Thursday, 22 November 2012

Is this the future?

This article 'It's not really about women bishops, it's a fight for the Church of England's soul' by George Pitcher at The Daily Mail [here] has been brought to my attention. 
Although we would wish to disagree strongly with his description of co-operation between Anglo-Catholics and Conservative Evangelicals  as an 'unholy alliance' (we have different sources and interpretations of authority, but we do believe in divine revelation and a revealed religion) and find his final recommendations for the future of the Church abhorrent and far from being 'an honest expression' of Christian faith, it is hard to disagree with his analysis - this is a struggle for the soul of the Church indeed.
"For anyone who isn't a Lilliput passport-holder, the Church of England's handling of the women bishops issue is indeed weird. So let's just recap: All but two dioceses vote for women bishops, the measure gets overwhelming majorities in all the houses of General Synod, the Church's parliament, and is wholly supported by the public at large, but it fails because some 70-odd (and I do mean odd) members of the laity vote against it. Just six votes made the crucial difference.
How can we expect the Church of England to be taken seriously when it doesn't do so itself? Heads should be hung in shame.
But I'd like to suggest that this issue isn't exclusively, or even principally, about women becoming bishops. What we have just so embarrassingly witnessed is the latest skirmish in the fight for our Church's soul.
I wrote here in July that if we wanted women bishops we had to satisfy those who don't. It's the Anglican way, I suggested. Archbishop Rowan Williams' attempt to keep traditionalists on board with written assurances had just been eschewed by the women's lobby and the business deferred to this November. I said that over the summer we had to be creative to ensure that there was a measure of provision for those who cannot accept women's episcopacy that was acceptable to them.
At one level, that clearly has not been achieved. But the point here is not really about the issue itself. It's a struggle for power. In an alliance that is far more extraordinary than the Conservatives' coalition with the Lib Dems - one might call it an unholy alliance - our Anglo-Catholics have held their noses and teamed up with conservative evangelicals to frustrate the liberal, Anglican mainstream of the Church.
As I've said before, we need to decide whether we want the catholic tradition in the Church of England. I think it would be a tragedy to lose it and we may not know what we have until it's gone. But that is what this about and goes some way to explaining the parallel universe that voting at Synod appeared to occupy.
So the question is not only: Do we want women bishops? Or even: Have we made sufficient provision for those who don't? It is this: Are we a progressive and reformist church or not?
The voting in the House of Bishops and the House of Clergy yesterday would seem to confirm that we are. So let's be honest if we can no longer occupy the same holy ground. If Anglo-Catholics cannot countenance where the Church of England is going, then Rome beckons, and extreme evangelicals are going to need to establish their own fundamentalist cult.
The Church of England will be much diminished by their departure, perhaps irreparably so. Dr Williams is a man of great humility, but is not unambitious - if he has failed so dismally to hold this  ship together, then it is highly unlikely that his successor, Justin Welby, can do so with any greater success, despite all his skills in conflict resolution.
It may be that the Church of England needs to become an arm of the Episcopal Church of the United States. That is a prospect that will take the breath away from many Anglican worshippers this side of the Atlantic. But it is, at least, an honest expression of where we're moving, as a radical, liberal and reformist Church.
It's time - and I'm aware of the broader implications of this choice of words - that the Church of England came out of the closet."

1 comment:

  1. Well now: we 'lost' the vote, so would those who 'won' please leave so we can get on with doing all the things you don't want us to - i.e. recreating the CofE in the image of TEC?

    Somehow, I don't think it is going to play out like that!


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