The Bishop of Salisbury is to be congratulated for his candour and his conviction. In the days immediately preceding the publication of the Rochester Report he went out of his way to make clear that, in the very near future, there will be no place for orthodox believers in the Church of England.
‘If this (ordaining women bishops) is the mind of the Church’, Stancliffe is quoted as saying, ‘people will be faced with a choice to stay or leave. The present arrangements will no longer be able to hold.’
Orthodox believers will be grateful to Stancliffe for finally disposing of the Establishment’s pretence of toleration and it is entirely fitting that this cathartic revelation should have been voiced by a man whose own ecclesiastical career has personified the seismic shift in the governance of the Church of England. Many orthodox clergy will remember the late and much loved Bishop John Richards recalling with astonishment the events of 1992 when serious consideration had been given, in the Catholic Group in Synod, to asking Stancliffe, then Provost of Portsmouth, to lead the opposition to women’s ordination in the critical debate. How there was such poor intelligence of his true position remains a mystery. In the event Stancliffe voted in favour and within months, quite coincidentally, became Bishop of Salisbury and a key figure in the misleadingly named ‘Affirming Catholicism’. His consequent opposition to orthodox Christian faith and its proponents has been consistent and unremitting.
For all that, Stancliffe’s abrupt exhortation to an orthodox exodus is a welcome clarification in the preamble to the bruising debate that will occupy the next couple of years and finally determine the identity of the C.of E. – whether it retains any claim to catholicity or simply becomes the 51st state of a deeply corrupting and disobedient American church.
When the vote was taken in 1992, let us remember, the proponents of women’s ordination convinced the waverers by three things:
1) This was permissive legislation. Those who wanted it could take advantage of it. No-one was to be forced.
2) The whole process was subject to the ‘doctrine of reception’. We would only know if the C.of E. had acted prophetically if and when the whole Church, the Great Communions of East and West, received it as true and dutifully followed suit.
3)Those who continued to believe what the Church had always taught would not be subject to any discrimination.
These were solemn and binding agreements and, as Sir Patrick Cormack M.P. reminded us last month, the very basis on which Parliament accepted the legislation. Over the last twelve years the orthodox constituency has learnt the value of those promises. Our people have been mistreated, our priests marginalised or constructively dismissed and our parishes bullied and browbeaten. What was advertised as permissive legislation became, almost at once, dismissive realpolitik. Stancliffe merely confirms that familiar reality.
hen Stancliffe speaks of ‘the mind of the Church’ he is, of course, employing a noble concept in an utterly diminished and unrecognisable way. The mind of the Church must be the mind of Christ. To assume that the political decisions of a profoundly gerrymandered Synod in a small and declining province is co-terminous with either is plain arrogance. Within the C.of E. opposition to the liberal agenda has not diminished but rather grown , as have the number of parishes passing the resolutions. Simultaneously the number of appointments of orthodox leaders to senior positions in dioceses and nationally has slumped off the chart. Curiously the supporters of the ‘Court’ party, Affirming Catholicism, of Bishop Stancliffe and Archbishop Williams have been embarrassingly large beneficiaries of the corrupt appointment system and out of all proportion to their pitiful membership numbers. With such a shameless hijacking of the House of Bishops, the huge number of episcopal placemen in the House of Clergy and the clear implications for the prospects of ‘dissident clergy’, it has not been the most obvious co-operation with the Holy Spirit. Stancliffe’s argument will not stand up even in the unreformed C.of E. and it will certainly not stand up in the Anglican Communion where many large and growing provinces continue to reject the ordination of women. But above and beyond this it is extraordinary to ignore the universal Church. The truth is that both in Rome and Constantinople the rejection of the dangerous and divisive novelties has, if that were possible, intensified in the light of the civil war that has engulfed the Anglican Church and the concomitant heresies that have informed and flowed from the feminist error. Even liberal bishops privately accept that it is a ‘doctrine’ that will never be ‘received’ by the universal Church and serious ecumenical engagement is doomed.
The Bishop of Salisbury and orthodox Anglicans are, however, in full and unequivocal agreement on one part of his statement. ‘The present arrangements will no longer be able to hold’. Stancliffe’s remedy is the removal of all orthodox Christians from the C.of E.
As a final solution this has the singular merit of tidiness. Quite why those whose only crime is to believe what they have always believed (in solidarity with 2000 years of Christian witness) should be expelled is unclear. Some may depart for East or West but the overwhelming majority have more right to their place in the Church of England than the shepherds who have so vigorously led it astray in recent years. Those orthodox believers are not demanding anything other than the right to live out their lives as faithful Anglicans free from the civil war and oppression that has grievously disfigured and weakened the ministry and mission of the Church of England. This modest requirement could so easily be accommodated in a Free Province as part of the mixed economy of the Anglican Communion. Of course a well governed, doctrinally orthodox, financially accountable, mission oriented, ecumenically respected, morally traditionalist province may be the last thing Bishop Stancliffe and his episcopal fellow travellers would want to have in their midst and run the test of Gamaliel. We are about to find out, finally, how tolerant and inclusive a liberal in power really is.
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