We would like to wish all our readers a Happy New Year. But, at New Directions, we are more realistic. The year of Our Lord 2004 will be a critical one for his Church. In the Great Communion of the West the senior bishops are on permanent standby for the death of the Pope and the election of his successor. Scandal, incompetence and a Gadarene desire for liberalization has left the Catholic Church gravely weakened in its white Western former heartlands. But John Paul II’s astonishing and authoritative raft of teaching and the jewel of the Catechism have left a magisterium which it would take a lunatic or a traitor to derail.
The Anglican Church also has a crisis of authority. Does it still believe the Word of God to be authoritative and clear or does it prefer to be but a faint and embarrassing echo of secular unwisdom. By the end of this year we will be clearer as a result of two reports. The Bishop of Rochester may not give a clarion call to further fruitless disobedience in the matter of women bishops but he dare not stand in the way. Bishop Robin Eames will try to square the circle between New Hampshire’s fornicating bishop, New Westminster’s same-sex blessings representing the white liberal ecclesial culture and the incandescent Third World bishops who oppose it. Whatever Eames says will be, frankly, irrelevant. The subterfuge will simply provide a space in which no-one will change their mind and the liberal grip on power (the only real object of their worship) will be tightened. The necessity for a parting of the ways will dramatically accelerate.
None of this will be comfortable for orthodox believers – but we knew that when we joined! But there is a powerful difference between our situation in 1992 and the ecclesial landscape now.
In 1992 we were easy to caricature as one issue misogynists etc. Ten years on our predictions of the liberal agenda and the inevitable consequences of scriptural disobedience have been tragically vindicated.
In 1992 the Church of England still thought of itself as the heart of the Anglican world. Today it is quite clear that all the white western liberal churches are dying and the real life and dynamic growth of the Communion is in the Third World.
In 1993 we wrote here of the beginnings of God’s re-alignment of his Church. We were dismissed by the liberal establishment as schismatics. Today it is quite clear who the schismatics and heretics are.
Orthodox Anglicans have struggled a long and seemingly lonely road for a decade now, trying to remain faithful, growing in strength and numbers, trying to see the way ahead in Christ. Today, on the threshold of a new year, we can see a little more clearly through the smoke of the battle. We are not alone, after all.
We are at one on the great credal and moral issues with the Great Communions of East and West which should give us profound reassurance. And of immediate comfort is that we have discovered a substantial solidarity with the Anglican Communion’s new and burgeoning heartlands.
If we are to realize the full potential of these relationships for the Gospel in our land, we can no longer go on being tied to a dying liberal institution. 2004/5 must be the year of negotiating the realignment. Nothing else will do.
2004 may or may not be a happy year but it will be a busy and vital one, as all Anglicans finally have to make their mind up which side they are on.
In the on-going saga of women’s ordination in the Church of England we are approaching the endgame. The Rochester Commission’s report is already circulating in draft, and will reach the Synod in July. Meanwhile, the build-up of Diocesan Synod motions asking for the preparation of legislation without delay continues. That drafting process – already no doubt proceeding in private – will enter the public arena in July.
There is, in our view, no question of not consecrating women. The Church of England has to do what the Church of England has to do. The only question which remains is how the Church of England will extricate itself from the lavish gestures of toleration for opponents which have marked its progress thus far. Will the ladies tolerate an enhanced Act of Synod? Even Anglicans may find that the notion of Provisional Bishops is a concept too far!
When, long ago, the House of Bishops produced their theological report on the ordination of women to the priesthood, GC829, it was unveiled to the expectant world under the guise of unanimity. ‘This’, said Alec Graham, commending it, ‘is a unanimous report.’ ‘That’, said Clifford Longley, then religious affairs correspondent of The Times, ‘is a very Anglican use of the word unanimous.’
The same is likely to be the case with Rochester. But as in 1982, so now in 2004, the report itself hardly matters. It is a mere cork on the torrent of a process which is inevitable and inexorable.
Forward in Faith, and this paper, have consistently argued for the provision of a new and independent province for those opposed. And we believe that, if it cannot be gained by negotiation and legislation, it should be established de facto and as of right.
Women bishops, no doubt, will be very nice for those who like that sort of thing. To impose them, as a condition of membership of the Church, on those who conscientiously maintain that they are contrary to scripture and tradition, would be a monstrous imposture, and contrary to the freedoms and rights of religious people in a modern democracy.
An inclusive Church must be inclusive; the rights of those (and especially of women) opposed to the consecration of women must be upheld. In the event of inadequate and unjust provision, it would be a duty to resist: to the highest court of appeal and to the last piece of real estate.
The latest Anglican Communion crisis has had serous ecumenical effects. In this issue we print key documents, analysis and comment, and we are pleased to publish an article by Bishop John Hind, a leading Anglican ecumenist.