It has long been a problem that the full liberal agenda appears only to be achievable within an illiberal structure. As we pointed out last month, the possibly admirable intention of extending toleration (in this case to those with a minority sexual orientation) could, so the government argued, only be achieved by denying toleration to the views and convictions of another group.
How is it that this same principle – of achieving apparently liberal goals by illiberal means – is found both in church and society? The core presumption is that all theological convictions (or ‘religious opinions’ as they are known in secular circles) are private. This allows both diversity (of private opinions) and conformity of (of public behaviour). It appears generous and inclusive, while at the same time ensuring the unfettered triumph of the majority view.
But surely, the ordinary church-goer might protest, this presumption does not hold true within the Church of England, however liberal it may have become? Consider. Submissions have come from many groups to the Women Bishops Legislative Drafting Group of the General Synod (the group chaired by the Bishop of Manchester). Affirming Catholicism and Watch have both published theirs.
With regard to those who hold to the traditional teaching on the sacred ministry, they speak of the need for ‘pastoral arrangements’ ‘for those who have private reservations.’ While one is concerned for those ‘who continue to have difficulties with the ordained ministry of women,’ the other seeks to deal with ‘cases of clergy claiming conscientious objection.’
The theological understanding of the office of a bishop within Christ’s Church is deemed to be a private one. By contrast the majority view that demands women bishops is based on an ethical a priori, a fundamental axiom of justice and human rights.
This may appear to ease the final victory, as no doubt both groups sincerely hope, but the price is too high. Such conformity to the secularist programme all but dispenses with the need for the Church. If theological convictions are to be trumped by an ethical a priori or an unarguable human right, then the government could introduce the legislation just as well, or being more practised in such things, rather better.
It maybe easier to consider the theological understanding of a bishop as a private matter, but it is wrong. Bishops are not proper objects of mere private opinion. Bishops are public figures, and moreover they do things. It is not the subjective thought that matters, but the objective response.
Patronizing ‘pastoral arrangements’ undermine the Gospel. It may sound reasonable, for it offers (albeit temporary) freedom of conscience. But it comes with the condition that the traditional conviction being cared for is by definition private, and can exist so long as it does nothing, and affects no one.
This is not what bishops about: they are part of the structure of Christ’s Church. ‘Private reservations’ miss the point entirely.
Rowan Williams has been in Canada. And no wonder. English Anglicans, considering the noise with which TEC conducts its affairs, can be excused for under-rating the Anglican Church of Canada as a threat to the stability of the Communion. Though the Diocese of New Westminster made much of the going, it was Gene Robinson who made the headlines and was rated on the Richter scale of global disruption. Canada continues to push the envelope, nevertheless.
Elections are due later in the year for Primate and the four candidates are predictably liberal in sentiments and conduct. Two have been nominated before. The front runner must surely be Victoria Matthews, whose problems with breast cancer seem to have been resolved. A female Primate on both sides of the 40th Parallel would go a long way to establish the solidarity of the New Religion in the New World.
Their forthcoming General Synod will also consider permitting same sex unions. ‘The Council of General Synod (CoGS) endorsed a response to the Windsor Report that stated Canadians will make decisions around the blessing of same-sex unions at its General Synod “mindful of the common life of the Communion and in response to the leading of the Spirit, as we see it in our own context,'” reads an official press release. But some members of the Council were bold enough to unpack the officialese. They ‘expressed strongly that the Canadian church, like all national Anglican churches, is autonomous and needs to consider its own circumstances when making decisions’
Canada is clearly a space worth watching.
New Directions offers its heartfelt congratulations to Geralyn Wolf, Bishop of Rhode Island on her recent marriage in Providence Cathedral to her new husband Thomas Charles Blair Jr. Was it in obedience to I Tim 3.12, we wonder, that Geralyn chose to be wed in white?