COMMENT SEPTEMBER 2000

 

It was the elegantly frivolous boast of Robert Runcie that he had for long walked down the middle of the road and found it less dangerous than he expected. Such a course of action cannot be recommended for his successor.

It is becoming increasingly difficult to be the Archbishop of Canterbury; as the meeting of Primates, bishops and representatives of a wide range of American traditionalist organisations in Nassau (Bahamas) has recently demonstrated. It is now clear that Anglicans from other provinces will not sit by and allow the Episcopal Church of the United States simultaneously to apostasize and to persecute the orthodox minority within it. They will act. And in the end, the primus inter pares among the bishops of this ramshackle consortium (which was once a communion) will have to take sides.

But which side to take?

In truth Dr Carey does not have much choice. Whatever his own personal views about the lesbigay agenda which lies at the heart of the present crisis, he is in no position effectively to outlaw the Episcopal Church from the Communion. And, in any case, he has a good deal in common with it. He himself ordains women (and freely admits the inevitability of women bishops in his own Church). His family circumstances, what is more, make him generally sympathetic to the divorce culture in which the revisionist agenda has it roots.

As the activities of American traditionalists build up into an Alternative Province (recognised and accepted by a group of other provinces, as seems more than likely) the Presiding Bishop, of course, will put the Archbishop under increasing pressure to denounce and outlaw them. And such a denunciation of bunch of stroppy dissidents on another continent may well have its attractions as a disincentive to those who are agitating, in the event of the consecration of women as bishops, for a similar arrangement here.

Against his own deepest instincts, Dr Carey will, we confidently predict, throw his weight behind the American revisionist agenda. What sound scriptural exegesis could never achieve, raw pragmatism will effortlessly effect.

 

The time is near, and the days are hastening on, for the demise of ASB 1980 and birthday of Common Worship 2000.

PCCs everywhere will have calculated the cost of this change. They will be asking why, after all these years, the CofE is now effectively adopting, at considerable expense, a lectionary which has been available for many years. They will be wondering what precedent the new provisions set. Is the Church of England to undergo liturgical 'renewal' every twenty years - at the cost of the parishioners and to the profit of the liturgical publishers?

We make no apology for majoring again on liturgy in this edition of New Directions.

The Bishop of Ballarat, who as Archdeacon of Leicester was active in these matters in the Church of England, concurs with Fr Michael Moreton that the impending eucharistic prayers are even less congenial to catholics than the Brindley/Beckwith compromise of the 80s [Catholics and Common Worship, page 6]. The Canon Precentor of Norwich [Common Worship, page 13] is understandably defensive. He thinks that what has been achieved is the best that could be done under the circumstances. John Hunwicke [All Change Back, page 26] is quietly amused by it all.

But the question remains, what are we to make of a Church which solemnly proclaims the impending 'illegality' of a liturgy which it has so recently approved; but which, at the same time, is powerless to require of its ministers either belief in God or obedience to the canons in much else?

One might, of course, conclude that such gratuitous authoritarianism had a merely commercial motive: if the old liturgies were not made illegal, who would buy the new ones?

But we believe that there is more to it than that. There is, above all, the desire for authority and control.

As the liberal agenda moves faster than the appointments system can keep up with it, bishops (necessarily men of the past, in a Church which is lurching forward at an increasing velocity) want to feel that they are in control. And liturgy, after all, is an area easier to police than most.

With the advent of Common Worship, those who use the Roman Rite - and in this constituency they are many - can probably expect, an increased vigilance from the diocesan authorities. Archdeacons will be flexing their vocal cords; and even their muscles. But there is no cause for alarm. So many are the unacknowledged and unprosecuted transgressions of others, that it will require only the provision of a careful catalogue of them to encourage the liturgical immunity which is desired.

As for 'Common Worship'; it will find its own level. Like women priests - and ultimately women bishops - it will prove very nice for people who like that sort of thing.

 

The Synodical General Elections are rapidly approaching. There can now be little doubt that women bishops are the prime issue on which the elections will be fought. Archdeacon Judith Rose's motion allowed the House of Bishops two years in which to report its findings about women and the theology of the episcopate. The aim, presumably, was to bring a substantive motion before the Synod during the next quinquennium

That is as it should be.

Many of us in Forward in Faith welcome such legislation. It clears the air and sets the agenda for the future. We believe that those who want women bishops should have what they want. But no more than that. They cannot expect, in a multi-ethnic, multi-faith society, to impose their theological opinions upon others; and they will need to draft the legislation which achieves what they want accordingly.

By their chosen course of action they have sealed their ecumenical fate. They have effectively closed off the previously fruitful negotiations with Rome and with Orthodoxy. The Pope and the Ecumenical Patriarch said as much - though to his eternal shame the Bishop of Birmingham denied it.

There is no reason, however, why the self-conscious ecumenical choice of the majority should disadvantage the minority - which did not share in it. There is no reason, in other words, why the mill-stone of women's ordination should be hung round the necks of those who have consistently rejected it.

The challenge of women bishops is a challenge to ecclesial diversity. Those who like and want them should have them (though they are unlikely to be content merely with that). Those who reject and do not want them should not (and ultimately cannot) be coerced to receive them.

Those are the elementary principles of religious freedom in an open and tolerant society.

It remains to be seen whether, despite the bad examples of Canadians and Americans to the contrary, English liberals can be liberal. If they cannot, they can expect a spirited fight.

 

Readers in search of favourite columns in this edition of New Directions will be sad to learn that Father Robbie Low is on holiday, and that the Badger family have relocated their sett (during the month of August) to the small Tuscan town of Pienza, where phone, fax and email are all unoperative.

We wish them all bonnes vacances.

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