On July 13, in anticipation of the vote of the York General Synod on women bishops the next day, the Archbishop of Canterbury took to the airwaves via the medium of The Andrew Marr Show. He declared that: ‘theologically the church has been wrong not to ordain women as priests and bishops over the centuries’.
In those few words Justin Welby isolated himself from, as I would see it, the teaching and practice of the Lord Jesus and the apostles as well as the understanding of the Church Fathers and the thinking of the best theologians of the centuries since.
He also isolated himself from large parts of his own church, including countless millions of godly women who have rendered the most faithful service to the Church of England in the past and at least 25% of the present membership who, in opinion polls and local and national synod votes, consistently take the opposite view.
The archbishop even stands isolated from the vast majority of the Anglican communion – for almost all of the provinces who do ordain and consecrate women nonetheless respect the theological integrity of those who disagree and avoid declaring that one point of view is right and the other wrong. That was the view reaffirmed at the Global Anglican Futures Conference last year.
Lastly, of course, Justin Welby has isolated himself from the understanding of Scripture on the issues of gender and church order held by the Roman Catholic and Orthodox churches.
Losing father figures
He will find some who share his view – in Methodism in England and in the Episcopal Church of the USA, for example, and in some other churches, pretty much the entirety of whom have seen the abandonment of complementarian thinking accompanied by precipitate decline in membership to levels of near oblivion.
Remarkably however, given that the new legislation was passed almost entirely on the basis of the need to be ‘relevant’, the archbishop also finds himself isolated from our society. That is true of the bluff northern taxi drivers of York, a group of whom were mystified by the Church’s obsession with political correctness. It is also true more widely: early July saw the publication of the Centre for Social Justice’s report on fatherless families which revealed that 15-year-olds are significantly more likely to own a smart-phone than live with their fathers. Only 57% of such teenagers have their fathers living with them, at huge cost to society.
At a time when our society is waking up to the cost of ‘disposable dads’ the Church of England is busy dispensing with the need for church families to have a spiritual father at their head, or even involved in their leadership in any way. An immense price is likely to be paid for that too.
Driving away error?
How Justin Welby squares his statement to the nation on TV with his statement to Synod that he will ensure that complementarians flourish is anyone’s guess. On one reading it would appear that he is committing himself to the flourishing of that which he knows to be wrong – a strange position to be in as a bishop who has taken a solemn oath to ‘drive away error’. It is more likely, that he has a definition of ‘flourishing’ that I and other com-plementarians wouldn’t recognise as such.
The Archbishop of Canterbury would have us believe that he is only isolated because he is stepping boldly into a brave new future but sometimes being out of step is just that – marching to the beat of the wrong drum.
Susie Leafe, Director of Reform