The path to providing for women bishops in the Church of England has been interesting. The proposed legislation had some safeguards for conservatives, albeit in the form of a Code of Practice, not legislated protection. The amendments to clause 5(1)c have served only to dilute those proposed safeguards. As many have pointed out, this simply won’t do. There is an increasing loss of trust amongst conservatives and it’s not really helped by some of the “if you don’t like it, there’s really no place for you” attitudes we’re increasingly hearing.

Evangelicals have found this whole process very difficult. Those that oppose the principle of women bishops fear they will be increasingly marginalised – the legislated place they had that was guaranteed by the 1992 women priests legislation is going to be torn up with no equivalent to replace it – and this in a denomination that will have further progressed the innovation to which they dissent.

Just think about that for a moment. In 1992 there was a theological innovation that came partway (women priests) but conservatives had legislated protection that they were promised would never be removed. Now we are at a position where the theological innovation is being pushed even further (women bishops) and yet the promised legislated protection is now to be removed altogether (and would have been some time ago if some people had their way).

And all they’re asking for is that what was promised be retained and adapted to deal with the changing situation. No wonder that Evangelical groups have issued releases recently.

The Reform conference recently had this to say:

This conference believes the Draft Bishops and Priests (Consecration and Ordination of Women) Measure represents a step in an unbiblical and therefore wrong direction for the Church of England. Its provision is entirely inadequate for those who believe the Bible’s teaching of male headship in the family and the church. Recent amendments by the House of Bishops will make no material difference. It therefore urges the Reform Council to continue to campaign vigorously against the Draft Measure and calls on General Synod members to vote against it in November 2012.

The Church of England Evangelical Council (CEEC), which represents a wider spread of evangelical theology than Reform, issued this proposed motion for diocesan synods [pdf]:

 This synod

  1. desires that all faithful Anglicans remain and thrive together in the Church of England; and therefore
  2. calls upon the House of Bishops to bring forward amendments to the draft Bishops and Priests (Consecration and Ordination of Women) Measure to ensure that those unable on theological grounds to accept the ministry of women bishops are able to receive episcopal oversight from a bishop with authority (i.e. ordinary jurisdiction) conferred by the Measure rather than by delegation from a Diocesan Bishop.

Their chair, Michael Lawson, issued an explanatory note [pdf] including this:

It is our belief and understanding that if the draft legislation is approved as it stands, many who are opposed to the consecration of women bishops (both Evangelicals and Catholics) will face considerable difficulties in maintaining their vital contribution to the Church of England, and in time will find themselves marginalised or even excluded from the Church of England.

So the (by their own admission) more conservative Reform are seeking proper legislated protection. The broader-spectrum CEEC also are looking for the same. But what of those who claim to represent the “Evangelical Centre”? Surely they also want that which will protect the thriving ministries of the conservatives amongst them.

Sadly not.

Fulcrum fully supports women bishops and hopes that the Measure passes through the General Synod in November. We believe that this is the view of most evangelicals in the Church of England. We agree with CEEC that all members of General Synod must prayerfully consider the good of the whole church and vote with a clear conscience. We hope that all those who want women bishops will vote for the Measure. We further hope that those who are against will be able in good conscience to abstain, recognising that it is clearly the will of the Church to proceed, and then work with the provision, which is unlikely to be strengthened should the legislation fall this time.

Just get your head around this. It is quite clear from what Reform, the CEEC and others are saying that conservatives in the Church of England are convinced that the proposed safeguards are simply not adequate. Despite this Fulcrum, who claim to be “renewing the Evangelical centre”, do 2 things:

  1. Fail to call for adequate safeguards to be legislated.
  2. Tell conservatives to stop opposing the measure and just suck it up because it won’t get any better.

Again, the “Evangelical centre” fluff is seen for what it is. Fulcrum isn’t the “centre” of evangelicalism – it’s the leftward fringe. The rightward side, represented by Reform, call for protection. The comprehensive middle, seen in the CEEC, call for protection. The leftward side, occupied by Fulcrum, appear to be prepared to stand to one side while they watch their supposed evangelical brothers and sisters thrown off a cliff. When an “evangelical” group seeks no protection for other evangelicals and repeatedly sides with those who oppose evangelicals, their theology and their place in the denomination, what are the rest of us to think?

