COMMENT FOR DECEMBER 1997
STUART BELL, M.P., the Second Estates Commissioner, turned up to address General Synod last month. His speech and the comments made in a press briefing made headlines in most national newspapers
Apart from the predictable enthusiasm for the modernisation proposed by Turnbull the rest of his contributions required subsequent clarification and a further statement so that everyone could be clear about the far reaching implications of his government's policy towards the church.
Mr Bell made it clear that the Prime Minister will take an active part in the selection of bishops - as in Liverpool. He said that it is in the interests of the state that bishops are appointed "who can follow in the same tradition as the previous bishop". This has, notoriously, not been the case for any traditionalist bishop over many years and such a policy now simply enshrines the power of triumphant liberalism.
Mr Bell warned the church against thinking that it should concern itself over the Prince of Wales's marital status, lifestyle or attitude to the faith. "He will be Supreme Governor because he is King". This is legally faultless but a singularly tactless reminder of the church's utter impotence to determine discipline or doctrine in the face of state power.
Mr Bell put the church on notice that it was to modernise and "come closer to the people", whatever that may mean.
All this came against the background of the debate in the House of Lords earlier in the week. The Human Rights Bill (a vehicle for incorporating the European Convention) would, according to the Lord Chancellor, make the church, as a public authority, answerable to its articles. Ministers (of State) would be able to decide whether church legislation was compatible with the Act. If it is deemed incompatible then the Minister will be able to amend it by order and without consultation.
Suggested early casualties of this new legislation are the "Bonds of Peace" and the rights of parishes to refuse women priests and, yet to be denied, the right of the church to refuse to marry homosexuals. The effects of this legislation and the comments of Lord Chancellor Irvine and Stuart Bell are momentous for all Christians - not just traditionalists.
Anglicans of whatever hue, under this definition, would cease to be the church of God and become no more than abject creatures of the state. Those who have constantly acquiesced in the remorseless rise of the liberal ascendancy may belatedly and nervously, recall the words of John Donne:
"Never send to know for whom the bell tolls: It tolls for thee".
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