Wednesday, February 8, 2012

It just ain't gonna happen

I am confident the General Synod of the Church of England will pass the legislation required to pave the way for women to be ordained as bishops. I am also confident there will not be a major exodus of people and pastors from the Church of England as a result. Aside from the numbers expressed in diocesan votes for the legislation, my reason for thinking there ain't gonna be a major exodus is the inherent conservatism of English Anglicans. Splutter, splutter. Inaction. No exodus. Besides there is history to consider. There once was a major exodus in the C of E, associated with the rise of Methodism. A few hundred years later the C of E is still around, and still the stronger church than its exited rival.

Intellectually I think there ain't gonna be a major exodus because there is no convincing reason for it. An illustrative paired argument, for and against is published in the Guardian. Here is the money quote from the against argument:

"I don't remember ever being in favour of the ordination of women, probably because it struck me that the church was accommodating itself to the ways of the world."

Women priests and women bishops is not an 'accommodation' to the world (with all that implies about declension of commitment to Christ, adherence to orthodoxy, and faithfulness to Scripture). It is an increased understanding of human dignity in the light of God's Word and Spirit - an enlarged understanding of whom God has created and redeemed in Christ: all human beings, male and female, blessed and gifted in the Holy Spirit. In particular it is a recognition that Christ's humanity is the key identification with us in the mystery of the incarnation and cruciformed salvation, not Christ's maleness.

Sure, some arguments for the ordination of women with sloganeering cries of 'Justice' and 'Equality' are an accommodation to the world's talk of progress. But not all arguments are an accommodation in this way. Some arguments work from our new appreciation of the full share in human life which women have with men - an appreciation which asks of Scripture what God affirms about our human dignity and receives from Scripture an affirmation that God created us male and female and redeemed us, women and men, to be one in Christ.

But my point here is not to rehearse arguments for the ordination of women, rather to observe that there are insufficient active members of the C of E who think that having women bishops represents an accommodation to the ways of the world. There will be no major exodus because few are convinced that the C of E is being unfaithful to God by having women bishops.

(For clarity's sake, I am not attempting implicitly or otherwise to mount an argument here that those who oppose women bishops are therefore unfaithful to God. Those like the person cited above who sincerely believe that (for instance) an accommodation to the ways of world is involved in the ordination of women are working from a different perspective on the relationship between human dignity under God and the development of human society in a secularised culture. The arguments that flow from this different perspective are not poor arguments, and the key debate is about the starting point for our understanding of our humanity as men and women.)

19 comments:

carl jacobs said...

Peter Carrell

Yes, that's what the leadership of TEC said when Gene Robinson was elected. "It will all blow over in six months." The expectation of 'splutter, splutter, inaction' has turned into ten years of plunging attendance, plunging revenue, interminable lawsuits, dispossessions, church sales, arbitrarity defrockings, trampled Canon Law, and fractured organization. TEC doesn't resemble a church so much as a meteor entering the upper reaches of the troposphere. Gene Robinson was just the triggering event for something that was a long time coming.

Are boatloads of people going to leave the day after this vote? No. But the dynamic will be irreversibly established. There is both a push and a pull that will make this happen. The bigger Evangelical churches have already said they will start focusing on non-CoE church plants if something substantial and effective isn't put in place to protect those who reject WO. They won't be able to recommend the CoE to new clergy when opposition to WO becomes officially proscribed. So they will create have to their own alternative. That's the pull.

On the other side, you have to consider that these new women bishops are not going to be drawn from an orthodox pool of candidates. Their introduction is going to accelerate the slide of the CoE into full-throated liberalism. The more conservative members are going to find this intolerable. As their ability to infuence the church declines, they will seek after external alternatives. Lo, and behold. One has already been forced into existence by this decision on Women Bishops. The departure of more and more conservatives will make the rush to liberalism that much easier. The problem becomes self-feeding. That's the push.

This is the dynamic that killed TEC dead. And make no mistake. TEC is dead. It maintains the illusion of life through dead men's money, and memories of bygone glory. But he money is running out. Parishes are having trouble employing staff. Liberalism is a death sentence for a church. There might be plenty of people who want to be leaders in such a church, but there aren't enough potential laity to make it financially feasible. You can't sell this anemic silent liberal deity to people who are looking for answers and reasons and hope. Liberal religion offers nothing but self-affirmation and why do people need a church for that task? They don't.

