They Played Cards and Lost

The agenda for women bishops in England really thought they had it made, and not a whit did they care about those opposed even for theological and ecumenical reasons. The opposition had only to be crushed as the Church of England became a clone of Dr Schori’s ECUSA, driving on to some kind of religious vision that no one can relate to. It was to be winner take all!

There is a sense of karma in all this. The crushers were crushed by a mere handful of votes. That being said, I wouldn’t bring the will of God into all this, because God has very little to do with it.

Voting for women bishops was such a foregone conclusion that there would have no discussion afterwards. Those against had only to join the Ordinariate, retire or jump off Beachy Head!

They played cards and lost. Now there will be discussion, and determination to bring the whole agenda back by whatever means it takes. The PC Brigade in the Government will try by legal means to overturn the Synod failure to get two-thirds of the laity. I read that Forward in Faith and others who are against women bishops are not rejoicing, because they will not be allowed to taste victory or enjoy it. Some speak of civil war in the Church of England. We will see.

The elephant in the room is that the average Englishman couldn’t care less about the Church of England or any kind of religion for that matter. Religion has shot itself in the foot and made itself irrelevant through trying self-consciously to be relevant. Those of us who are not Anglicans or no longer Anglicans often blame Erastianism – the Church as a “department of State”. We used to call the Church the Conservative Party at Prayer, and now its more like the Guardian readership at trying to out-relevant everyone else!

What seems to be the situation is that the Church of England is bankrupt and is only waiting for the bailiffs to come and collect. It has nothing to say to the millions of its own baptised members and so many others. Who is remotely interested? What is a pity is thinking about what will happen to all the church buildings.

Even if they bring it all up again in five years time, things will be a lot different. So many more churches will have been sold off and so much more capital spent as running expenses. It’s all running out. It is certainly time for disestablishment, like the Church in France back in 1905. There will be no money, no status for the clergy, no respectability. The clergy will sing the Lamentations of Jeremiah or turn to God in their distress!

I could see a wave of anti-clericalism arrive in England in the minority that is still interested in the question. But, most people in England don’t even have a clue about what it’s all about.

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22 Responses to They Played Cards and Lost

  1. Stephen K says:

    Mmmm, I don’t wish to comment on the female episcopacy issue directly itself. I accept that there are different arguments on both sides and that different churches have dealt with or are dealing with the issue in their own way.

    However I’m not sure I agree with your characterisation here, Father. “Relevant”: the quality of relating to and being significant for a group; apposite, bearing on the matter to hand. etc. Can a church “try” to be relevant? Is it valid, or ineffective, to do so? Or is it something a religion or church just has or has not permanently? Is not the view that a church ought to maintain traditional doctrines or practice rigidly in the face of change simply a different identification of what is ‘relevant’? That is, in the sense that to say women cannot be priests or bishops is ultimately to say that insisting on such a position makes a church relevant to people’s salvation or spiritual efficacy. We are surely ultimately all trying to be relevant, but are arguing over what makes a church “relevant”. Take arguing over whether religious should wear traditional habits: those who argue they should essentially argue it is “more efficaciously a sign for others”, that is, more conducive to inspiration etc.

    I think it’s normal and healthy for a church to seek to be relevant. Where we might agree or not is whether x or y succeeds in or is capable of making a church relevant to people today.

    It seems true that most people in the Western countries have switched off religious practice. They clearly don’t see the churches as “relevant” no matter what they do. Thus, I suggest that church leaders are generally not doing something very important that has to do with the central core of the religion: I think they are failing to assign sufficient importance to the discordance or disconnect between what they are preaching and what people are struggling with. Neither traditional dogma and praxis nor the latest imitation of secular fashion cut the mustard. Churches seem to be busying themselves with all the wrong things. Meanwhile, urban street missions to the marginalised and modest under-the-radar contemplatives keep plugging away and keep earning the respect of even the most determined of secularists. That has to be saying something to church leaders! Unfortunately, they don’t seem to be listening or looking in the right direction.

    • I think this question of “relevance” needs a lot of reflection. It is too easy to jump onto a conservative bandwagon about these matters. As you say, the only things that seem now to have any worth are ministries to the marginalised and the contemplative life. For the rest, I can only have an idea about what the average citizen would say about illusions churchmen still have about still representing establishment religion.

