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YORK: Question that goes to the core of the Anglican Church - Two Views

YORK: Question that goes to the core of the Anglican Church - Two Views

July 13, 2010

For: The Right Rev. Richard Cheetham, Bishop of Kingston on Thames

I have served as a bishop in Southwark Diocese for nearly eight years. Despite occasional moments of turbulence, it has great breadth and depth - as in most Church of England dioceses. That breadth is worth trying very hard to preserve, but not at any price.

The working assumption of much of the current synod debate seems to be that it is possible to find a way forward that both has some coherence and also caters for all views - behaving almost as if we are the whole of the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church, and not simply part of it. It gives me no pleasure to say this but despite enormous efforts to embrace all perspectives, we have not found a way which commands universal assent.

As the Church of England we have a choice to make. We either go in the direction of the proposals before Synod which contain much generous provision for those opposed to the ordination of women as bishops.

These proposals are a compromise and costly for many women clergy and their supporters, although this provision is clearly not enough for some of those opposed - and thus is costly for them in a different way.

There is a danger with these proposals of a slightly narrower Church of England. But there is also the real hope of moving to a Church which is more coherent, less fractious, and more able to speak to our country in the 21st century.

Or we can go on trying to square a circle that cannot be squared. That has the benefit of keeping all on board for a little longer, but there is the real danger of many more years of wrangling which undermines not only the ministry of women, but also the mission of the Church.

The level of provision in the proposals before Synod, I believe, reflects the general mood of the Church of England to ordain women as bishops with reasonable provision for those opposed. It is as far as we should go.

There is much still to be worked out, especially the Code of Practice, but the proposals on the table set a sound framework for the Church of England in the 21st century. I hope they will be commended to the dioceses. The dioceses will have much wisdom to offer and be a further test of the mind of the Church.

Against: The Right Rev. Geoffrey Rowell, Bishop of Europe

The Church of England is a broad church but not infinitely malleable. Its canon law states that it "belongs to the true and Apostolic Church of Christ". The Declaration of Assent, made by its clergy, affirms that it is "part of the one, holy, catholic, and Apostolic Church". Its teaching is grounded in Scripture.

No Anglican can be required to believe anything not proved by Scripture. Traditional Catholic Anglicans, and conservative evangelicals, are clear that the ordination of women as bishops does not have the consent of the wider catholic Church and has no grounding in the Bible.

In the General Synod debates this week, it has been clear that the Synod wishes to affirm the consecration of women as bishops and also to ensure that traditional Anglicans are not excluded. In 1992 solemn, morally binding assurances were given that "traditionalists" had an honoured place in the Church of England and that place was not merely temporary.

The Lambeth Conference of 1998 passed a resolution, for which I, and other traditionalist bishops, worked with Bishop Victoria Matthews and other women bishops. This resolution, passed by a large majority, affirms "that those who dissent from, as well as those who assent to, the ordination of women to the priesthood and episcopate are both loyal Anglicans" (Lambeth Conference 1998, Resolution III.2), and were to be treated as such.

The Rochester report on women bishops in the Church of England set out theological arguments in favour and against, and recognised an impasse. This report has never yet been debated in the dioceses.

The revision committee, which has produced the legislation being debated, itself admits that its proposals will not satisfy traditional catholics and conservative evangelicals. If there is not to be "a great Ejectment" there needs to be statutory provision for an assured place in the Church of England for those who believe that women bishops need a wider catholic consent and for evangelicals who believe that the Bible teaches "a male headship".

Doubtful sacraments must be avoided. What is so far on the table in the draft legislation, although it makes some provision, does not go far enough. As women bishops do not have wider catholic consent, arrangements for traditionalists need to be statutory and not by delegation.

The Archbishops' amendment, which the House of Bishops encouraged them to produce, passed by an overall majority of Synod, but was narrowly defeated in the House of Clergy, was intended to do just that.

As the legislation goes forward for debate in the dioceses, the wider Church of England needs to ensure its limits are not narrowed; that loyal and faithful Anglicans are not excluded.



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