There is something else you should consider as well. Your assessment is fundamentally disrespectful to your opponent. It rests on the presumption that he has been bluffing all along; that he really doesn't consider this such a big deal. You are saying that he has made this an issue of conscience without actually believing it to be an issue of conscience. That is a comfortable position for you to take because it means you don't have to face the consequences of your decision. You can assume that your opponent will just get used to the new order, and your moral dilemma is solved. If however you assume that your opponent is a man of integrity, then you must accept that he has been telling the truth. That means he will act on principle against his own personal interest. Then what will you say to him when he walks away from the door that has just be shut and locked in his face?

carl

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Carl,
There are limited parallels between TEC and the C of E. There has been a major exodus from TEC; my analysis of the situation in the C of E is not my analysis of the situation in TEC.

I agree with you that liberalism unchecked kills a church. I do not see liberalism spreading unchecked through the C of E.

Father Ron Smith said...

Am I mistaken in thinking that Carl Jacobs doesn't want Women Bishops in the Church?

A very good summary of the facts, Peter. I agree with your assessment of the situation vis-a-vis Women in the Church.

Rosemary said...

I know you’re busy Peter, but you may regret writing this post just from the point of view that there will not be an exodus in the UK, without deep consideration of what follows such a decision and what is before us in the future. I hope you’re right, that there will not be a mass exodus from the C of E about what I consider to be a secondary issue. However, if you then make it impossible to be ordained unless you agree with women in roles of authority over mixed congregations [Bishops are neither here nor there really, because in today’s world they’re more administrators than spiritual leaders unfortunately] .. then you have a big problem, and this is one of the things to which you’re not in my opinion, giving proper consideration.

If you read your post and substitute practising homosexual for the word woman/women, I think you’ll find that it’s your own point that is both judicial and cultural, not, as you imply, those of us who believe as I do. On that point, it is both untrue and unjust that you imply there is no Scriptural debate to be had about women in such roles, there is: and just as the 39 articles say, as people of faith, in the end we come down to the authority of Scripture, and not the cultural or justice issues. If I had made up my mind on those latter two issues, it would be no contest!!!!! No, Scripture is the ONLY debate, and it would be polite if you pointed out that the ‘money’ argument is there, not the one you give in your post. For those who don’t know that, please find an excellent if short review here .. http://www.e-n.org.uk/p-3164-Why-men-should-head-the-church.htm

I’d like to ask a couple of questions Peter. Would you say that a woman who does not seek office in the church is not equal in every way to a man? Would you say that a man who does not seek office in the church is not equal in every way to those men who DO feel called to such a weighty office?

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Rosemary,
I have not made up my own mind on whether there would be an exodus of significant proportions in the C of E over changes re same sex partnerships - I am only (as you recognise) taking a punt on the specific issue of women bishops.

Yes, there is a Scriptural argument to be had and I acknowledge that I may be underestimating its importance in relation to the C of E and the possibility of an exodus. In general terms it is the most important argument: yes!

Men and women are equal in the church as members of the body of Christ. A certain inequality in power exists in respect of offices in the church: the bishop expects his or her priests and deacons to obey him or her in respect of lawful instructions ... and understands that lay people are not similarly obligated! As Priest in Charge of a parish for the timebeing I am not more important as far as being a member of the parish is concerned but I have more responsibility than if I were not the Priest-in-Charge, including a responsibility to fulfil some specific obligations to lead well.

I may not quite be answering your questions, but not because I am trying to avoid the force of them. Rather I find it difficult to express the nuances in the differences between 'membership', 'offices' and 'leadership'.

Anonymous said...

Rosemary asks the pertinent questions, Peter, and makes the appropriate points. You regularly make numbers the test of what is right and what is wrong. When you say, for example, “liberalism unchecked kills a church” you are referring to… numbers. Your response to having a bishop with no stipended clergy is about numbers. Your analysis of the Covenant is about – numbers.

It is not about numbers. Ultimately it is about truth.

Others are right to read your post and immediately substitute practising homosexual for the word woman/women.

The traditional understanding of ordination is, from the Bible until very, very recently: men only. The traditional understanding of bishops, from the Bible until very, very recently: one per area and as the leader of a team of clergy. The traditional understanding of marriage, from the Bible until very, very recently: no divorce and remarriage. You are picking and choosing your abandonment of those traditional Christian understandings to the point of aligning yourself with a tiny, tiny, tiny percentage of Christians. Your opposition to practising homosexuals, as Rosemary rightly questions, has no consistency with your other abandonments.

