is that whilst Lincoln was opposed to slavery, he was passionately concerned for the union, cognizant of the intentions of the founding fathers expressed in the Constitution and sensitive to the convictions of Southerners. Hence his political approach to slavery was that it should be contained, with the expectation that it would die out, rather than fought with the aim of enforced abolition.
Some may find this shocking, but Lincoln was weighing one set of considerations against another, and we ought not to forget that when it came, the civil war led to more American combat deaths than all subsequent conflicts (including two world wars, Korea and Vietnam) put together.
Let us then consider our own situation. The great need before us is the evangelization of the nation — or at least, that was considered to be the case in 1945 when the Church of England published the report Towards the Conversion of England. Actually, our actions since then have hardly supported this contention and it is only recently that the Church has turned its attention in any systematic way towards growth – and that has been partly under the pressure of decline, which is hardly a pure motive for evangelism anyway.
To look at what we have done since 1945, one might conclude that the needs of the hour have successively been the revision of Canon Law, the revision of the liturgy, the ordination of women priests, the preservation of the global Communion and the consecration of women bishops. This is where the time and energy has gone, whilst hovering in the wings is the issue of same-sex relationships.
The Great Commission, “Go and make disciples”, is surely the Church of England’s ‘Great Omission’ in practical terms. Nevertheless, those with a true vision for the Church ought to keep it at the forefront of their thinking and planning.
It could also, however, be seen as the overriding principle which ought to allow us to hold together our difference in the interests of jointly pursuing a higher goal. We ought not to forget, furthermore, that unity is itself a ‘value’ — not ‘unity at all costs’, of course, as the pro-women bishops lobby have been quick to vocalize in recent months, but certainly unity in Christ and unity in truth. And ‘the truth’ is what seems to have eluded us on the women bishops issue, with some in the Church adamant that the truth lies in one direction, whilst others are equally adamant it lies in the opposite direction.
The classic ‘wisdom’ of liberalism is that truth does not lend itself to binary categories. But there are factors about the women bishops issue which make the acceptance of a ‘sliding scale’ approach difficult. Is a woman bishop a bishop or not? Nevertheless, the Church of England has tried to adopt a ‘sliding scale’ approach, which until now has worked reasonably well — or at least, has not been the key factor holding us back from the conversion of England.
This is why I (and I suspect there are others like me) would like to see the issue resolved as soon as possible with as much commitment as necessary to take all the members of the Church forward together. Unfortunately I think that calls for some wiser heads and more diplomatic hearts than currently seem to be driving things. Nevertheless, we can keep hoping for this and urging others to keep it in mind.
If reservations about women bishops are something that will eventually die out, and which can meanwhile be ‘corralled’ in a number of other ways, why should those in favour fear making strong provision for those who hold the minority view?
The answer seems to be that this would concede ‘too much’. I suspect, however, that one of the reasons why the minority so mistrust the policy makers for the majority on this one is that they are deeply suspicious of what will come next.
What they do not see is the conversion of England finally assuming the priority it ought to have had for the last sixty-eight years. They do not see a legislature champing at the bit to get this out of the way so that we can get down to evangelism. If they did, there might be a bit more trust in the cries to “Trust us!”
Rather, what they see and fear is a repetition of what happened after 1945, only worse — a Church sidetracked by its internal concerns and deaf to the call of its Master: Go, baptize, teach to obey. Perhaps if that were a shared priority there might be more of a shared acceptance.Please give a full name and location when posting. Comments without this information may be deleted. Recommend: