In the August edition of “new directions“, the lead story explains how an opponent of the ordination of women to the episcopate can still justify remaining in the Church of England.
The argumentation is based on the Statement of Guiding Principles (originally known as the “shared vision”) which was officially welcomed by General Synod in its resolution of 20 November 2013:
1. Now that legislation has been passed to enable women to become bishops the Church of England is fully and unequivocally committed to all orders of ministry being open equally to all, without reference to gender, and holds that those whom it has duly ordained and appointed to office are the true and lawful holders of the office which they occupy and thus deserve due respect and canonical obedience;
2. Anyone who ministers within the Church of England must be prepared to acknowledge that the Church of England has reached a clear decision on the matter;
3. Since it continues to share the historic episcopate with other Churches, including the Roman Catholic Church, the Orthodox Church and those provinces of the Anglican Communion which continue to ordain only men as priests or bishops, the Church of England acknowledges that its own clear decision on ministry and gender is set within a broader process of discernment within the Anglican Communion and the whole Church of God;
4. Since those within the Church of England who, on grounds of theological conviction, are unable to receive the ministry of women bishops or priests continue to be within the spectrum of teaching and tradition of the Anglican Communion, the Church of England remains committed to enabling them to flourish within its life and structures; and
5. Pastoral and sacramental provision for the minority within the Church of England will be made without specifying a limit of time and in a way that maintains the highest possible degree of communion and contributes to mutual flourishing across the whole Church of England.
Here is a summary of the basic arguments:
- Amazingly new directions finds the first of the principles, namely that women bishops will be the ‘true and lawful holders of the office which they occupy’ to be “unproblematic”, since it is possible to appoint even a layperson to the office of bishop. This person, although not sacramentally belonging to the order of bishops, would legally hold the office of bishop and would thus be owed canonical obedience. (This argument is seriously flawed, in that it will not be the intention of the church to appoint a lay person but rather to ordain a priest to the order of bishop with all its attendant rights and privileges. What is even more cynical is that a woman bishop thus “appointed” is compared in the lead story to an Ordinary in the Catholic Church who may in fact not be a bishop but commands canonical obedience.)
- The requirement in Principle 2 to accept that the C of E had taken a ‘clear decision’ is made light of by stating that “no one can be certain that any ‘clear decision’ will not be questioned or even overturned by future generations”.
- The argument concerning Principle 3 is that a decision of a Council or Synod (even a ‘clear decision’) is not absolute until it has been received by the whole Church. And by placing the current decision on women bishops within the discernment process of the ‘whole Church of God’ the bishops are in fact acknowledging the provisional nature of this decision.
- Principle 4 recognises that those who hold the ‘theological conviction’ that women cannot be ordained priest or bishop are loyal Anglicans, that their conviction remains ‘within the spectrum of teaching and tradition of the Anglican Communion’ and that they should be enabled to ‘flourish’ within the church. (I have no argument with that interpretation of the text, although new directions itself does use the word “toleration” of the opponents by the rest of the church, which might suggest a certain scepticism about the genuine readiness of the church, specifically the bishops, not merely to allow them to exist but indeed to flourish.)
- The arguments concerning Principal 5 are based on the “acceptance” of teachings of the Roman Catholic Second Vatican Council about the communion of all baptised Christians within the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church in order to explain full and impaired communion within the Anglican church as a result of the ordination of women (how illogical is that! And, by the way, it is hardly an oath of allegiance to the Anglican church to state that “the Church of England will continue to be composed of Christians who share a common baptism and live in fellowship with each other and therefore in communion — albeit communion that is imperfect” – and that within one and the same ecclesial body! WOW!)
I must admit to being less than convinced by this argumentation. I find it dishonest with oneself to try to justify remaining within the Church of England on the basis of
- a pretence that the C of E has intentionally appointed laywomen to the office of bishop
- a conviction that the ‘clear decision’ on women bishops is not absolute
- the hope that this decision will be overturned
- a deep-rooted scepticism that one is only tolerated by the rest of the church and that the bishops must prove their readiness to enable one’s branch of the church to flourish
- no more than the basic communion of all baptised Christians, which in itself is even considered imperfect
There are indeed many perfectly valid personal reasons not to leave the C of E but I am truly shocked that new directions should try to justify it in this way.