    • Michael Frost says:

      I think it would normally be more productive for Christian churches to always focus initially and firmly on Truth before then contemplating relevance. I’d like to think that in God’s plan for His Church and His peoples, Truth is always relevant but we must work to bring the relevance to His peoples. Thus we bring forth the Truth about the nonnegotiable, inalterables: Who Jesus was/is/will be, the afterlife–heaven & hell, evil/original & personal sin/suffering, redemption/salvation, worship, and much more. We must tailor the message to the people of the times, but the message must be consistently the same. I suspect that if we focused more on Truth, we’d worry less about relevance. Truth has a way of making important things relevant and unimportant things irrelevant?

      • In the absolute, yes, if truth is God himself rather than our claim to the right to kill others! I put it like that, because the word truth is the most misunderstood. But I see what you are getting at – the Church being the Church will be more attractive that the Church trying to be something else.

        I’ll see if I can do a posting to look at the notion of Truth.

    • Nice piece of writing. Christianity without God (or even Christ) can be anything one wants to make of it! The problem is that the “revisionists” would still have the reference to God. They want it all “their way”, and we want it all “our way”. As the two are mutually contradictory, someone else says we can have neither. And so it goes on “tick, tock, tick, tock”.

  2. Matthew the Wayfarer says:

    I think that most people especially in the Euro-American West don’t feel the need for an every day or week religion. It’s become an ‘if and when I need you you better be there for me’ type thing.

    No one is afraid of going to HELL any more because science can not prove it even exists let alone where it’s at and if it was so important why the Church (churches) stopped talking about it if it’s all that important. Only the extreme fundamentals still do that. Salvation? What for? We have everything we want or need mostly here and now. I don’t see Heaven as an improvement. I have read and heard a lot of Christian versions of what HEAVEN is about and I’d say all of them are lame to varying degrees. Even I don’t want to go there if they are true. Boredom to the enth degree.

    No, Christianity has lost hold of the imaginations of most people. I am hanging on by a thread.

    None of them Catholic, Orthodox, Anglican, Evangelical Protestant are relevant to all people any more so why do we bother?

    • Christianity was always a Prophetic way, and necessarily can’t be a religion for the masses. If Christianity is necessary for salvation (their ticket out of hell because conversion isn’t possible after death), then everybody needs to be “evangelised” and put under totalitarian authority to keep them in line. Cf. The Grand Inquisitor. Otherwise it is a contemplative way, a kind of “contemplative Judaism” you don’t have to be born into, and then it is not intended for the masses. It needs only to be lived in monasteries and little hidden communities of lay people and families.

      Perhaps Christianity needs to disappear from society in order for it to refind its pre-Constantinian innocence. Christian Churches will never stop abortion, sexual promiscuity, homosexuality, etc. among people who don’t believe in Christianity. Churches play political and end up under the thumb of the political regimes. Let the world go its way! The only freedom is of the spirit!

      • Stephen K says:

        You’re touching on a central tension, that may be expressed in various apparent dichotomies, in Christianity: spirit vs law, world vs heaven, action vs contemplation (Martha vs Mary), power vs powerlessness and so on. This problem gets alluded to in various areas. Take liturgy for example. We construct it and then impose it, because one form rather than another is thought to be “necessary” or “better”; or ordination: we seek to include or exclude classes and fight over the issue because it is or isn’t part of the truth; or dogmas: we spend hours of councils and catechisms defining them and insisting they are ‘necessary’; or moral questions, and so on. We are constantly trying to say on the one hand that heaven is the goal but spend most of our energies organising this life as if it were. We claim that Christ came to set us free – from sin, amongst other things – but spend our energies and animus in attaining and exercising power over others. I needn’t go on, we can all see the tangles all this results in. And, as Matthew implies, no wonder Christianity fails to inspire. As humans, we organise by nature, but there is some deep impulse in us that from time to time we feel stirring, the desire to be free and soaring like a bird. I hope I will not be dismissed simply as a ‘liberal’ when I say that somehow the pre-occupation with and focus on “church” keeps getting in the way of efforts to steep oneself in the meaning of God and contemplation of mental relationship with God – for we seem compelled to thrash around in the political agendas of the ecclesia!

