COMMENT

To almost everyone’s surprise, the new Archbishop of Canterbury has spoken publicly about the possibility of a Third Province for Traditional Anglicans. To the liberal establishment who have bent their energies and appointments to the elimination of such people, the very idea is institutional blasphemy. To the less confident orthodox it has sometimes seemed an impossible dream. To Forward in Faith and its allies it has long appeared the only possible solution to almost everyone’s difficulties.

Dr William’s opening of the debate was obviously deliberate. His remarks and extensive mapping of the area of debate came in response to a journalist’s question about the possibility of women bishops.

Why has the Archbishop done this so soon in his own ministry?

Williams rightly understands that a re-run of 1992 would be a terminal disaster. Plans for any settlement must precede the impending crisis.

He also recognizes that there can be no serious ecumenical discussions with liberal Protestant neighbours like the Methodists (never mind anyone else) while the Church of England has impaired communion and no mutual recognition of ministry within itself.

He longs for a church where women priests are recognized and accepted by all and where their rise to the episcopate will be an unambiguous call for rejoicing, not another round in a devastating and costly civil war.

Williams also respects the opposition. His Catholic roots mean that he has had to watch helplessly as lifelong friendships have been torn by the dispute. He has seen the wanton sacrifice of the ministries and lives of many people he loves and respects by the systematic abuse of the Act of Synod.

A Third Province, or whatever it may be called, would enable fellow Christians to set one another free to serve the Gospel and enjoy a relationship of mutual respect and renewed affection.

The Archbishop deserves everyone’s thanks for having had the courage to open the debate. He can expect a lot of flak from his own side, at least until they realize such a settlement is in their interests too.

Traditionalists won’t be cracking open the champagne just yet – there is much work to do. But only the most mean spirited would refrain from welcoming an honourable man’s apparent intention to find the road to peace.

What is the status of scripture in current Anglican debate? The question is raised by three different and unrelated pieces in this month’s New Directions.

Fr John Hunnwicke (Fiddling While Canterbury Burns, p31) considers the matter from the perspective of the ARCIC negotiations, where false (or at least wildly optimistic) assumptions are generally made about Anglican orthodoxy. ‘Our problem, says Hunwicke, ‘is the unprincipled rejection of the entire body of saving truth. ARCIC might be better employed considering this situation.

The issue is raised more light-heartedly in 30 Days (p22) where we point out the mess into which mainstream Evangelicals are getting themselves. To the detriment of their own argument, they have, for the most part, absorbed and condoned the current divorce culture. Andrew Carey (who in father’s footsteps is co-ordinating the current onslaught on Rowan Williams’s supposed gay agenda) is himself twice married.

In the first of a major new series, An Anatomy of Error (p16), a parallel is drawn between the hermeneutic which permits Galatians 3.28 to be used as a proof text of women’s ordination and the hermeneutic which allows Mark 10.2–12 to be disregarded in favour of divorce on demand.

In a recent piece in the Church Times, Bishop Hugh Montefiore, that old warhorse of the sixties, has obligingly demonstrated the inexorabilty of this process.

With the Archbishop of Canterbury, he argues that the biblical (and largely Pauline) condemnation of homosexuality applies only to the heterosexual and the lustful, ‘stable, monogamous, loving’ gay relationships transgress no scriptural prohibitions.

Montefiore goes on: ‘I find it very strange that those who condemn all homosexuality do not permit this scriptural hermeneutic, even if they do not hold it themselves, while, at the same time, they are able to permit a hermeneutic that allows the possibility of marriage after divorce. It is hard to avoid a homophobic conclusion.’

The argument sounds clever; but the cat is out of the bag.

Montefiore knows that scripture condemns both remarriage after divorce and all homosexual activity. But he is wily enough to base a claim for the overthrow of the latter principle on the grounds that a majority of Anglicans has already abandoned the former. And he has the temerity to denominate both lapses from grace as a ‘hermeneutic’.

‘Hermeneutics’, in Montefiore’s hands, has become a description of what the boy did when, after reading the notice, he still walked on the grass.

When the CofE Sunday attendance figures slumped below 1 million in 1998 the establishment ordered a freeze on such public calculations until a way could be found of spinning better figures. The statistical department has done its stuff. By including midweek services in the ‘Sunday’ returns a miraculous revival of 11% has been achieved. The million mark has been topped and all is well apparently.

Laughable or laudable these cephological gymnastics have already been undone by the publication of the perversely titled ‘Hope for the Church’. This inhouse production spells out that, even if you count young people smoking behind the church hall, the decline in attendance is massive and accelerating. Readers of this magazine will not be surprised. They also know that the number of properly trained clergy is in free fall and that the next decade will see the continual rapid erosion of parish life by sales of vicarages and wholesale closure of church buildings.

Coincidentally the much trumpeted ‘recovery in vocations’ of a few years ago has also collapsed. The numbers coming forward have plummeted just as the Archbishop’s Council begins a final assault on the freehold and is producing new disciplinary measures. New short term contracts and a disappearing pension scheme will surely not assist morale either. The truly dedicated will always be prepared to come forward regardless of personal sacrifice. How many of them will do so in a church that increasingly abandons the Gospel for secularism is less clear. Nor will they be encouraged by a collective ‘management’ that has, for the most part, no track record of success at parochial level, no identifiable vision for the future and no policy except reactive panic to each unfolding crisis.

It is increasingly clear that the only ones for whom the number should really be up is the present management.

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