David Nicholl insists there are no more reasons for delay over the women bishops’ issue
There may still be a statistical possibility that any Measure introducing women bishops might not be carried with the necessary two-thirds majority in all three houses of General Synod. The question is, should we spend our efforts trying, even at this late stage, to stop what we believe will fatally damage the church we love? I think not. The exhortation of Jesus applies: ‘That thou doest, do quickly’ [John 13.27]. There comes a point when delay is no longer an honourable option.
The only justification for delay is to give time for serious theological reflection. Such conditions no longer apply. The Bishop of Gibraltar’s principled amendment to the July Synod motion asked precisely for this, for more time for theological reflection on so important a matter within the whole of the CofE. That call was rejected. In many ways this was the decisive moment, which changed the whole character of a debate that in one way and another has hung over us for many years.
There is now no reason for delay. If we are no longer concerned with the theology – the presumption being that all such work has now been adequately dealt with and definitively completed – then let us get on with it. Or rather, let them get on with it. Let us recognize our own reluctance to hurry towards the destruction of the church community in which we were born; it is an understandable response; but we should not act upon it. If it must be done, it were better done quickly.
There will be pain, for all faithful Catholic Christians, when women bishops are ordained in the CofE, real pain. But it would be no less if the whole process were delayed by another five years. There will be no lessening of the pain through delay. Like a visit to the dentist, the pain will not go away by waiting: if anything, it is likely to get worse. The best response is to grit our teeth, and get on with it.
Again, we may recognize in ourselves our desire for the quiet life. ‘Change nothing until I retire.’ If all we want is to die in the Church of England, after which it can go hang, then there would be many reasons for delaying tactics; but this is not an honourable position. The only justification for standing firm on our convictions and making a nuisance of ourselves is, as it has always been, to provide a proper ecclesial solution for our children, and their children.
The argument against delay applies just as strongly to opponents as proponents. In the words of a Sixties pop song, ‘If you’ve got to go, go now.’ If you have already decided to become a Roman Catholic when it happens, why have you not gone now? Because you believe that even at this late stage, the fateful step need not be taken? All things are possible, but is it honourable to act on such a slim chance?
Has not the Church of England given liberals in general and women priests in particular every indication that women bishops will be coming? A close parallel would be Turkey’s entry into the European Union: after forty years of negotiations and due process, can the EU pull back at this late stage? Once again all things are possible, but not all things are politic or honourable?
The threat of leaving for another communion, even if not made explicitly, is also deeply damaging. To promise supporters of women bishops that if they get what they want, they will be doubly rewarded by the voluntary removal of their opponents, is a cruel blow to our own younger clergy and laypeople.
The compensation for clergy leaving over women priests ended as recently as February 2004. Members of congregations of C parishes should now be able to expect that those clergy who have stayed will continue to do so, and fight with them for a future within the CofE. If new doubts have emerged, the exhortation still holds true. If you’ve got to go, go now; and in the words of Scripture ‘let someone else take his place.’