An ordinand on the reactions of British media and politicians to the failure of the women bishops legislation
The furore over the failure of the draft measure to secure the two-thirds majority it needed in the House of Laity has revealed a visceral hatred and intolerance within the ranks of liberal Anglicanism. Words of reassurance and calls for trust have been replaced with threats, insults and in some quarters a determination to drive through even more uncompromising legislation. In short, what has been shown in the past days is a clear desire for those parts of the Church of England which, as a matter of conscience, keep hold to the precedent and teaching of two millennia, be extirpated from the national church.
One has to wonder what sort of church we find ourselves in when matters of theology are then hijacked, somehow legitimately, by the media and parliament. It took a matter of hours for David Cameron’s liberal conscience to weigh in with his take on the matter. A man who by his own admission ‘is not faith-driven’ believes the Church must simply ‘get with the programme’.
He presumes to think women bishops were ‘right a long time ago’. What right does he have to say this? On what basis are his comments founded? Alas, they are the words of someone who believes the job’ of a bishop is no different from that of a doctor, lawyer or head of a FTSE 100 corporation. Among all the carping of the liberal media and our politicians, never is God, the Bible or the clear precedent of our fathers in faith worthy of a mention.
Threat of disestablishment
According to them, we are the ‘established church’, and therefore it is our duty to ‘reflect’ the society we ‘represent’. It is an assumption that Catholics and Evangelicals baulk at. We are not here to reflect society or share its opinions – we are members of the body of Christ. We are here
to proclaim his saving grace and transform society into one that reflects his purposes.
The Church represents no one but Christ, and to think otherwise is a dangerous distortion of the truth. There is an assumption that the ‘established’ position of the Church of England and its 26 bishops in the House of Lords is somehow the ultimate goal that all else must be sacrificed to protect.
The threat of disestablishment is made as if it were too hideous to even contemplate. Our detractors fail to appreciate that for the past
since 1992 our stake in the
established church has been
eroded to almost nothing
twenty years Anglo-Catholics and Evangelicals have in many ways already been disestablished. Just two of 44 diocesan bishops are Catholics, and there exists not a single Evangelical bishop in the entire church. Our views are marginalized in the press, and never is an orthodox cleric invited to share his views on the BBC. Since 1992 our stake in the established church has been eroded to almost nothing. To threaten us with it now is both ignorant of recent history and our commitment to the faith.
What was once a genuine discussion about how women might be brought into the episcopate without unchurching those opposed has become a fight for what sort of church we are to be in the future. Resting on this legislation is not just the future integrity of the ordained ministry, but the sacrament of marriage, the traditional family, and the sanctity of life. The Episcopal Church has abandoned any adherence to orthodox Christianity and the results have been devastating. Between 2000 and 2010 its congregations have
shrunk by 23 per cent. In that time the Episcopal Church has sought to reflect secular society at every turn: championing abortion, blessing gay marriages, repudiating the virgin birth and the resurrection, not to mention the deliberate appointment of the most objectionable of bishops. The example of the Episcopalians should serve as a warning: there is no future in abandoning the church’s mission in order to reflect society. In doing so the church simply makes itself an irrelevance, because it offers nothing that society does not already have.
If this is to be the price of our established position, then it is a position we must renounce. Catholics cannot be held to ransom over this issue. Our conscience is clear. What was asked for was provision to enable us to remain in the Church of England with integrity, and to have confidence that our position was secure in perpetuity. It was the failure to provide that security which caused the vote to fail. Hopefully next time this can be provided, so that we might all move on together.
But to use ‘establishment’ as a stick to beat us with will not work. Establishment is at best a questionable benefit – and this week that was demonstrated by parliament presenting itself almost as God himself. If we cannot answer to God alone there is something seriously wrong. The Church of England does not gain or lose its credibility based on what society thinks of it; its credibility is won and lost by its faithfulness to God and the Gospel. Traditional Catholics and Evangelicals believe passionately that we cannot be faithful to God if we assent to something such as this that so fundamentally changes the priesthood and compromises the teaching of Scripture. If we must relinquish our status as the established church in order to be faithful to what we believe, then so be it. ND