COMMENT NOVEMBER 1998
The Lambeth Conference euphoria is over. Having given the impression of a degree of doctrinal conservatism to the world, the western bishops have gone home and back to their old ways.
In the U.S.A. the liberal bandwagon has pledged itself to spend the next decade undoing Lambeth. Official responses have gone from one bishop claiming to have only supported the conservative position to help the third worlders avoid more persecution from Islam through to outright misrepresentations of the Lambeth resolutions - claiming they excluded people from church - and even outrageous Episcopal claims that the Lambeth Conference bore a huge responsibility for the brutal murder of a young American homosexual by two thugs.
Here things, as ever, have been more subtle. Bishops have been expressing regret at the simplistic biblicism of Lambeth and calling for a more intelligent and common sense look at our teaching.
All of this was highly predictable. What has been truly shocking has been the claims that Lambeth only arrived at traditionalist conclusions in large parts of its agenda because black bishops were bribed by the few remaining American conservative bishops and their organisation.
Initially these claims were made by Bishop Geralyn Wolf on the evidence of her chaplain. Now James Rosenthal, a lay canon and Director of Communication for the Anglican Communion, is claiming to have more evidence of such corruption, as yet unspecified.
The American traditionalists have repudiated these claims and rumours as unadorned lies. The African bishops are furious at the suggestion that any of them would sell their souls for a few dollars or indeed would need to be persuaded to vote for biblical truth.
These are grave charges that tear at the heart of the Anglican Communion and impugn the integrity of Christians in two continents. To many they will sound simply like the poisonous sour grapes of a liberal elite unfamiliar with the pain of defeat. But it is vital for the health of the communion that these claims are fully investigated and urgently. Nothing less than an Archbishops enquiry will suffice to convict the guilty and clear the innocent.
Archdeacon Judith Rose has put down a private members motion requesting the House of Bishops to begin consideration of the implications of consecrating women as bishops. Quite how this motion differs from Fr. Geoffrey Kirk's motion with a similar intention (and whether this one will be more successful) remains to be seen.
No one can doubt, however that the time has come for such a consideration. There are already women of experience and proven ability who, in other circumstances, would be making discreet visits to Mr Holdroyd. We hope and trust that Synod members will sign Archdeacon Rose's motion at the earliest opportunity. It has always been the view of this paper that the decision to consecrate women as bishops was taken when the Synod decided that they should be ordained as priests.
The Archdeacon asks for yet another House of Bishops Working Party to consider the implications of women as bishops. Whilst the House may show some reluctance to take even this modest step, as yet, it is worth reminding them that a good deal of work has already been done on the subject. The Archbishop of Canterbury gave the following considered statement in reply to a question about women bishops from the Ecclesiastical Committee of Parliament in 1993:
'Your final point, a second measure for women to be ordained to the episcopate: I have no doubt that it will happen one day, but we did not want to build that into the legislation. One thing at a time. We have the experience of women in the diaconate as Mr Broadhurst has said before you already it is illogical to separate the presbyterate from the episcopate, but we have chosen to do it this way because we need the experience of women in the ministry. Perhaps one day it will come, perhaps in my lifetime, I simply do not know and there is no point in speculating about it. But thank you.'
Quite so. Is there any more to be said?
The House of Bishops has sprung a leak - or rather several leaks. The report of its top secret working party on marriage discipline was leaked first; and then the ridiculously worded (and probably ridiculous) mission statement for the new Archbishops' Council. Both leaks seem to have come, not from Church House staff, but from bishops themselves. The man the thought-police are looking for is white-haired, well-groomed, nicely spoken and dressed in purple. But aren't they all... though this one is also more friendly with Jonathan Petre than most.
No doubt the very idea of leaks causes consternation and concern at the highest level. But why? Why has the culture of secrecy become such a mark of the Church of England as the century draws to its close?
One can understand the urge to be secretive about appointments - quite apart from anything else, secrecy makes those who are appointed feel more important. But why do we (or rather, they) have to be secretive about the moral teaching of the Church? Nothing surely, is more obviously an area for free, open and frank discussion in this modern world than sexuality. Marriage and the family are key areas of public policy under this government, and the Church should be a major participant in the whole debate. But it cannot be so if its own policy and decision-making processes are shrouded in mystery, and even the conclusions are closely guarded.
Secrecy, we fear, in almost all Church matters, indicates a loss of nerve and lack of confidence on the part of those who lead. But the culture of confidentiality also plays into the hands of those who leak. The agenda - though not necessarily the agenda of the House of Bishops as a whole - is moved forward by those who are prepared to respond to the natural impatience of the press with partial information and personal opinion. So what Bishop X thinks about Camilla Parker-Bowles becomes the teaching of the Church of England on marital fidelity.
That this will not do should be obvious to the most casual observer. Research in pubs, clubs and on the upper deck of buses leads us to conclude that the English have little or no interest in the moral teaching of their national Church, which they generally regard as an injudicious mixture of pragmatism and humbug. One can hardly blame them.
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