I heard the news of the General Synod’s disastrous decision over women bishops towards the end of a three month sabbatical in California. Whilst I have been here I have been exploring fundamental questions of how we understand our Christian faith in a world which is deeply imbued with modern science, and is both profoundly multi-religious and secular. All of these present major challenges to the basic ideas of Christian faith. There are some very good ways of thinking about these matters – and it has been stimulating and encouraging to be able to give close attention to this material during my time on sabbatical.
So to be jettisoned back into the myopic, inward-looking world of the C of E’s General Synod decision was a deep disappointment for at least three reasons.
Firstly it will deeply damage the C of E’s mission to proclaim the Gospel afresh in our generation. Most people are completely mystified and appalled by the endless wrangling over the issue of women’s ordination.
Secondly, it will do great harm to the many fine women priests (and their supporters who are the large majority), who have served the C of E with much distinction despite their compromised position in the C of E.
Thirdly, we do seek to be a church in which a wide variety of viewpoints can have an honoured place. Our failure to find a way of doing this on the issue of women bishops despite years of complex negotiation must put a question mark over our ability to enable such a divergence of views to relate to one another in any creative, rather than destructive, way.
Despite the temptation to give up on the C of E as irredeemably backward-looking, that is not really an option. Although we are doing our best to hide it at the moment, the Anglican way of being Church has many fine and rich features which have much to offer to the wider Church and to the world we serve. It is no surprise that we are going through a difficult period as we try to find an understanding of Anglicanism for the 21st century. There is much to be hopeful about. It may be that this debacle can lead to a deeper look at the heart of what the C of E thinks it is about. At its most basic this is about the understanding of God, and the Christian Gospel.
But more immediately there must be big questions about the role and functioning of the General Synod. There have been a number of articles questioning how dysfunctional it has become. It is a nonsense to have a situation where the vast majority of the dioceses, and most of the bishops supported the legislation, and it can still fall. If this leads to a complete review of both the heart of the Christian faith as it has been received and understood in the C of E, and also of the governance of the C of E, there may still be hope for the future.
21 November 2012