Towards Final Approval?
David Banting offers a realistic assessment of the new legislation to the Chelmsford Diocesan Synod
I dreamed a dream, a dream of a new kind of bishop and a new way of `bishoping; but it has died the death of a thousand Synodical debates. We are still trying to square the circle of what we have come to call two integrities in a jurisdictional and legislative way. General Synod has now manoeuvred itself for ‘Final Approval’ on women bishops in July, but for this Diocesan Synod today is in effect our Tinal Approval’ debate. I will speak to encourage all conservatives and traditionalists, Evangelical or Catholic, in our conscientious opposition to this development.
We believe it to be inappropriate as being biblically inconsistent and theologically unsound, a case where (in the words of Articles XXI and XX of the 39 Articles) ‘Councils may err, forasmuch as they be assemblies of men, whereof not all be governed by the Spirit and Word of God’ and the Church having authority in controversies of faith, yet it being not lawful for the Church to ordain anything that is contrary to God’s Word written, neither to expound one place of Scripture that it be repugnant to another’. It will confuse the roles and vocation of man and woman in marriage, it will compromise the doctrines of the Trinity and Christology, it will complicate mission, and corrupt the integrity of the way we handle the Bible.
The way that Galatians 3.28 has been used as `a knock-down argument is a good example. It is a glorious text about the equality of women and men in the grace and salvation of God, but says nothing specifically about their roles or vocations in marriage or ministry or oversight, which Scriptures elsewhere do indicate to be a wonderful complementarity rather than a worldly interchangeability.
We have final legislative arrangements before us and they will no doubt be put through. But there never has been a significant debate on the foundational theology that the original Rochester Report set before the Church. So I speak for those who, though a minority, even at this stage must carefully reiterate their conscientious dissent. It will be a vote against
the principle of the development, however much we will endeavour to make any special arrangements work in the future.
In voting against, I am content in myself and plan to be confident of the new atmosphere in General Synod. The House of Bishops Declaration tells me I have a secure place within the Church of England and Anglican Communion and that our integrity can have every hope of continuance, flourishing and succession.
Thank you for that new goodwill. That we are here at all is extraordinary — the fruit of a patient and painstaking 15 months of General Synod clawing its way to a new approach and attitude. We began to learn to listen and to trust.
Sympathy and trust
It took General Synod some time to come to terms with the painful experience that we had not got it right last time in 2012. I wonder whether the dioceses have ever acknowledged that many are simply feeling tired, frustrated or bored. The point is that this settlement has emphatically not come to us before. It is not only a new package, it represents a new attitude and mood.
So, I can speak honestly, even bluntly. Today is not really about this motion. It is about understanding and embracing the new mood. It is about sympathy and trust. It is about the future and how we will live with this and work it out in the ground.
The conservative/traditionalist position has been treated by many as unintelligible and backward-looking, out of date and out of step. At worst, we are still thought of as misogynist and on a par with slavery and apartheid. At best, we are opponents of the majority in the Church and in our culture. But this package calls us to good disagreement; to understand, support and work with each other. It will no longer do to call us or think us prejudiced or unappointable; we are to be considered equal, but different. Bishops and Archdeacons have agreed no more to say that a Conservative Evangelical is not right for this parish: because of their integrity, or that a Conservative Evangelical cannot be considered as a Suffragan Bishop because too many would ‘feel unaffirmed’. The House of Bishops Declaration has made considerable promises of this new climate and of their own intentions.
Challenges for all
The Five Principles will stretch us all somewhere. I cannot easily accept them all, but I can if others put equal energy into accepting and delivering those they struggle with. I have gone out of my way to remain involved in the patronage processes that have considered and appointed women and incumbents and to attend their institutions where I have known and worked with them. I still look for that to be reciprocated.
I spoke at General Synod against the unprecedented suspension of the Standing Orders to allow only three months for the legislation to go to the Dioceses. At this very last stage I counselled against a sudden ‘hell-for-leather gallop for the last fence’. That seemed suddenly to abandon the patient but remarkable progress that General Synod was making towards final approval in November.
It is hard to think at a full gallop. We need cool heads and warm hearts and a long sustained commitment and patience to trust and collaborate in the future. That is what the debate is about. I will urge a no vote from all conservatives. I will ask proponents to consider an abstention unless you are quite clear that from now on you will consistently oppose any new discrimination against conservatives, insist on their flourishing under these arrangements, as promised, and ensure that they are considered at every level on all-round merit, rather than tolerated or humoured, forever constrained by their integrity.