Will there ever be a conservative evangelical bishop who believes in complementarianism in the Church of England again?
According to the Archbishop of Canterbury, there will. Justin Welby was explaining to members of Parliament’s Ecclesiastical Committee a previously-made promise to appoint such a conservative evangelical bishop ‘within a matter of months’.
He declared: ‘We have undertaken to approach the Dioceses Commission to see if we can… use a vacant suffragan see for the appointment of someone holding the conservative evangelical view on headship. This was promised long, long ago in various ways.
‘One of the things that both the Archbishop of York and I feel about this – as did the House of Bishops – is that if we are going to create a climate of trust… we have got to keep our word on everything we promise. If you stop doing that, people will not believe you on anything’. he said.
Fair and equal
The archbishop also suggested that changes could be made for the processes in appointing all bishops, stating: ‘There are some absolutely outstanding clergy in both the traditional Catholic and the complemen-tarian evangelical groups; and we are going to have to develop… processes and procedures to make sure that they are considered fairly and equally, to see if they are the most appropriate person for a given post’.
Justin Welby also described Synod’s provisions for those opposed to women bishops as ‘an expression of love and concern for those who struggle with it. We are a family, not a political party. We don’t chuck people out who disagree with us’.
This all raises a number of issues. Firstly, as a letter in The Church of England Newspaper pointed out, over the summer, there have been previous promises of this kind. It said: ‘In the course of the discussions about women bishops, we were reminded that a Synod called for conservative evangelicals to be made bishops seven years ago. In the light of the failure to fulfil this ‘promise’, it is clear that: 1. conservative evangelicals should be consecrated in significant numbers (at least 10?) before any women are. 2. General Synod should stop issuing reports criticising other people since it doesn’t act on its own reports.’
Secondly, even if the archbishops are quite sincere in what they say – as I believe they are – it is hard to envisage the current process of appointment resulting in such an decision, or the particular diocese where there would be enough sympathy for it to take place. And making changes to the appointments process could be tricky.
Finally, does appointing just one bishop holding complementarian views really do justice to the movement’s strength and vitality (both numerical and financial) within the Church of England? Many would see it as mere tokenism.
Meanwhile, in relation to the other great contentious issue of the day, the first clergyman to marry a same-sex partner is planning to take the Church of England to court after his offer of a job as a hospital chaplain was withdrawn when his bishop refused to give him permission to officiate. The Revd Jeremy Pemberton stated: ‘This is an area of law that has not been tested and needs to be’.
Courteous but firm
As the latest Church Society magazine rightly says: ‘There will always be challenges to faithful evangelical ministry in the Church of England, and contending for the authority of Scripture and Reformation principles is not a new struggle… [John] Stott’s call to maintain a faithful evangelical witness ‘courteously but firmly’ working within the structures of the Church of England remains as relevant as ever’.
rector of the churches of East Dean with Friston and Jevington, East Sussex