Comment

September 2002

This month New Directions publishes the third major article on the comprehensive ‘Mind of Anglicans’ survey (pp 17–20).

The information was gathered by Christian Research, the leading organization in this field, from a wide-ranging group of clergy and laity representing, in proportion, every aspect and persuasion of the Church of England. Urban, suburban, rural, large and small parishes; churchmanship, gender and age profile: all were proportionately represented. Twenty percent of the total parish clergy and seventy-six percent of the representative laity responded. The survey’s findings are very reliable.

To date, as our readers are aware, we have published substantial information on the state of belief, morale, doctrine and order in the Church of England. The current issue carries further dramatic research on moral convictions. In the months to come we hope to publish further reports (on finance, church growth and appointments, for example). But it is time to take stock of what has already been revealed.

We now possess a clear and consistent picture of the state of the Church of England. It is chronically and dangerously divided. So marked and vast are the contrasts between the two major tendencies – traditionalist and liberal – that it is not fanciful to describe them as two separate churches co-existing uncomfortably in the bosom of Anglicanism.

This research reveals, in a striking and incontrovertible manner, that the ecclesiological, hermeneutical and ecumenical fault line opened up by women’s ordination continues into every aspect of doctrine and morality.

The responses demonstrate that on every single item of the creed and on every moral question posed, women clergy are significantly weaker in their convictions than men. Moreover, the belief systems and moral understandings of the male supporters of women’s ordination/consecration are substantially less robust than those of the opponents. Weakest of all were the liberal lobby groups (who count among their members, supporters and patrons a hugely disproportionate number of the church hierarchy). The responses from some of these groups, as presented by those who claimed membership of them in the survey, scarcely qualify as Christian at all.

This general weakness in doctrine is especially pronounced when it comes to the core of the Faith – the person of Christ. Responses from women clergy and their liberal supporters on the Virgin Birth, the Resurrection and salvation through Christ were astoundingly low. The doctrinal weaknesses are replicated, almost exactly, in the responses to moral and ethical questions. (The research underlines, that is to say, what most orthodox Christians take for granted: that sound doctrine and Christian ethics are inseparable.)

In stark contrast, at the other end of the scale, the research reveals a substantial body of conservative Evangelicals and Catholics who are utterly dependable in faith and firm in Christian ethics. The liberals and conservatives are marching to a different drum.

Here then is a comprehensive picture of a church in crisis. The findings of this research are comfortable to no one, but they will be particularly uncomfortable for Dr Rowan Williams, as he prepares for Canterbury. It will be his task to bring some coherence and unity of purpose to this divided body. Yet he himself is founder and trustee of ‘Affirming Catholicism’ – a group which, as this survey clearly reveals, ‘affirms’ very little, and whose claims to ‘catholicity’ fall foul of the Trades Descriptions Act.

Dr. Williams is nobody’s fool. He knows that growing churches are believing churches; and that his predecessors’ policies – vigorous exclusion of orthodox leadership and marginalization of orthodox believers – has gone hand in hand with startling decline.

If the new Archbishop goes for orthodoxy and growth he will inevitably disappoint his supporters in the liberal, feminist and homosexual lobby groups. If he continues the politico-theological outlook that has secured his nomination to Canterbury, he will inevitably be presiding over the death of the Church he was chosen to serve.

Ending 1.[Readers in search of the ipsissima verba of those supporters and friends would do well to consult our press round-up on page 14.]

Ending 2.[Readers in search of the ipsissima verba of those friends and supporters would do well to consult our press round-up on page 14. There is set out the liberal agenda for a shrinking, and increasingly faithless church – the novelties which the next incumbent of the throne of St Augustine is being asked to affirm.]

Ending 3[Readers in search of the ipsissima verba of those friends and supporters would do well to consult our press round-up on page 14. There is set out the liberal agenda for a shrinking, and increasingly faithless church – the novelties which the next incumbent of the throne of St Augustine is being asked to affirm. Courtesy of the ‘Mind of Anglicans’ survey we know the chilling truth – that this agenda is a package deal. Attitudes to women’s ordination and human sexuality are closely related to other major issues – abortion, contraception and euthanasia as well as to basic doctrines about the Fatherhood of God and the uniqueness of Jesus Christ.]

That there is a concerted campaign by bishops of the Episcopal Church USA against Forward in Faith North America and its officers cannot now be doubted. As we go to press it is a matter of eleven days before the threatened deposition of Fr David Moyer, Chairman of FiF/NA, by Bishop Charles Bennison of Pennsylvania for failure to receive him in Visitation. Bennison has written to Paul Marshall, Bishop of Bethlehem, to solicit similar action against the newly-elected Vice-President, Fr William Ilgenfritz . Meanwhile, Fr Gene Geromel, retiring Vice-President is under similar attack. Fr Sam Edwards, former Executive Director, has already been driven out of the Episcopal Church.

It will be said (it is always said) that it couldn’t happen here.

Whilst we grant that totalitarianism in the Church of England generally wears kid gloves, we remain unconvinced. From the Bishop of Lincoln downwards (and upwards) there is a firm conviction among proponents of women’s ordination that the Act of Synod must go. They argue, not unreasonably, that whilst acceptance of ‘a degree of provisionality’ to the orders of women priests is possible though undesirable, the same degree of provisionality to the orders of women bishops is intolerable. They will work to see that the Measure to secure women’s consecration contains no provision for dissent, and that it effectively amends the 1993 Measure, so removing the provisions already agreed.

The truth, as we have many times remarked, is that the ‘human rights’ basis of the demand to see women ordained renders it, by its very nature, intolerant and absolutist. Those who cannot be persuaded, the ethical a priori ethical argument goes, must (for their own good) be coerced. Opposition is not merely misguided; it is wicked.

The Feminist Inquisition in ECUSA is close to the end of its work. All provisions for conscientious objection have been formally removed. A hit squad from the General Convention has visited the three remaining dioceses of dissent (on one occasion in the absence of its bishop and without his consent). The leaders of Forward in Faith have been harassed and are in process of being dragged before the secular courts.

When we, in England, refuse to accept the ministrations of lady bishops, or bishops in unimpaired communion with them – which we will, robustly and in number – the gloves will no doubt be off on this side of the Atlantic too. The war of phoney compassion will have come to an end.

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