Wednesday, 23 May 2012
WATCH, culture wars and episcopacy
The above words from the rite for the Consecration of Bishops in the Church of Ireland's 2004 Ordinal are repeated in various forms in ordinals across the Anglican Communion. They echo ARCIC II's understanding of the ministry of the episcopate:
For the nurture and growth of this communion, Christ the Lord has provided a ministry of oversight, the fullness of which is entrusted to the episcopate, which has the responsibility of maintaining and expressing the unity of the churches (The Church as Communion, 45).
It is instructive to read yesterday's statement by WATCH (Women And The Church) against this background of Anglicanism's understanding of episcopal ministry. Rejecting the amendments made by the CofE's House of Bishops to the Synod legislation permitting the ordination of women to the episcopate, WATCH declared:
Their decision to intervene in this way will significantly undermine the credibility of the House of Bishops both inside and outside the Church (emphasis added).
The Statement went on to quote the WATCH chair:
The House of Bishops’ intervention will be an enormous blow to the morale of women clergy who were looking to their bishops for clear affirmation of their ministry as a welcome gift to the Church (emphasis added).
What exactly is WATCH saying here? Is the episcopate meant to be silent and submissive before the Synodical process? Does an elected majority trumph the episcopate's apostolic authority and its vocation to "maintain and further the unity of the Church"?
That a majority of English Anglicans support the ordination of women to the episcopate is not in doubt. That a robust theological rationale exists for this - grounded in a reading of Scripture and Tradition rather than a secular discourse of 'justice' - is also evident. Alongside this reading, however, exists another integrity, so powerfully demonstrated in the Proper Provision petition of English Anglican women. In this context, it is not 'interference' for the episcopate to seek to amend the relevant Synodical legislation in order to "maintain and further the unity of the Church": it is the vocation of bishops to do so. (Whether the bishops' amendments have sufficiently done this is, of course, another matter.)
The alternative to a generous provision which promotes unity and communion was spelt out by a well-known TEC figure in her comments on the matter on Thinking Anglicans:
If they want to go, Let. Them. Go. The Anglican Church may be the roomiest room in all of Western Christendom, but there's no room for prejudice and bigotry and oppression in the Household of God.
There you have it. A reading of Scripture and Tradition which has shaped the Church's experience since the Apostolic era and which continues to shape the great Churches of Rome and Orthodoxy, is dismissed in cavalier fashion as a "bigotry" which has no place in Anglicanism.
Such are the consequences of enthusiastically engaging in Anglicanism's culture wars. Political strategies and tactics become more important than ecclesiology, and we end up attacking bishops for daring to "intervene" to promote the Church's unity, and we desire to expel faithful Anglicans from our Communion.
The theological development that is the ordination of women to the ministerial priesthood and the episcopate is still in its infancy. Barely decades old within Anglicanism, not accepted as a legitimate development by Rome, Orthodoxy and a not insignificant minority of Anglicans, giving space to the two Anglican integrities on this matter is no mere pragmatism. It gives Anglicans of both integrities a means to pray, reflect and discern alongside one another. In the midst of the pain of division and disunity, therefore, it can be a sign of communion.
Update: Forward in Faith have responded to the Bishops' amendments.
Posted by BC at 13:43