Sunday, 18 November 2012

What If The General Synod Doesn't Vote For Women Bishops?

Tuesday sees the big vote in the General Synod over the Draft Bishops & Priests (Ordination & Consecration of Women) Measure which may get a two-thirds majority in the House of Bishops, House of Clergy and the House of Laity, or it may fail to in one, two or all three Houses. To miss a two-thirds majority in just one House is enough for it to fall.

We've debated it long enough- just get on with it so we can concentrate on more important matters. I love that logic. Surely if there are "more important" matters then campaigners for women bishops could set that aside and concentrate on the "more important" matters.

Of course, if it falls then no doubt the supporters of it will try again and again until Church of England doctrine changes.

One thing we need to note is that this issue has set evangelical against evangelical. On both sides, evangelicals have formed alliances with people we really should not have done, against fellow evangelicals. That is a sad consequence of this whole issue being put on the agenda.

Above all, if the motion falls, let there be no triumphalism. There will be evangelical women who will see what they believe they have been called to turned to dust. There will be hurt people. There will be a situation which has to be dealt with pastorally.

We are called to bear with one another in love and be eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace (Eph 4: 3-4) and Jesus prayed fo the church's unity (John 17:22).

Sometimes we get so caught up in structure and organisations and buildings that we think ekklesia refers to an organisation rather than a family.

I remember when I was a new Christian, and was struck by letters that appeared from time to time in the Christian press. To sum up, they could be along the lines of:

Oh, how terrible it is that the other churches ignore Jesus' command that we should be one. If only the Anglicans stopped baptising babies... If only the Pentecostals stopped their prophecies and tongues... If only the Methodists stopped having women ministers... If only the Baptists got rid of their old hymns.... Why oh why oh why can't all the other churches in our town get rid of their practices that stop us from being united?

I used to be a mamber of an Anglican-Methodist church. The process was slow. The old Methodist church had been subject to a compulsory purchase and the new building was built in the Anglican car park. As time went on, there was more sharing of worship until full merger happened. And yes, it can be tricky to combine the horizontal Methodist structure with the vertical Anglican one. Bishops doing confirmation services have to recognise the Methodist presbyterial confirmation (i.e. an Anglican bishop and Methodist minister jointly lay on hands and confirm). Next door was a United Reformed Church. In the summer holiday period, evening services alternated between the URC and the Anglican-Methodist.

Churches can have family unity without organisational unity.

It is possible that, after defeat, supporters of the consecration of women to the episcopate turn to "valid but irregular" practices. Basically find 3 bishops in the Anglican Communion, pay for their air fares from the USA, and get them to consecrate a women presbyter from the Church of England as a bishop. Such a bishop would be a valid Anglican bishop but, naturally enough, could not remain in the Church of England. Are there supporters for whom it is so important that they would do that?

And what if evangelical churches feel the need to leave the Church of England and accept episcopal oversight from an Anglican denomination that does consecrate women? That would be sad, but let there be no hard feelings.

As I learned as an undergraduate Christian, evangelicals can work together for a common purpose without organisational unity. If evangelicals feel the need to leave the Church of England then there is nothing to stop them working alongside evangelicals who choose to remain.

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