Comment
October 2001

 

To our friends in America at this time of sorrow, we offer our deepest sympathy, support and prayers. We will continue to hold you all on our hearts before the altar of God in the days ahead.

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Eleven bishops of the Church of England have written to the newspapers to chastise President Bush for his intemperate use of language. They go on to assert, as Bush himself has done, that ‘the struggle to suppress terrorism has nothing to do with Islam’. Their concern, with large numbers of Muslims in their dioceses, to diminish tension and prevent the apologists for racial abuse and cultural contempt is laudable. Yet their emollient words are unlikely to ease the concerns of members of the majority community. They understand that the points of potential compromise between democracy and religious totalitarianism are not obvious. Most wish to befriend their neighbours but, understandably, are fearful of those whose publicly proclaimed loyalty is to an alien creed rather than a civilization which has taken them in their hour of need.

As Christians we are committed to honour our obligations to those who we have invited to share our heritage and to show no partiality in justice and courtesy between one citizen and another. In turn, if society is to cohere, the same commitment and loyalty must be demanded of those who have become part of that society. Our obligations our mutual.

For too long secularizing Western educationalists have diminished religious truths by teaching a comparative religion which merely compares festivals, pays lip service to the ‘it's all the same God’ refrain and papers over the serious fault lines in our understanding. Those who live under the domination of other faiths know different. Now we can avoid debate no longer. Islam is different and to fail to engage with that reality is both an insult to Muslims and to recklessly ignore the smouldering trail that leads to the powder keg at the heart of Western democratic society. We have to be able to differentiate between those who wish to live in peace and those who would twist Islam to murderous intent. These latter, whether it be in the slaughter in America or in the assassination of that great Muslim war hero, Masood, are not only a threat to us but to their own people. Open, public, realistic and accountable dialogue with Muslim leaders and neighbours is no longer urgent, it is a matter of life and death.

The appointment of John Saxbee as Bishop of Lincoln was predicted in this magazine. It will therefore come as no surprise to our readers. The fact that it is unsurprising, however, does not make it any less shocking. Lincoln, the largest and once one of the richest dioceses in England, has fallen on hard times. Its vast capital assets were swallowed up in the financial centralization, the biggest act of institutional theft since the dissolution of the monasteries. Its great catholic tradition, from the time of Bishop Edward King, neglected, discouraged and finally excluded under a quarter of a century of liberal government. Its cathedral rocked by successive scandals to which there have been no lasting solutions and no credit to those in authority. Now John Saxbee is to be the Bishop. That he can be charming, affable and knows how ‘to work a room’ is not in question to those who have seen him operate. If that is what the self-appointed diocesan selectors (all liberals) and the Archbishop of Canterbury want in a bishop, they will not be disappointed. But they cannot have been in any doubt that the appointment of John Saxbee was an act of contempt towards the believing Church and to traditionalists in particular.

George Carey boasts that all bishops promise him, in a fireside chat at Lambeth, that they are committed to the Act of Synod. John Saxbee, over two years ago, went to great lengths to publicize his opposition to it and his ambition to see it abolished by November 2002. So who is telling the truth?

John Saxbee is President of the Modern Churchpersons Union. This is, by its own definition, ‘a society for the advancement of liberal religious thought’, and it aims include ‘to maintain the legitimacy of doctrinal re-statement and the adjustment of forms of worship to accord with the believed requirements of modern discovery’. In short, its members have little in common with historic Christian teaching and many would sympathise with the Richard Holloway/ John Spong position on credal matters.

From his own experience and from reliable independent statistics George Carey knows that liberalism and decline in go hand in hand. Yet his appointment of the standard bearers of this spiritual bankruptcy has been relentless.

The Archbishop will also have read, and presumably discounted, the recent Perry report which was fulsome in its condemnation of the persistent appointment of unsuitable suffragans to dioceses. It was thorough in its criticism of the culture of secrecy and disinformation that has led to a ‘Buggin's turn’ leadership.

The preferment of John Saxbee is but the latest in a long series of appointment scandals which have gravely weakened the Church of England, undermined its collective leadership and its ability to evangelize. It has, yet again ,called into question the integrity of those who have so regularly and fulsomely promised us just dealing.

If there can be women priests, why not women bishops? If you are prepared to destroy the Church for the one , why baulk at the other? Bishops, however, unlike priests, do not remain in neighbouring parishes quietly doing their own thing. They demand obedience, give and remove licences, and to livings or suspend them. That is their job. You may not like them but you cannot ignore them.

The Church of England is rapidly approaching ‘make your mind up time’ on the issue it so deliberately fudged in 1992. Bishop Michael Nazir-Ali's Commission is engaged on a theological study of the issues surrounding the consecration of women as bishops. In our July issue, he graciously encouraged submissions from individuals and organizations of our integrity.

To pretend to hold to a Christian conviction and yet not give an account of it when asked, in a reasonable and courteous context, is prima facie culpable. To put it another way: every single Forward in Faith parish should make a formal submission to the Rochester Commission (c/o A. Vincent, Church House, Gt Smith Street, London SW1P 3NZ) by the end of this month.

If other submissions are made by individuals, well and good, but every parish that dares to consider itself traditional must do so. It is the minimum courtesy our opponents might reasonably expect.

 

Keeping one’s head down, acting with gentleness, not ruffling feathers, these have something to commend them among traditionalists, even if they are not the tone adopted by this journal. Nevertheless (as we keep saying) the time for this quiet, appeasing, English approach will one day cease.

Be fair. Women priests, if they exist, might reasonably expect to be allowed to become bishops. If you destroy the Church for one, why balk at the other? If justice demanded the first, will it remain silent on the second? If a new career path has been opened to women, how can one maintain a glass ceiling?

Bishops, unlike priests, do not stay hidden and out of sight; they do not remain in neighbouring parishes, quietly doing their own thing. They knock on the door and demand entrance; they give and remove licences; they appoint to livings if they wish or suspend them if they do not. That is their job. You may not like them, but you cannot ignore them.

Bishop Michael Nazir-Ali in his letter in the July issue graciously encouraged submissions from individuals and organizations. His commission is engaged in a theological study ‘focusing on the issues that need to be addressed’ before women can be consecrated bishops, and every single parish that has or intends to vote for any one of the existing three Resolutions must make a submission.

To pretend to hold to a Christian conviction and yet not to give an account of it when asked, in a reasonable and courteous context, is prima facie culpable (or in simple terms, plain wrong). Let us put it another way: every single Forward-in-Faith parish should make a formal submission to the Rochester Commission by the end of this month; the closing date is All Saints Day. If other submissions are made by individuals, well and good, but every parish that dares to consider itself traditional must do so. It is a minimum courtesy our opponents might reasonably expect.

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