On the morning of November 20, I woke up with a sense of foreboding.
This was the day, I thought to myself, on which those of my persuasion, along with many Anglo-Catholics, would be pushed to the margins of the Church of England by the passage of a measure to introduce women bishops which gave almost no statutory provision for our point of view.
On the other hand, there were doubtless far more people, most women clergy included, who woke up with a sense of anticipation. Today they would finally achieve a full integration of women into the Church’s orders of ministry.
As is now well known, however, we were both wrong and the measure was lost in the House of Laity by a handful of votes. So where has this left the Church of England?
This question is particularly acute given the reaction, which in many quarters was an outbreak of sheer rage. And, in the light of this, it is hard not to conclude that the assurances of ‘respect’ and ‘gracious generosity’ on offer before the vote were, if not actually insincere, certainly an example of self-delusion.
As I said to a couple of people in the days following, the one good thing to come out of the whole affair was an outbreak of honesty. Unfortunately, what it honestly showed is that there are many in the church who hate traditionalist theology and believe those who hold to it are betraying the gospel.
Indeed, one of the things I realised was that, whereas I think those who accept the ordination of women as incumbents and bishops are mistaken, they think I am morally wrong. And, of course whereas you can tolerate mistakes in the church, you cannot tolerate immorality.
What price democracy?
What the reaction also showed, however, was how tenuous is the commitment of our society in general and, sad to say, Parliament in particular, to the principles of democracy and freedom.
The Synodical structures of the Church of England are deeply flawed. Nevertheless, they include balances and safeguards, especially when it comes to doctrine, that are thought to be necessary. These include, of course, the now-notorious two-thirds majority required for the passage of the measure.
The reaction across the board by its supporters, however, has been that this self-imposed discipline, and the consequent vote, has produced a result ‘up with which we will not put’. Parliament has already waded in, and with Frank Field’s Private Member’s Motion on the table to remove the exemption of the Church of England from the equality laws, looks set to do so even further.
Meanwhile, many supporters of the measure are proposing a ‘clean sweep’ of the next Synod and a ‘single clause’ approach which will make no statutory provision for traditionalists. Once again, we must ask what this means about the future, because, hot on the heels of women bishops, we already have a mounting pressure for the ‘inclusion’ of ‘equal marriage’.
No one can regard the present state of the Church of England as representing a ‘victory’. Indeed, there are many who are treating it as a signal for total war. Personally, my sleepless night following the vote was at least in part because I was wondering to myself, as we all should, what the future holds for my church and this nation, and what God is doing in all this.
associate minister of the churches at Henham, Elsenham & Ugley, near Bishops Stortford, Hertfordshire
This article was first published in the January 2012 issue of Evangelicals Now. For more news, artciles or reviews, subscribe to EN or contact us for more information.
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