COMMENT

There will be a time and a place to reflect on the wisdom of the war in Iraq. Few may doubt the seemingly inevitable military result, so great is the technological superiority of the alliance. But victory, when it comes, will leave much to resolve and the campaign has, already, exposed grave dangers to the West.

The unwillingness or impotence of the United Nations to act coherently will sound deep alarms in the minds and memories of the older generation and the historically literate.

The sundering of the European Union as a prototype corporate state with its own policies may bring relief to many, but the consequences of the detonation of this vanity will be with us for years to come.

The Church, in its leadership, has manoeuvred itself into a position of moral ambiguity. Declaring itself to be against the war in principle while wholeheartedly supporting troops carrying out the concomitant ‘wrong actions’ is unlikely to endear the Church to the logical military mind or appeal much to civilians looking for moral consistency.

The Labour Party will have to decide whether its future lies with the old internationalist understanding or the new international order.

The would-be Russian allies of the West must decide whether they intend to pursue a solitary or corporate road in dealing with Islamic terrorism both within and without their borders, and the Chinese must assess the value of a rogue state, albeit an historical ally, with nuclear arms on their approaches.

In all these alarms and dangers no one should underestimate the place where the West, as a whole, has lost a most significant and strategic battle – Turkey. For years Turkey has acted as the Eastern flank of NATO, a secular state buffer against the manifold tyrannies and disorders of the Middle East and the expansionist aims of the former Soviet Union.

While their hearts remain in the East many Turks have longed for a Western economic future. In recent years those hopes have been savagely undone. A combination of the great earthquake and continuing guerrilla warfare devastated its tourist trade. Islamic militancy began to take its toll in public life and upon the media.

When the military and successive governments reached out to the European Union for the prospect of a place in the sun, they were consistently rejected, often being bypassed by new states and by recently enfranchised parts of the old enemy, the Soviet empire.

Internally great changes are afoot. The mosques are not full, but religious indifferentism is a thing of the past. The great cities, like Istanbul, are subject to a daily influx and resettlement of migrant rural workers. Whole suburbs are now becoming fundamentalist. Unsurprisingly the recent election has thrown up a leader who has openly applauded the mosques as a recruiting ground. Only the uninformed were shocked when a hugely divided nation havered about the stationing of American troops and about ‘fly over’ rights – while flooding Turkey’s Eastern borders with troops to deal with the Kurds in a liberated Iraq.

Saddam Hussein may lose in Iraq; but if the West loses Turkey, by a combination of ignorance and political snobbery, it will have lost a major battle in its war against the sponsors of terror and against militant Islam.

* * *

You heard it here first. Veterans of the long campaign to oppose women priests will recall a slim yellow volume entitled AEO, which was to have an eventful history before it became the blueprint for the House of Bishops provisions in the Act of Synod.

The phrase ‘Alternative Episcopal Oversight’ was born at a meeting of the Cost of Conscience Committee at Alton Abbey in the Autumn of 1989. Purists at the time objected to its redundancy – ‘episcopal’ and ‘oversight’ coming close to tautology. But it caught on in more ways than one. ‘This one will run and run,’ said someone at the Alton meeting. And it has. Eight parishes in Vancouver are demanding it at this very moment (and a neighbouring Canadian bishop is offering it) – though none of them probably knows the origin of the idea or has even heard of Cost of Conscience.

It has run and run because it was a measured and minimal response to the liberal campaign of aggression against orthodox Christianity which became the determining feature of Anglicanism in the last four decades of the twentieth century. And because that aggression – the liberal agenda whose very existence was for long denied by those who advanced it – has been relentless.

With breathtaking audacity, those who wilfully fractured the unity of Anglican Orders and the Apostolic Ministry (and who are now intent upon destroying the sacrament of marriage by the introduction of same sex unions and partnerships) have denounced AEO as unprecedented and uncatholic. The truth is that the appetite for novelty and sectarianism is uniquely theirs . They invented Alternative Episcopal Oversight, in the sense that their actions made it necessary and inevitable. No Group for Rescinding the Act of Synod can now force the djinn back into the bottle.

‘Moral theologians have been telling people for centuries,’ said an American Continuing Bishop wisely, ‘that actions have consequences. We are the consequences of their actions. They will have to live with us.’

* * *

The Standing Committee of the General Synod is facing something of a conundrum. As diocesan motions to rescind the Act of Synod and to move to the ordination of women as bishops without further delay, build up in the pending files, what are they to do? They cannot rush the Rochester Commission (which does not report to the House of Bishops until February). And they can hardly permit an attack on the Act before the draft legislation for Women Bishops (which will effectively replace it) has seen the light of day.

There is the further complication of the Ecclesiastical Committee of Parliament (always an impredicable, as the Churchwardens Measure showed). It would be unwise to present them with legislation which had been hurriedly constructed and ill thought through. Women bishops without concessions of some kind for opponents would be inconceivable, after the fulsome protestations of tolerance and inclusivity which accompanied the last round. And if the new legislation is to end the provision of Extended Episcopal Care (as the radicals are demanding), what is to be done about the PEVs and the Bishop of Fulham? They do not have the appearance of turkeys who will vote for Christmas.

Four validly ordained Anglican bishops continuing throughout the Church of England a ministry which Parliament had declared to be illegal would be a considerable embarrassment. If (following recent American precedent) they sought admission to the dioceses of overseas Anglican Primates, it would be a nightmare.

And yet delay has become a dirty word: the cry is for justice now!

We need hardly say that we told you so. The pretence that the ordination of women was a considered theological decision based on a mature biblical exegesis and a thorough review of the patristic evidence has, with the motions recently passed by the dioceses of Southwark and Ripon and Leeds, lost all credibility. They do not care what the Rochester Commission reports on the ‘Theology of Women in the Episcopate’, any more than they cared what the Eames Commission reported about ‘Communion and Women in the Episcopate’. Theirs is an ethical a priori imperative which (to adapt Michael Adie’s claim in 1992) is careless of scripture and uprooted from the tradition.

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