It has always been assumed that the Bishop of London is opposed to the ordination of women to the priesthood. This is a reasonable assumption as he has gone on record describing the development as a ‘ radical discontinuity and a premature decision. We are in danger of simply following cultural patterns. I am not persuaded by the arguments in favour and I have always voted against.’ His action in not ordaining women to the priesthood has confirmed his words.
Now, according to a major broadsheet article by a substantial and reliable journalist, the Bishop of London has changed his mind. The extensive briefings given by ‘friends of the bishop’ have not been denied by the bishop and a statement by his press secretary has done little to clarify the matter.
The briefings are alarming, though not for the obvious reason. Many readers of this journal would, no doubt, be disappointed if the Bishop of London had changed his mind. No-one, however, would deny him the right to do so or think any the less of him for a genuine change of conviction. If this is the case though, he should say so clearly and unequivocally and give his reasons for his new position. It is the least he can do for those who have looked to him for pastoral leadership.
The briefing goes on to imply that the bishop cannot ‘come out’ in his new belief without it looking like a shabby and obvious bid for Canterbury. It is true it would look a mite too politically convenient but the temporary anger caused by making an honest breast of it now would be as nothing to the breaking of fellowship occasioned by playing a double game. Nor is it just traditionalist Christians who need to know the truth. The whole Church has a right to know where candidates for its highest office stand on key questions of faith and order.
According to persuasion one may find the briefings thus far puzzling, disappointing or even exciting but not alarming. The alarming part of the friends supposed information is the assertion that the Bishop of London believes that those (clergy and laity) who cannot accept women priests should leave the Church of England. That this is the private view of many of the bishops of the Church of England is well known. Their public policies and partial preferments are adequate testimony to this view. It may indeed turn out to be good advice. But if this is what the Bishop of London really thinks, then, for everybody’s sake, he should have the courage to say so. Few things could so demean the office of Archbishop than for it to be held by anyone pretending to a principle for which many laity and their priests have been prepared to make considerable sacrifice.
Finally, the friends brief that the Bishop enjoys privately holding views that no-one would guess he really held. It is difficult to think of a more damning comment. The article on the Bishop of London is damaging to him, to his pastoral relationships and to the Church. We urge him to put an end to the damaging speculation and hurt caused by setting the record straight one way or the other.
The Primates of the Anglican Communion have come up with a Statement about God. ‘Our God’ they call him – entertaining perhaps the quaint superstition that there is more than one.
The Statement is said to have been formulated to counter the ‘growing influence of different kinds of “post-modern” theory which question the very idea of universal and abiding truth. The primates wish to reaffirm the commitment of the Anglican Communion to the truths of the fundamental teachings of the faith we have received from Holy Scripture and the Catholic Creeds.’
All well and good, you will say, when you have overcome the shock of finding a gathering of Anglican bishops talking about God as well as AIDS, world poverty and Middle Eastern politics. But is it well and good? The Primates’ Statement raises, surely, more problems than it solves.
The first and enduring question is the question about the authority of the Statement and of those who made it.
The Church Times, in a slightly tetchy notice, seemed to accord the Statement and the Primates some sort of plenary authority: ‘The Anglican Communion woke up on Wednesday with a new Statement of faith.’ But the truth is less than that. The Primates are an informal meeting of the heads of autonomous Churches. They are entitled to an opinion – even a collective opinion, if they can reach one. But they can give no more than an opinion. Which is why, presumably, their Statement appealed for its intrinsic authority to Holy Scripture and the Catholic Creeds.
But if the real source of authority for the doctrine contained in the Statement is Holy Scripture and the Catholic Creeds, what need is there for the Statement?
Viewed rationally the Primates’ Statement is testimony to the diversity and not the unity of Anglican doctrine. It exists because Anglicans in significant numbers (not only the former Primate of Scotland, the former Bishop of Newark and the suspended Dean of Clonmacnoise) do not believe in the objective, personal existence of God, do not place their faith in the bodily resurrection of the Lord (on which incidentally the Primates’ Statement is itself somewhat squeamish) and do not acknowledge the uniqueness and trustworthiness of the Scriptural record.
As Edward Norman writes in his new book Secularisation (Continuum, 159pp, £9.95),
‘The problem is that because some Protestant confessions, including the Church of England, are not possessed of a coherent Doctrine of the Church they cannot, in practice, determine truth or error.’
A Church that regularly subjects its faith and order to provincial, diocesan (and even parochial) autonomy cannot, of itself, make authoritative statements.
‘No ecclesiology, no authority’ is the inscription which will one day be placed upon the Communion’s grave.
Cost of Conscience laid the foundations upon which Forward in Faith was built. It has continued over the intervening years assisting the traditionalist movement in many quiet and behind the scenes ways. Providing educational material, serving and supporting our bishops, building up national and international links and, not least, laying on a series of splendid Keble Conferences on key issues facing the Church.
Last month C of C organized a quite brilliant day on one of the great challenges to our society – drugs. The speakers included the author of the hugely influential Economist report, one of the country’s leading police strategists advising Whitehall, a front line experienced hostel manager and a fascinating speaker on patterns of abuse and the biochemistry of the brain. It was an excellent, informative and helpful day to anyone in parish ministry, youth work or education. Fr Gardom is to be congratulated on his tireless and excellent work in organizing these events.
We look forward to the next conference later this year which, we hope, will look at the vexed question of Christian relations with Islam.