        When we engage in thought-sharing as we do here on your blog, Father, I think we are at some level trying to simply connect with others and stimulate our minds to the contemplation of various questions, without expectation that our position must prevail. I think that this tendency of ours to enter the fray and win – in whatever area of our life – is somehow inimical and alien to a very core concept in Christian faith or life: namely that of counter-intuitive love, that is the love that does not bind but leaves free (rather like that saying about the freedom of the bird you let go, or what Jesus said about loving even those that hate you etc.)

        I’m sure that the answer lies in some balance and harmony. What we think is chaos may be the universe’s urge to be free of control, but it may equally be sometimes patterns and order beyond our comprehension and thankfully beyond our attempts to control. What do others think?

  3. John says:

    Is anybody really arguing for women bishops on the grounds of ‘relevance’?

    • Yes, that’s what I have been reading in media reports about the outcome of General Synod. I believe it is also the opinion of Archbishop Williams and Bishop Welby. They believe that if there are no women bishops, the Church of England has “committed suicide”. I can only go on what I read.

    • William Tighe says:

      How else, then, can this be read (save as pure and undiluted Erastianism)?:

      In a strongly worded speech on Wednesday, Williams warned that the failure of the vote in the house of laity on Tuesday had made the church’s governing body appear “wilfully blind” to the priorities of secular society.

      “We have – to put it very bluntly – a lot of explaining to do,” he said. “Whatever the motivations for voting yesterday … the fact remains that a great deal of this discussion is not intelligible to our wider society. Worse than that, it seems as if we are wilfully blind to some of the trends and priorities of that wider society.”

      • Stephen K says:

        William, I don’t think Erastianism quite comes into Rowan Williams’ speech to the extent you think it does. He was stating some bald facts: credibility is a quality attributed by others, not some intrinsic aura; the failure by a crucial minority of Christians to “approve” womens’ ordination is unintelligible to many in society, the very same society the church needs to engage with and persuade; intelligibility is again an attribute, not an element. Even the concept that what appears to so many as a bleedingly self-evident imperative can be rejected by a “vote” when it would seem far more appropriate that it be embraced by spontaneous acclamation needs explaining.

        That the Church of England as a national established institution can be criticised for its susceptibility to Erastian pressures is to say not much; that it may be admitted that the Church of England will be discredited by normal, ordinary citizens-at-large as incomprehensibly backward is to admit a great deal, and well worth some serious soul-searching, as Rowan Williams foreshadows.

  4. William Tighe says:

    Well, let’s compare English Erastianism to the Kirk of Scotland’s views on such matters, and so note the following declaration of the Kirk of Scotland in 1926 (excerpted):

    Articles Declaratory of the Constitution of the Church of Scotland in Matters Spiritual, 1926.

    III. This Church is in historical continuity with the Church of Scotland which was reformed in 1560, whose liberties were ratified in 1592, and for whose security provision was made in the Treaty of Union of 1707. The continuity and identity of the Church of Scotland are not prejudiced by the adoption of these Articles. As a national Church representative of the Christian Faith of the Scottish people it acknowledges its distinctive call and duty to bring the ordinances of religion to the people in every parish of Scotland through a territorial ministry.

    IV. This Church, as part of the Universal Church wherein the Lord Jesus Christ has appointed a government in the hands of Church office-bearers, receives from Him, its Divine King and Head, and from Him alone, the right and power subject to no civil authority to legislate, and to adjudicate finally, in all matters of doctrine, worship, government, and discipline in the Church, including the right to determine all questions concerning membership and office in the Church, the constitution and membership of its Courts, and the mode of election of its office-bearers, and to define the boundaries of the spheres of labour of its ministers and other office-bearers. Recognition by civil authority of the separate and independent government and jurisdiction of this Church in matters spiritual, in whatever manner such recognition be expressed, does not in any way affect the character of this government and jurisdiction as derived from the Divine Head of the Church alone, or give to the civil authority any right of interference with the proceedings or judgments of the Church within the sphere of its spiritual government and jurisdiction.

