Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Elect your bishops democratically, Church of England!

The usual lather, if not blather is being worked up in the Church of England re the announcement of the formation of the AMiE ("Come, let us de-toxify our church"). Fulcrum, for instance, has published a formal response here, and discussion is beginning on this thread. But here is the thing we will see very little of in the blather: any loud, clear call to the Church of England to cease appointing its bishops through a committee and to begin instead to nominate bishops to the crown via diocesan elections.

In the present context there are two vital advantages to synodical election of bishops. First, each party within the church can put up its candidate for consideration, seek to persuade others of the merit of the candidate, and see how the wider body of Christ responds to that persuasion. If (say) conservative evangelicals or anglo-catholics are elected, then they have a voice in the episcopal corridors and the whole church is faced with the strength of grass-roots support for such bishops. Conversely, if such candidates are not elected, then their support parties are faced with numerical facts regarding what the grass-roots think. There is no chance of conspiracy theories arising about this or that cabal allegedly controlling the church from the top down.

Secondly, there is the great advantage in a situation in which a church is faced with the prospect of partnered gay bishops or women bishops, that those wanting or not wanting such bishops have an opportunity of voting accordingly (albeit via elected representatives from ministry units, representatives who have opportunity to discern the minds of their ministry units). Otherwise those not wanting such bishops have real fear that they will be imposed on them, and out of that fear will organise such things as AMiE. Meanwhile those wanting such bishops may have cause to criticise the hierarchy for being vacillating, prone to give into fears fuelled by the latest lobbying of a pressure group they have received, etc. Let democracy reign, and let respect for the power of the people begin.

Democracy in the C of E alone would not prevent movements such as AMiE arising. After all, that is what has happened in North America where bishops are elected through synodical elections. But at least in North America, churches there can say of a controversial bishop, "his or her people want this person to be their bishop." England cannot say that and it lacks the moral authority to respond to the formation of AMiE with a statement about how conservative evangelicals have the same opportunity to present candidates for bishoprics as any other group in the church.


Anonymous said...

Typical "Fulcrum" reaction and a reminder to me why I stopped reading their site a couple years ago. "Dave's" comment on the thread is quite interesting, though:
"Fulcrum speaks of "consultation among evangelicals and with the Church of England rather than by unilateral actions". This is easy people like Graham Kings and Tom Wright to say as insiders. From the pew the view is rather different. Bishops are imposed on us by the Crown. Our vicars won't say boo to them as they value their pensions and of course have sworn the infamous oath of allegiance. Colin Coward seems to know how many bishops are homosexual but won't well us who they are. Bishop's used to speak their mind but now they keep their doubts to themselves. I find the Anglican Church in Wakefield diocese quite stultifying and have recently sought gospel fellowship elsewhere. I have not heard or read a credible profession of faith from our bishops. I welcome AMIE. As a layperson I want to know where I can find gospel fellowship. My message to AMIE is "bring it on."

I suspect there are quite a few who feel like him. "Fulcrum's" statements sound like little more than etiolated institutionalism, not the disturbing vigor of a Henry Venn or a Henry Martyn, let alone John Stott.


Doug Chaplin said...

Peter, you say in favour of election "There is no chance of conspiracy theories arising about this or that cabal allegedly controlling the church from the top down". That doesn't seem to even come close to an accurate description of the situation in TEC / N America.

I think one of the biggest practical issues over elections in England would be defining the electorate, given the resolute refusal of the established church to have a defined membership.

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Peter P,

It sounds like Dave would agree with me about introducing democracy!

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Doug,

True, democracy does not mean that all conspiracies theories are pre-empted. But quite a few are!

The Church of England has boundaries for its parishes and dioceses. It has provision for electing people to PCCs. I see no problem in principle for parishes to elect representatives to diocesan synods, those synods from time to time becoming electoral colleges for the purpose of electing a suffragan or diocesan bishop.

(There are elections for membership of General Synod ... again, in principle, electoral colleges can be formed from elected representatives).

I acknowledge other problems with episcopal elections such as this meaning that some members of the House of Lords would be elected members!!

