Perhaps one of the most disturbing things I have read recently, written by a Christian, came from the pen of Canon Rosie Harper. Addressing members of the House of Lords on the issue of so-called ‘assisted dying’ she said: `Let me clarify the bottom line. This legislation does not require anyone to do anything they do not believe in, in their own life, but if you vote against it, you personally are requiring other people to suffer extreme agony on behalf of your own conscience. That is neither moral or [sic] Christian’
In a stroke Canon Harper condemned all of those who oppose the Bill promoting assisted dying as cruel and un-Christian; the list includes, in the Church of England, our own Archbishops, many bishops, the Archbishops’ Council and one would guess the vast majority of members of our churches. Such a stark departure from Christian moral teaching will come as a shock to many and it is to be hoped that the Lords Spiritual, which in time will include women bishops, are not influenced by these words.
As we look to the future of the Church of England with women in the episcopate we must not lose sight of the fact that we are called to witness to the historic faith in our church. This will mean continually being willing to stand up and counter the views of people like Canon Harper that go against Catholic moral teaching and the Christian understanding of the sanctity of human life. It is a small step from assisted dying to euthanasia and unregulated abortions. The disconnect between what those in positions of authority within the church believe and what ordinary worshipping Christians believe must be challenged. Canon Harper is the Chaplain to the equally outspoken Bishop of Buckingham who supports just about anything and everything under the sun if it contradicts traditional church teaching. If the Catholic movement in the Church of England is to thrive under the new provision then it must be willing to stand firm on matters of church teaching and morality. It will be no good to simply accept every whim that comes the way of the Church of England, however difficult it may make our lives.
Just before the vote in the General Synod I was privileged to attend a number of ordinations and First Masses. These were joy-
filled events in which parishes gathered to give thanks for the gift of priesthood and to celebrate their own lives together as the body of Christ. These were events in which we can all find encouragement and hope for the future. Young people are drawn to the church and young men continue to offer themselves for the sacred priesthood. We must continue to support them with our prayers and continue to pray for an increase in vocations to the priesthood and the religious life. We must continue to pray for the strength to remain faithful to our Catholic heritage in the months and years ahead.
Our forebears in the faith faced persecution over matters of ritual and of teaching. It may be that we will face persecution because of our holding firm to the faith as the Church of England has received it. Not, perhaps, in the area of the ordination of women (although we will fight against any attempt to make acceptance of the ordination of women a requirement for ordination, as happens elsewhere) but in other areas of ethics such as assisted dying, euthanasia and abortion. Our message must be clear: in union with the majority of our fellow Anglicans we will stand up for the dignity of human life and say to the likes of Canon Harper and the Bishop of Buckingham: ‘not in my name!’
Now that the legislation to allow women to be ordained to the episcopate has passed it may well be that the fight for the heart of the Church of England has begun. Will it continue to head in the direction of becoming a Protestant sect where `anything goes’ or can it remain true to its Catholic heritage and stand firm on moral teaching? Either way as a movement we have a big task ahead to educate and to guide and stand as a witness to the Church. So, now is not the time to creep away, to pull up the drawbridge or to hide. Now is the moment to act, to teach and proclaim what we know to be true: the faith that has come to us from the apostles, the faith that sustained the Oxford Movement fathers through their own dark days. The gates of hell will never prevail against the Church; that is the promise we have. Let us hold to it and say loudly and clearly those words of our forefathers: No Desertion! No Surrender!