Dave

Father Ron Smith said...

From Rosemary's post, one might think that the Holy Spirit went to sleep after 'dictating' the Scriptures. However, as the Church Father and Mothers were already aware (see the writings of Saint Gregory of Nyssa), the Holy Spirit never sleeps, and God is constantly renewing God's Church - wherever She is ready to: "Hear what the Spirit is saying to the Church".

Mary, the mother of Christ, brought forth The Word-made-flesh in her own body - pretty much a work of the Holy Spirit in the Gospel. And she was 'only' a woman! But blest.

Andrew Reid said...

The experience in Australia was that the largest exodus was around the time of women's ordination as priests. There was no further large scale exodus after the introduction of women bishops. I imagine it won't be a deal-breaker for evangelicals, but may be for some Anglo Catholics if there aren't sufficient protections enshrined in the canon.

Pageantmaster said...

For anyone interested, the main debate this afternoon on the Manchester Motion can be listened to here starting at 2:30 pm London Time:
http://www.premier.org.uk/streaming/synod.asx
Afterwards, the results and podcast of the debate will be posted here:
http://www.churchofengland.org/media-centre.aspx
Do listen - the quality of debate is usually good and it promises to be the most lively debate of this Synod, which otherwise has been pretty dull.

As for the state of the CofE, the truth is that there has been an exodus going on for over ten years, often in boxes:
http://davidkeen.blogspot.com/2012/02/major-minus-church-of-england-adult.html
That said the decline has slowed recently and we are now treading water, but this marks a continued nosedive in congregational numbers masked by new initiatives such as Alpha and Christianity Explored bringing unprecedented numbers of new people to Christ and planting congregations and bolstering existing ones:
http://www.churchofengland.org/media-centre/news/2012/01/provisional-attendance-figures-for-2010-released-–-marriages-up-four-per-cent,-national-‘mapping’-identifies-at-least-1,000-fresh-expressions-of-church.aspx

More links here:
http://www.fulcrum-anglican.org.uk/forum/thread.cfm?thread=19814

I have to disagree with Dave - where we preach God's truth, He blesses us with the harvest. TEC is having to find that it is very hard to live with declining numbers and money, even if they have the comfort of living into 'their truth'.

Please pray for us today.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the hint, Pageantmaster - I'm now looking at joining Buddhism, Islam, Mormonism, or "no religion". Which of those do you see God blessing most?

Peter, continuing with numbers and sexuality - how about, for a post, embedding http://youtu.be/aDiYeJ_bsQo and looking at the numbers of those who are successfully ex-gay? Is God telling us something in the numbers blessed there?

Dave

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Dave,
There is a both/and about numbers: they can matter and not matter. Pageantmaster is entirely right: numbers can be a sign of the blessing of a ministry. You are right: lots of Buddhists in the world does not make Buddhism true. It might be helpful not to focus on whether I make much of numbers but whether the numbers I make much of tell us anything.

Here are some numbers to do with woman: they make up 50+% of the population; in many societies today they have a very low chance of dying in childbirth and a very high chance of living a long life (unlike in biblical times); there are good chances of receiving an advanced education to the equivalent of that of men; there is no chance of discrimination in Western societies against women seeking to develop their minds through education; there are many women not confined to home by child-bearing or child-rearing duties. I could go on but the point is simple: life for women in many parts of the world today is utterly different to Jesus' day (let alone to Moses' day) and consequently society is different.

As a catholic-and-reformed [Anglican] Christian I do not feel bound to subscribe to everything about Christianity according to the way it has always been done. (If I felt that way I would be honour bound to join the Roman Catholic church). I do feel honour bound to live life and to influence the church according to Scripture. When I look in Scripture to see whether our different church today might develop the leadership of women into a greater participation for women I and many others have determined that we may, coherent with the theology of creation and redemption which is revealed to us in Scripture.

The numbers of those who are 'successfully ex-gay' will be (I suggest) a little more complicated than the numbers of women in the church, there being the numbers of those who are unsuccessfully ex-gay, successfully gay, etc to consider ...

Father Ron Smith said...

re Dave's comment on the subject of the proliferation (or not) of 'ex-Gays'. I thought that myth had already been well and truly busted.