Rosemary Behan said...

I have been reminded over the last few days readings, that we’re ALL forgetting one thing. The Lord is in charge. Our Heavenly Father asks us to follow Him, He chooses us to represent Him here on earth. If we follow Him, then we acknowledge that He is in charge. Not us. Him. Things happen that we don’t like whether it’s who is in power in His church, or earthquakes, and what He asks of us is this .. trust and obey. “I am He who blots out transgressions, tell others about that and leave the rest to me.”

What you’re talking about here is politics Peter, and it’s all as nothing to Him because He will use whatever sinful man puts in place, whether it’s a so called democratic solution or not, and STILL, He is in charge. It seems we never learn that lesson, me least of all. It’s only in our better moments that we acknowledge this isn’t it? Most of the time we prefer to think that we’re in charge, and we can come up with better solutions, or find a better more stringent liturgy to make our particular ‘brand’ safer. Oh we of little faith .. He is in charge .. and if we forget that, He will punish us. Yes, we have to ‘work out our own salvation.’ I’m not denying that we have stuff to do, but we can go overboard and forget that it’s not all down to us.

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Rosemary,

You are right: God will have his way and we must trust him.

(I will be praying that way doesn't mean we lose democracy in our church here in NZ!)

Andrew Reid said...

The thing I have never been able to work out with the CofE is how closely the "state church" infrastructure holds together. Are they stand-alone townhouses or a block of flats? Can you e.g. introduce synodical election of bishops, or remove parliamentary approval of synod motions without disestablishment of the entire church?
I am all for greater transparency and democracy as well, but it may be impossible to implement without a broader impact on the state church system. As you note, it won't protect against heretical bishops. It also won't improve the rancour and division of elections. But it wil increase the diocesan ownership of the result.
I know many evangelicals in the CofE believe evangelicals are shut out from episcopal appointments under the current ABC. In theory, though, the Crown Nominations Commission has 14 voting members - 6 representing the diocese, 6 from General Synod and the 2 archbishops. A 2/3 majority (10 or more members) is required to elect a candidate. So, unless the ABC and ABY are able to exert undue influence on the votes of others, they shouldn't be able to control the appointments to that extent.

Doug Chaplin said...

I'm a bit surprised to see Andrew Reid's comment that he knows many evangelicals who think evangelicals are being shut out under +Rowan. Most non-evangleicals would say they are very well represented, and in the recent appointment of the Bishop of Peterborough +Rowan / CNC has appointed the one of the most conservative evangelical diocesans in recent history.

The sort of evangelical represented by the founders of AMiE certainly would feel unrepresented. Then again, as far as I can see, they question whether other evangelicals are biblical, suspect Anglo-Catholics are heretics, and believe liberals have no place in the Church. It is hard to see how someone of those views could function as a bishop in a church that has embraced such a wide range of theological views.

Andrew Reid said...

Hi Doug,
I've been seeing comments and articles similar to this one from the Ugley Vicar, John Richardson, over the last year which led me to believe this was an issue for evangelicals in the UK. I'm not from the CofE, so I don't know the situation first hand.

Doug Chaplin said...

@Andrew – John Richardson is on the very conservative end of the evangelical spectrum – IMO – and a great many evangelicals would not feel his views represented theirs.

father ron smith said...

"As a lay person, I want to know where I can find gospel fellowship"

- Peter the Greek -

My answer to that, Peter, would be: 'wherever you find the sacraments of Christ to be treasured, shared and faithfully celebrated' - whether that be in your local church or somewhere else. But you will need to commit yourself to a particular fellow-ship if you want to find the family God calls you to join. God does not welcome spiritual gypsies.

Reverend Host and fellow bloggers;
being at the moment resident in rural England - on holiday with relatives - I can agree with you on the need for a more democratic system of appointing bishops in the C.of E. At least in this way - as well as assuring the church of a more representaive voice in the hierarchy - we can guarantee that God will have a better chance (as Rosemary points out) of securing the nominee God has chosen for the task of pastoring the pastors.

To my Kiwi confreres - it's good to feel earthquake-free for a while. Quite a blessing!