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October 18, 2004

Women Bishops and the coming split in the Church of England

Posted by Peter Mullen

Last year the SAU published Called to Account: The case for an audit of the state of the failing Church of England, which described the extent of the decline of the Church of England over recent years. The report's co-editor, Rev'd Dr Peter Mullen - Rector of St. Michael's, Cornhill and Chaplain to the Stock Exchange - will be providing regular comment on the state of the Church for the SAU. Today he argues that the Anglican Church is about to face perhaps its biggest crisis since the Reformation over the consecration of women to the episcopate - the issue of women bishops.

We will soon witness the loudest explosion to take place in the Church of England for many a year. Some are even saying it will be the biggest bang since the Reformation. The cause of all the din is the Report on the consecration of women to the Episcopate – what the newspapers and the telly refer to as women bishops. In time-honoured Anglican style, this Report will not be unequivocal: in fact it will suggest eight possible alternative solutions to the women bishops issue, most of them attempts to cobble together some device by which the Anglican Church worldwide might survive the momentous doctrinal and ecclesiological upheaval.

But we need first to understand the lengthy history of women's ordination. For decades there was a campaign for the ordination of women to the priesthood and this was finally approved, narrowly, by the General Synod in 1992 and the first women were ordained in 1994. For the previous two millennia of its history the church had not ordained women, so the question arises as to why at this late stage it was thought desirable.

The ordination of women was not proposed out of any theological considerations – though the Synod was careful to clear the ground at the start and assert authoritatively that there were no theological objections to it. This necessarily meant that the Church of England was going out on a limb and in effect proclaiming doctrinal UDI from the rest of the universal church. For neither the Roman Catholics nor the Eastern Orthodox approve women's ordination.

It is interesting to notice in passing the odd fact that many of those priests and bishops prominent at the time in the Anglo-catholic wing of the Church of England renounced their previous doctrinal opposition to women priests and voted for the measure. These were in many cases the same men who had spent the previous three decades campaigning energetically for union with Rome. It was alleged - how unjustly who can say? - that the majority of these men, once they saw which way the wind was blowing, abandoned their theological and ecumenical convictions in favour of their career prospects in a church ruled by a modernising "liberal" hierarchy. Many of these joined a new alignment in the Church of England called Affirming Catholicism.

The point was that the Synod did not introduce this innovation out of any profound theological changes but entirely out of its habitual subservience to the secular spirit of the age which preached equal opportunities for the sexes and the associated abolition of "discrimination on the basis of gender". It was argued – as if the church were no different from any secular profession – that, since women doctors, dentists and judges are acceptable to modern society, women priests ought to be acceptable too. The inspiration of Heilige Geist was replaced by capitulation to Zeitgeist.

It followed from this, with the ineluctability of all egalitarian procedures, that the ordination of women to the priesthood would lead to the promotion of women to the episcopate. It would not be right, after all, to countenance any "stained-glass ceiling" in the issue of women's advancement in Holy Orders. But, for obvious political reasons, this was not mentioned back in 1992 as the motto of the feminist revisionists in the church was "one step a time for us".

It was easy for the feminists in the hierarchy, in accordance with the prevailing secular ideology they had accepted, to castigate those who opposed women's ordination as uncharitable, sexist misogynists perversely standing in the way of the undoubted wishes of the Holy Ghost. Much was made of the hurt felt by all those women to whom ordination had been denied for all the previous centuries of church history. Nothing at all was said about the grievous offence felt by those faithful priests and laity whose traditional theological and spiritual convictions were valued at precisely zero by the innovators. Ten years on and the same accusations are being hurled at those who oppose the consecration of women to the episcopate

Only this time traditionalists are not so prepared to be ridden over roughshod. The conservative organisation Forward in Faith has produced its own Shadow Working Party's Report on women in the episcopate titled Consecrated Women. Forward in Faith are under no delusions that their careful theological arguments will make any difference to what, as they rightly suppose, has been decided already. The "liberal" establishment in the Church of England – with the silent complicity of the Evangelicals – has made up its mind that women will be bishops and there's an end on't.

Forward in Faith see their own Report as an attempt at least to put their copious theological objections on the record: for the consecration of women as bishops,

…touches the very core of what it is to be a Christian and is a dispute which cannot be resolved by synodical fiat. What is at stake are four fundamentals: the doctrine of the Incarnation; the trustworthiness of Holy Scripture; fidelity to the Tradition; and the nature and function of Holy Orders.
What the traditionalists want is independence from the new dispensation. They want a Third Province in which traditional teaching will be upheld. And, with one rueful eye on the carve up which followed the ordination of women to the priesthood, this time they want to retain their own parish churches, church silver and the rest of their church property and assets.

This issue, whatever spin the "liberals" decide to put on it, guarantees the biggest split in the Anglican Church in five hundred years.

Rev'd Dr Peter Mullen is Rector of St Michael's, Cornhill & Chaplain to the Stock Exchange.


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The SAU has published so much good material on its website - material from a broadly conservative position, but always challenging, always thought-provoking. Why then publish such Colonel Blimpish material as this?

Posted by: Jill at October 19, 2004 09:06 AM
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