Mark Stevens gives a straight answer to a simple question

It would, I admit, be a profoundly offensive question if their problems with veracity were not so painfully evident. Take two cases: the ordination of gay bishops and the so-called doctrine of reception for women priests.

In both cases, whilst preening themselves on the effortless occupation of the high moral ground, they have nevertheless said one thing and done another.

On 15 May 2010 the Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church intends to do what the recently renamed Standing Committee of the Anglican Communion – of which she is a member – has urged The Episcopal Church not to do. She will consecrate a partnered lesbian woman as a bishop. We cannot, of course, be sure what Mrs Schori said in the close confines of the Standing Committee, about her intentions. But we can be sure of two things: that she did not then reveal her decision to consecrate Ms Glasspool, if elected; and that all this has happened before.

Presiding Frank

In October 2003 the Primates’ Meeting similarly urged restraint on the American Church. A Press Conference was convened at which the Archbishop of Canterbury outlined the unanimous agreement of the Primates. At the table was one Frank T. Griswold III, who consecrated Gene Robinson as Bishop of New Hampshire just three weeks later.

Now it may be – and some will argue forcefully – that the Presiding Bishop is merely the servant of the General Convention of The Episcopal Church and has no power or authority to act contrary to its rulings, or contrary to the decision of an individual diocese whose choice of bishop has received the required consents.

If this is the case (and in this, as in so much else in the ‘polity’ of the American Church, it is hard to be certain), the Presiding Bishop should surely declare as much before allowing him or herself to be party to agreements which they know they cannot keep.

There is here an element of wilful deception which masks the real tactics, which is to feign acquiescence, whilst preparing a decisive and preemptive strike: to pretend fellowship whilst challenging others to break communion. It is a technique of which any Christian ought to be thoroughly ashamed, and one which is intolerable in the leader of a national Church.

English deceiving

But similar deceptions are not unknown on this side of the Atlantic. You do not have to be very long in the tooth to remember the fervent protestations of ‘Bonds of Peace’ and the tears shed at the Manchester meeting of the House of Bishops of the Church of England in 1992.

There emerged from that meeting and from others (for example the conference on ‘Reception’ at St George’s House, Windsor in 1991) a clear affirmation that those who could not in conscience accept the ordination of women had an honoured place in the Church. Things were not, and could not be, finally resolved, it was said, until there was a consensus not only in the CofE and the Anglican Communion, but in the wider Church.

The Act of Synod (voted in by a larger majority than that which sanctioned women’s ordination) attempted to give substance to those affirmations by the creation of structures which would express them.

In 2010 opponents of women bishops have been given notice that ecclesially coherent provision for them is to be removed, and that effectively the period of reception is to be summarily terminated. Women bishops will signal the death of tolerance, and the demise of the tolerant and inclusive church which the Act of Synod bravely brought into being.

Desire to be angry

It would be easy to be angry about this chicanery. But such anger would be misplaced. The truth is that the opponents of women’s ordination, whilst using the doctrine of reception as a polemical tool for their own purposes, always knew that it was at best fragile and at worst fraudulent – then talk of reception could be no more than a ploy to overcome the practical political difficulties of gaining the required Synodical majority. This was hotly denied at the time, but so it has proved.

The lesson to be learned from these two distressing examples of prevarication is not simply that Liberal Christians cannot tell the truth but that, like all idealistic totalitarians, they suppose that ends justify means. The real victims of the deception, in both the cases I have cited, are not the opponents (who were, for the most part, astute enough to know that something nefarious was going on) but the proponents of the innovations, who genuinely believed the rhetoric and sought an honourable agreement with those who took the opposite view. They – the Communion Bishops in the United States and individuals like John Hapgood and Mary Tanner in this country – are the most to be pitied.

Are Liberal Christians incapable of telling the truth? The proof of the pudding is in the eating. ND