Rod Thomas explains the long-term theological and practical damage to the CofE that will be caused by the approval of the draft Measure
The forthcoming vote by General Synod on the draft Women Bishops Measure will be a watershed for the Church of England. If the draft Measure is approved, thousands of loyal Anglicans will be marginalized; the future ministry of conservative evangelicals and catholics cast into doubt; and the way opened for the ‘equality’ agenda to drive through further controversial changes to Church order and doctrine. It is my profound hope that, for the future health of the Church and its Gospel witness to our country, the draft Measure will fail to gain synodical approval.
Critics may well think I am overstating the case. Certainly it needs to be acknowledged that the House of Bishops has at least tried to enhance the inadequate provision the draft Measure makes for those who cannot accept women bishops. Furthermore, both Archbishops have in the past urged better provision on the General Synod. There is also no doubt that if the draft Measure fails, the Church’s image will suffer.
However, the damage caused by passing the draft Measure will be long-term and much greater than any passing PR problem. In theological terms, how can a Church which says that its doctrine is ‘grounded on the Holy Scriptures’ (Canon A5) expect to be blessed when it orders itself in a
manner that is contrary to the Bible’s plain teaching? In practical terms, how can the mission of the Church be enhanced if the current flow of ordinands into training weakens? And in synodical terms, if the cry of ‘equality’ is going to triumph over scripturally-informed conscience, what hope will there be for those who contemplate giving ground on this issue, but hope to stand firm when pressed to accept innovations relating to the same-sex equality agenda?
The Bible teaches that men and women are equal in God’s sight, but that they have different, complementary roles in the family and in the Church. Our equality springs from our identity in Christ, not from the roles we perform as perceived by the world around. Yet to hold to this view will increasingly be seen as discriminatory, reprehensible and a disqualification for office. And it will be no use arguing that the Code of Practice protects those who hold these views. The Code’s provisions can be changed at any time by a majority vote of the General Synod.
That there will be continuing pressure to make a Code ever more restrictive is plain from the public statements made by those opposed to the conservative position. Last June, Watch said that one reason for not adopting the amendment then being proposed by the House of Bishops to Clause 5 of the draft Measure was that ‘The cost will be very high to the first woman appointed as a bishop. They will enter a culture in which, in law, they and their male colleagues have to protect those who oppose their ministry…’ Reading this statement came as a huge surprise at the time, because most members of General Synod thought that affording such protection was precisely what the draft Measure was trying to do. As a result, a doubt was left in people’s minds about whether the draft Measure did indeed provide the protection its advocates claimed.
Elsewhere in the same statement, Watch objects to the bishops’ proposed amendment on the grounds that ‘it is clear that an attempt is being made to create permanent, guaranteed doctrinal space within the Church of England for opposition to the ordination of women.’ Yet why wouldn’t the draft Measure be wanting to do that? After all, Resolution 3 of Lambeth 1998 said ‘those who dissent from as well as those who assent to the ordination of women to the priesthood and episcopate are both loyal Anglicans.’
A further example of potential pressure on any future Code came last month from Gras (the Group for Rescinding the Act of Synod) which said that ‘in future all those being ordained should openly accept those orders as valid …’ It is, of course, one thing to accept orders as legally valid and another to say they are desirable, but the fact that Gras wants to impose this as a condition for ordination shows just how the pressure is already mounting.
Unity in the Church depends on agreement, not on one side winning. If the draft Measure gains final approval there will begin a deeply unhappy period in the Church’s life as parishes go their separate ways. Voting against approval may cause some temporary public embarrassment to the Church, but it will make it possible for genuine discussions to begin about an agreed way forward. ND