    V. This Church has the inherent right, free from interference by civil authority, but under the safeguards for deliberate action and legislation provided by the Church itself, to frame or adopt its subordinate standards, to declare the sense in which it understands its Confession of Faith, to modify the forms of expression therein, or to formulate other doctrinal statements, and to define the relation thereto of its office-bearers and members, but always in agreement with the Word of God and the fundamental doctrines of the Christian Faith contained in the said Confession, of which agreement the Church shall be sole judge, and with due regard to liberty of opinion in points which do not enter into the substance of the Faith.

    VI. This Church acknowledges the divine appointment and authority of the civil magistrate within his own sphere, and maintains its historic testimony to the duty of the nation acting in its corporate capacity to render homage to God, to acknowledge the Lord Jesus Christ to be King over the nations, to obey His laws, to reverence His ordinances, to honour His Church, and to promote in all appropriate ways the Kingdom of God. The Church and the State owe mutual duties to each other, and acting within their respective spheres may signally promote each other’s welfare. The Church and the State have the right to determine each for itself all questions concerning the extent and the continuance of their mutual relations in the discharge of these duties and the obligations arising therefrom.

      • Stephen K says:

        Dear William, very impressive (the Kirk of Scotland’s declaration) but with respect the Williamson case extract does not succeed – in my view at least – in casting the State in England as so totalitarian as I think you wish to suggest. I refer you to these words:

        “But the Church of England is the Church as by law established and it has spoken its mind and made its decision on the subject and the decision has been promulgated in a way which the courts have recognised as being valid and binding………..The courts could have nothing to say about a decision to ordain woman made by other Christian denominations. That they have done so in the case of the Church of England is simply as a consequence of its establishment and the laws which govern that establishment…….The courts have not expressed any view of the doctrinal controversy. To do so would be quite outside their remit…”

        The point here is that the Reverend Williamson was in the courts’ view vexatiously litigating and it appears that the earlier decisions at first instance dealt with the legality of the Church’s decision to ordain women, not with its theological force. In other words, had the Church earlier decided against ordaining women, no doubt a litigant for the opposition, like the Reverend Williamson, would likewise have been denied leave to continue endless appeals in the courts. This is hardly Erastianism of the kind which would subject the mission and content of the church to the State; it is rather, simply a manifestation of the fact that churches are required to contribute equally as other citizens, to the good order of the larger society from which they draw benefits or seek to do so.

        I cannot see that Rowan Williams has said anything that would compromise the Church’s liberty though he has certainly thrown out a challenge to any temptation it might have to self-satisfaction.

  5. Francis says:

    @ Mr Tighe

    Is Mr Williamson still alive? He intrigues me. His dialogue with the Bench has really moved me. Do you know the services of which Counsel did he retain in the matter? I would greatly like to read his arguments, especially with respect to the Coronation Oath.

    Thank you

  6. Evagrius says:

    Speaking as an outsider to this debate (the difference between having women priests and having women bishops, to me, looks rather slim, for what it’s worth), I don’t see what’s so revolutionary about Parliament changing doctrine in the C of E.

    One might argue that that was what the Act of Supremacy did, but there are plenty of more recent examples, most notable being Privy Council’s choice in 1850 of a bishop who denied the regenerative effects of baptism (an event which is said to have sparked the conversion of Cardinal Manning (H.E., not Thomas).

    • I suppose you’re right, Variations upon a Theme after the Fantasia and Fugue con fuoco… We haven’t to forget that most people don’t care.

    • William Tighe says:

      I don’t think it’s available online, but if you can lay hold of the Pusey House “Annual Report and Journal 2008-2009” (which I think actually was published in 2010 or even 2011), your claim will receive abundant confirmation in an article in it entitled “From the Convocation of 1559 to Pope Benedict’s Apostolic Constitution of 2009” (pp, 9-15) by the admirable Fr. John Hunwicke. Otherwise, you might wish to consult Norman L. Jones’ *Faith By Statute: Parliament and the Settlement of Religion, 1559* (Royal Historical Society, 1982), an admirably cogent (and relatively brief) analysis of the political and legislative course of the 1559 Settlement.

      Nobody reading either one of these writings can avoid seeing that the 1559 Settlement was forced on an unwilling Church of England (the Canterbury Convocation of which repudiated and condemned the said Settlement in advance in February 1559) by purely political, and hence “Erastian,” means.

      One of my own articles (from 1999) might be of use as well:

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