August 2000

The theme of the Denver Convention of the Episcopal Church of the United States was officially designated by its Presiding Bishop, Frank Tracey Griswold III as one of ‘Jubilee’ [see David Mills, Letter from America, page 23]. The Church, he declared, needs a ‘fallow time’ during which it turns back from contentious issues.

The ‘contentious issues’ referred to, of course, were the blessing of same sex unions and the ordination of practising homosexuals. On those, at Denver, there was a moratorium of sorts – though ‘local action’ in diocese after diocese will effectively undermine the Church’s discipline ahead of another vote in three years.

More significant was the failure to extend the notion of ‘Jubilee’ to include those opposed to the ordination of women as bishops and priests.

Only three dioceses of refuseniks remain – Fort Worth, San Joaquin and Quincy. Those dioceses are now to be invaded by an investigatory ‘task force’ charged with bringing them into compliance with the 1997 canon intended to eliminate the few pockets of resistance.

‘If bishops are not accountable to the canons of the Church, what are they accountable to?’ asked Bishop Chilton Knudsen of Maine

Mrs Knudsen seemed blissfully unaware, in a church which has signally failed to discipline episcopal heterodoxy for three generations, of the irony of her supposedly rhetorical question. She voiced the selectively totalitarian views of the majority, and so revealed in stark simplicity the technique of the ECUSA revisionists.

Their method is simple. They break the law, repeatedly and ‘prophetically’, until they are in a position to make the law. Then they send in the FBI and the Marines to enforce it.

“The reality is that the polity of the church allows for the kind of muddiness and messiness that allows us to stay,” said the Rev. Susan Russell, an openly lesbian Episcopal priest from Los Angeles who heads the church’s national ministry to homosexuals. “It is my experience that the spirit of God continues to move ahead of the institutional church.”

But for the revisionists the Spirit moves only in one direction, and at a velocity which they regulate.

After Denver, the Presiding Bishop’s ‘Jubilee Initiative’ is revealed for the cant that it has always been; and there remains only one question (which a wit asked at our own General Synod):

‘Is there anything more to ‘Episcopal’ than an anagram of Pepsi Cola?’

The revisionists at our own General Synod take things at a more sedate pace. In the debate on the Blackburn Report [see Andrew Burnham, Alas! Poor Jorvic!, page 12], the Report itself got a drubbing, But speaker after speaker, whilst rehearsing the ‘pain’ of women whose orders go unrecognised by almost a third of the Church, insisted that she was not calling for the repeal of the Act of Synod.

There is a gentle irony in this too. For presumably what ordained women want is for their orders to be as universally received and respected as those of men. And that is precisely what, under the 1993 Measure and the Episcopal Ministry Act of Synod, they cannot have. The consecration of women as bishops, moreover, will compound their problem, for it will engender a class of men whose orders are as unacceptable to the opponents as those of women.

The dilemma for the English revisionists has always been whether to go for the abolition of the Act of Synod and then proceed to the ordination of women as bishops, or to go for the consecration of women bishops and hope that the untidiness of the Act of Synod can be cleared up in the process.

It is obvious, from speeches in the debates on the Blackburn Report and Archdeacon Judith Rose’s motion (on ‘Theology and the Episcopate’), that they have, at last, decided on the second course.

Politically this is probably wise. ‘Women Bishops’ (positive, progressive, non-discriminatory) is better than ‘Abolition of the Act of Synod’ (narrow, discriminatory, vindictive) as a platform on which to woo the electorate in a Synodical general election. And, make no mistake, the Rose motion (which calls for a discussion of theological issues which the majority of its supporters suppose to be non-existent) is no more than that – a bid to see that women bishops are the key issue on the forthcoming hustings

But this policy is not without risk. For discussions on the ‘theology’ of women bishops are now in the hands of the House of Bishops, who will find it virtually impossible to conclude their deliberations in the two year period agreed, and who have a vested interest in procrastination.

Meanwhile opponents of women bishops will be working to entrench and extend the provisions of the Act and so deny the revisionists the absolute equivalence and equality which is their ultimate aim.

The English revisionists, moreover, like their American cousins, cannot avoid totalitarianism in the end. ‘If bishops are not accountable to the canons of the Church, what are they accountable to?’ Mrs Knudsen, of course, is absolutely right. When the dialogue with scripture has been arbitrarily ended, then the canons take on a new and entirely different sort of authority.

With the passage of the Judith Rose motion the ordination of women as bishops officially enters the agenda of the Church of England, and a new phase opens in the work of Forward in Faith.

In round terms there are now a thousand parishes which have passed resolutions A and/or B under the 1993 Measure and three hundred and fifty which have petitioned for Extended Episcopal Care under the Act of Synod. If opponents are to have a continued existence in the Church of England (with any degree of ecclesial coherence and integrity) our task must now be to persuade the six hundred and fifty parishes which have not yet petitioned under the Act of the wisdom of doing so. Only a significant increase in the numbers of those making use of its provisions will ensure the continuance – and necessary extension – of the Act.

There now begins a campaign, by letter, by personal contact and in this magazine, to increase the number of ‘C’ parishes. Our aim should be high and our activity ceaseless. The alternative – American-style annihilation – is quite simply unthinkable.

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