There are probably more people who have (after being hassled by mis-guided mentors) changed from using their naturally dexterous left hand to using their right hand - and as a natural cack-handed person, I can tell you that's pretty hard.

Also, one wonders how many people who are naturally heterosexual have actually been able to 'change' to becoming naturally homosexual? Very few, I suspect.

People who appear to have 'changed' are probably naturally bi-sexual; people who can respond either way.

There is no moral context for innate sexual-orientation. This is why the Church really must get to grips with reality on this matter.

carl jacobs said...

Peter Carrell

I do not see liberalism spreading unchecked through the C of E.

I am curious. What counter-veiling force presently exists within the CoE that can stop it?

carl

carl jacobs said...

Father Ron Smith

Am I mistaken in thinking that Carl Jacobs doesn't want Women Bishops in the Church?

I am actually quite comfortable with the idea of WO. I think it wrong-headed, destructive, unscriptural and a dangerous concession to the idea of external norms. But then so is Arminianism. As long as I am not under the spiritual authority of a woman nor required to recognize the spiritual authority of a woman, I can co-exist with it. Good fences make good neighbors and all that.

The problem with what is going in the the CoE is that proponents are making the submission of opponents to a woman's authority the touchstone of the development. It proves her authority, and (for some) it provides a fair degree of joy at the misery thus inflicted upon others. If one considers the problem strategically, this is all to the good. It will force a decision that needs to be forced. But that is bitter comfort to those who are about to be thrown out into the cold. The revolution may need martyrs, but its never a pleasant experience to actual be a martyr. (With a nod to 'Kiss of the Spiderwoman.')

carl

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Carl,
I am thinking of the good sense of the English people, the calibre of their theological colleges, the general soundness of the house of bishops through the decades, the commitment of many lay and clerical leaders to sound theology and excellent biblical scholarship.

Anonymous said...

Rosemary is correct, Peter. Your thoughts naturally translate to:

Here are some numbers to do with practising homosexuals: they make up 5+% of the population; in many societies today they have a very low chance of dying and a very high chance of living a long life (unlike in biblical times); there are good chances of receiving an advanced education to the equivalent of that of heterosexuals; there is no chance of discrimination in Western societies against homosexuals seeking to develop their minds through education; there are many homosexuals not confined to home. I could go on but the point is simple: life for practising homosexuals in many parts of the world today is utterly different to Jesus' day (let alone to Moses' day) and consequently society is different.

As a catholic-and-reformed [Anglican] Christian I do not feel bound to subscribe to everything about Christianity according to the way it has always been done. (If I felt that way I would be honour bound to join the Roman Catholic church). I do feel honour bound to live life and to influence the church according to Scripture. When I look in Scripture to see whether our different church today might develop the leadership of homosexuals into a greater participation for homosexuals I and many others have determined that we may, coherent with the theology of creation and redemption which is revealed to us in Scripture.

Dave

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Dave
My thoughts do not "naturally" translate that way at all because to do so would be to demonstrate that the "leadership of homosexuals" (I assume you mean the leadership of non-celibate homosexuals as there is no dilemma about the leadership of celibate homosexuals) was "coherent with the theology of creation and redemption which is revealed to us in Scripture." I cannot demonstrate that coherency. Can you? To demonstrate that coherency I would need to find signs in Scripture of God appointing and anointing non-celibate homsexuals to roles of leadership in the church. So far I have not found those signs. But (on the basis of what you say above where you confidently assert that my argument translates "naturally" in the direction you take it) might I assume that you see those signs there?

Anonymous said...

Plenty of people on your site do find signs that, just as churches changed on circumcision, forbidden foods, slavery, miscegenation, marriage after divorce, and ordaining women (all opposition being strongly supported by Bible teaching), so churches are changing approaches to homosexuality. Fr Ron, Suem, Tobias, and Mark, to name but a few, see the signs. As someone who asserts “there is no dilemma about the leadership of celibate homosexuals” it is not surprising that you do not see the signs that others do.

Dave

Father Ron Smith said...

It is honest of you, Dave, to admit that the church has changed its corporate mind on human issues other than homosexuality: like, slavery, circumcision (cf S.Paul), women's ordination - all matters touching upon 'freedom in Christ' - the work of the Holy Spirit"

"And Christ shall make you free!" - a progressive activity of God through God's agency, The Church.