Monday, 19 November 2012

A shameful letter

Today's letter * [here] published tellingly in what is probably the national newspaper in Britain least sympathetic to 'religious' concerns, The Independent, is such an incredible concoction of  self-righteousness, false exegesis and downright misrepresentation that one despairs for the future of any Church where one thousand of its clergy can present such views and, apparently, be taken seriously. This is strutting, grotesque, liberal bigotry on a grand scale.

(Highlights in red for the more egregious passages, and the comments in bold type are mine)
"We, as clergy of the Church of England, stand alongside Rowan Williams, Justin Welby, and the dioceses of the Church of England, in hoping that the General Synod will vote on Tuesday to allow women to become bishops in our church.We believe wholeheartedly that this is the right thing to do, and that the time is now right to do it. There are many reasons for this belief, and we highlight just some here.                  First, because the Bible teaches that “in Christ there is no male or female”, but all people are equal before God. Just as the churches have repented of our historic antisemitism and endorsement of slavery, so we believe that we must now show clearly that we no longer believe women to be inferior to men. [The Catholic Christian tradition in toto never has believed 'women to be inferior to men,' only that the sexes are equal but complementary]                                                                                                                        Secondly, Jesus treated women radically equally. He encouraged them as disciples, and chose a woman as the first witness to His resurrection, at a time when women’s testimony was inadmissible in law.  [But he did not chose women as apostles and the future leaders of his Church, despite his undoubted radicalism with regard to the status of women]                                                                                                        Thirdly, we have promised as clergy to “proclaim the faith afresh in every generation”. We fear that failing to take this step would do the opposite, proclaiming instead that the church is more interested in the past than the future.The legislation to be voted on represents enormous compromise from all sides. [This is quite simply a lie] Those who wish to avoid the ministry of women [this is not the issue at all for opponents, as the signatories well know] will still be able legally to do soWe hope and pray that all will feel able to work together in the future with the trust and respect that should characterise our church." [But they have a very curious way of trying to bring about that "trust and respect" by labelling those who disagree with them as misogynists and akin to racists and apologists for slavery]

This is David Ould's  view who deals with the letter's arguments step by step:
"First, if this is meant to be “a Biblical argument” then I fear very greatly for the place of the Scriptures as authoritative and normative in the Church of England. Any fair understanding of the conservative argument against Women Bishops would acknowledge that it has absolutely nothing to do with a view that women are “inferior to men”. It is utterly disingenuous at this point in the debate to launch such a puerile attack effectively branding every opponent of women bishops as a misogynist. The conservative  argument sits independently of Gal. 3:27 and, indeed, affirms it.
To then move on to antisemitism and slavery is another utter canard. These are matters on which, it is certainly true, certain elements of the church have had varied views at different times but the overwhelming consensus over the decades and a prevailing view in the early church was that anti-semitism and slavery were wrong. By contrast you cannot find anyone arguing for a female episcopacy until very very recently. Are we really suggesting that the church has been, almost in totality, wrong on this issue for 2,000 years? What arrogance.
“To be more interested in the past than the future” is in many ways a great statement of flattery to the church. We hold the Scriptures as our prime authority and that is certainly to “be more interested in the past”, at least when it comes to setting it against contemporary and future social trends as an alternate source of authority.
Finally on the issue of compromise and trust, I written here on a number of occasions about that. It is, once more, the height of arrogance to suggest that the position set forward is adequate for conservatives when they been united in declaring that it is not..."

[Read it all here at Stand Firm]
Suffice it to say that today's letter is proof, if we still needed it, that the concept of 'respect' is utterly and woefully inadequate - there will be little -  and why not only the opponents of a feminised priesthood and episcopate, but everyone who cannot accept a wholesale reinterpretation of scripture and the rejection of much of the Christian tradition,  need fear for their future.  We must all, wherever we are, pray for the Church of England tonight as it stands on the brink of disaster...

* In total contrast in terms of tone and content, this was the letter published in The Times on Friday - again, the highlights in red are mine

As active priests from both the Catholic and Evangelical groupings of the Church of England, we write to express our deep concern over the draft Women Bishops Measure. We believe that our future ministries will be severely prejudiced if the General Synod votes to approve the draft Measure. 
The Bible teaches – and the Church has traditionally understood – that men and women are equal before God and yet have different, complementary, roles in the Church. By maintaining these different roles, neither men nor women are diminished; rather, we demonstrate God’s wisdom in creating us to operate in this way.
We accept that there is a majority desire to introduce women bishops, but we are also very conscious that the minority in disagreement is far from insignificant. We had hoped for compromise – but the provision being made for us in the draft Measure comes nowhere near what we need. 
We are told that if Synod does not pass the draft Measure it will impair the mission of the Church. However, approving the draft Measure will do much more harm in the long term and will lead irrevocably to deep fractures appearing within the Church. We urge Synod to avoid this by voting not to approve the draft Measure. 
Yours faithfully
The Revd Rod Thomas, Diocese of Exeter
Chairman, Reform
The Revd Canon Simon Killwick, Diocese of Manchester
Chairman of the Catholic Group, General Synod 
and 324 others
 [ Text and signatories at The Ugley Vicar (The Revd John Richardson)  here]


  1. Maybe the problem lies with allowing matters of doctrine to be subject to a popular vote, which leads to them being politicised.

    In any event, you are in my prayers this night.

  2. Like you, I'm not directly affected by this vote, being from a neighbouring province to the C of E. But what happens in England today will happen here in Wales tomorrow...
    On the subject of doctrine being put to the vote (and in the process being put to the sword), I entirely agree with you, having long been of the opinion that it was the introduction of so-called 'synodical government' which has allowed mere liberal 'opinions' to become the established orthodoxy (ha, ha!) of Anglican provinces throughout the western world.


    1. 'God be merciful to us and bless us
      and show us the light of His countenance
      and be merciful unto us;

      That thy way may be known upon earth

      thy saving health among all nations'

  3. And you thought the Pope was infallible!


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