COMMENT

 

The Windsor Report is out and considerable space in this issue has been dedicated to detailed reflection upon it. Two evangelicals (Chris Sugden p4-5 and John Richardson p7-8) and two catholics (Andy Hawes p6 and Geoffrey Kirk p23) respond plus a piece from our U.S. correspondent (Michael Heidt p25).

The Windsor Report has been billed as “make or break” for the Anglican Communion and Archbishop Robin Eames and his colleagues were charged with finding a formula that would hold together the warring provinces in the wake of the consecration of Gene Robinson. Some had predicted a ‘fudge’. At the other extreme respected members of the national press claimed reliable sources predicting the imminent suspension of the entire American Church or at least the Presiding Bishop and those who had participated in and approved his deliberate disobedience. In the event it was neither When the reassuring avuncular Ulster drawl of Abp. Eames had completed the presentation two equal and opposite reactions were eloquent. Liberal HQ. Southwark and “Inclusive Church” welcomed the report. The Archbishop of Nigeria cancelled his appointments and flew home.

The report makes no judgement on the issues of human sexuality at the heart of the debate. It was not asked to. But this is rather like Hamlet without the prince. It concludes that the Americans were wrong to consecrate Gene Robinson –  not because they were wrong but because they hurt other peoples feelings. They should say that they were sorry –  not an apology for their actions but sorry that other people were offended.

Eames suggests that Americans and Canadians (and other cutting edge specialists) should consider their position when it comes to future get togethers e.g. episcopal meetings. If they thought some might be offended by their presence they might think about not coming. They could be helped in this process of discernment by consulting their presiding bishop. This ,in the Americans case, is the very man who came to the last jamboree, listened to fervent pleas to hold back from fomenting schism, feigned sympathy and went home to consecrate Gene Robinson within days.

The net result of Eames latest confection is no ruling, no discipline, no suspensions. Robinson remains Bishop of New Hampshire and Griswold has snatched victory from the jaws of defeat. True the liberal hierarchs are advised to refrain from

future provocative action until due process has been gone through but what this means is unclear and besides, given the track record, will they heed it?

Eames is powerfully critical of the conservatives. The bishops who crossed diocesan and provincial boundaries to assist parishes unchurched and persecuted by the liberal hierarchs of the American continent were also wrong. Furthermore the Windsor Report curtly rejects, in one brief paragraph, the possibility of parallel jurisdictions. This ignores the fully fledged harmonious examples in the Diocese of Europe, New Zealand, Australia and South Africa and attempts to pre-empt at a stroke any serious solution to the English, American, Canadian and Australian domestic difficulties which exceeds provision of terminal care for the orthodox.

Quite how bizarre Eames’ interpretation of events is becomes clear in his glowing references to the ordination of women. The process by which this was achieved is apparently a model for dealing with contentious issues while maintaining unity! As this involved precipitate and illegal actions by bishops in several provinces, endless lobbying and bullying in others, marginalisation of the orthodox, the perversion of the appointment system, a startling decline in the church, disobedience to the Scriptures, and the destruction of ecumenical relations with the Great Communions, it is a curious commendation. One can only assume that liberals will see Eames as a green light for ‘pushing the envelope’ and more of the same.

The Windsor report does nothing to advance the Gospel witness. Its priority, as with so much recent Anglican polity, seems to be the maintenance of the club and the rich white liberal domination of it.

 

  The WATCH volume “The Call for Women Bishops” [ed Harriet Harris and Jane Shaw, SPCK, 2004] ends on a sour note. The Regius Professor of Divinity in the University of Oxford, Marilyn McCord Adams offers an afterword concerned almost exclusively with misogyny, which she defines as the notion

that ‘men cannot be as big as they need to be unless women are made to seem smaller than they really are’. She abandons, in effect, the area of her own special expertise (philosophical theology– McCord has written extensively on William Ockham) and majors on psychology and social anthropology, where she is no more of an expert than the rest of us.

This is both sad and curious.

Sad, because it would have been good to hear her on some of the great issues of the women priests debate– the Fatherhood of God; the significance of the maleness of the Incarnation; the significance of nuptial imagery about Christ and the Church; the relationship of priesthood and sacrifice; the nature and character of the episcopate; the exegesis of the relevant biblical texts; and so forth.

Curious, because these issues are only obliquely approached by the other contributors to the book. There is a lightweight contribution by John Barton, in which he deals in an armchair-sort-of-way with those issues he thinks he can dismiss with good natured insouciance; a bewilderingly vague piece by Rebecca Lyman on “Women Bishops in Antiquity; Apostolicity and Ministry” (in which she adduces no hard evidence whatever); and an analysis of evangelical arguments about headship (Rosy Ashley, “Can a Woman Have Authority Over a Man?”), based on the remarkable premise that whatever Paul says on the subject is irrelevant since bishops do not exercise headship anyway. The rest of the book is mere anecdotage.

One sentence at the very end of her “Afterword” may go some way towards explaining Adams’s desertion of academic rigour in favour of colourful polemic. “The Church of England has already conceded,” she claims, “that there are no theological barriers to women bishops”. No such concession has been made by the Church of England. Nor is it likely that the Rochester Commission (with a remit from the Synod for “further study on the episcopate, focussing on the issues that need to be addressed in preparation for the debate on women in the episcopate”) will make it.

Could it be that Marilyn McCord Adams (and this slender volume) are merely demonstrating what we have said all along: that there are no sound biblical and theological arguments for the ordination of women as priests and bishops, and that the case is merely an ethical a priori imperative which is assumed to be self-evident?

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