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14 comments on “Fulcrum Statement on Women Bishops (CofE) – Watching Conservatives Getting Pushed off the Cliff

  1. “Fulcrum isn’t the “centre” of evangelicalism – it’s the leftward fringe. The rightward side, represented by Reform, call for protection. The comprehensive middle, seen in the CEEC, call for protection. The leftward side, occupied by Fulcrum, appear to be prepared to stand to one side while they watch their supposed evangelical brothers and sisters thrown off a cliff.” Sadly how it looks.

  2. John, as a fellow member of CEEC I am sorry to see you commenting that CEEC is ‘the comprehensive middle’. You well know that this is not the case, that the unrepresentative nature of CEEC has long been a problem, that this has been commented on in its own review. it is disingenuous to claim this.

    • Ian, John was quoting my piece. I appreciate that there’s been some discussion recently about representative CEEC really is – and that’s fair.

      What struck me, however, was that the motions they passed sought to be far more comprehensive in affirming the integrity of both positions and calling, therefore, for protection of those marginalised by this enormous change (and let’s not pretend that it’s anything else) in the doctrine of the church and it’s approach to those 2 integrities – something now clearly lacking in Fulcrum’s approach.

      • David I understand that you will welcome CEEC’s comment more than Fulcrum’s, but that in itself does not make it representative of the ‘centre’ of evangelical opinion. Statements like yours which John repeats don’t look like much more than a power play to gain credibility, when this is better done by engaging in the debate. Such comments certainly undermine any sense of need to make CEEC both representative and accountable to a wider constituency.

        • Thanks Ian. I fear the problem is that as things stand the CEEC is looking out for the interests of far more evangelicals than Fulcrum is. The CEEC statement acknowledges the diversity of opinion amongst evangelicals and yet calls for adequate protection for dissenters in order than their “valued” and “honoured” place in the CofE is, indeed, valued and honoured.

          Whereas the Fulcrum statement – well it reads clearly. No call for protections of any sort, just a “that’s how the cookie crumbles” approach at best.

          So I find it hard to be persuaded that CEEC’s approach is somehow “less” broadbased than Fulcrum’s. On the face of it it is exactly the opposite. If Fulcrum want to be seen as the centre-ground of evangelicalism then they have to stop hanging conservatives out to dry all the time while at the same time giving a voice to heterodox teaching.

        • one more comment. I was struck by CEEC’s statement that it certainly appeared to be a step back toward the centre, going out of it’s way to acknowledge a broader constituency. In terms of being representative and accountable to a wider constituency I would argue it’s a far more acceptable approach to far more genuine evangelicals than Fulcrum’s lurch to the left.

        • forgive me. One more thing. Indeed, a question for you, Ian.
          When Fulcrum make no call for protection for conservatives and repeatedly side with those who oppose conservatives, how should we conservatives view that? How should we view their claim to represent evangelicals?

  3. I quite happily identify myself with evangelicals. The calling to ordination was identified and fostered within a New Wine affliated church and I trained at an ordination college clearly set within the evangelical tradition. My response to David is; Yes I do feel represented by statement made by Fulcrum.

    On the other hand, I am excluded and rejected completely by both the CEEC and REFORM statements. How are you defining genuine evangelical here? Is it entirely on the basis of one’s position on the ordination of women? So if I take a stance that supports the episcopal and ordained ministry of women, am I excluded from being considered a ‘genuine evangelical’, regardless of how closely I might accord with the definition in other ways?

    David’s last comment asks ‘When Fulcrum make no call for protection for conservatives and repeatedly side with those who oppose conservatives, how should we conservatives view that?’ The question seems to imply that evangelical identity should trump all other calls of loyalty. I am an evangelical Christian, but it is the term evangelical which is the adjective rather than the noun. It is of secondary rather than primary importance. David’s question seems to miss this point in a rather similar way to the dispute identified by Paul in 1 Corinthians 3, regarding whether people followed Paul or Apollos. Paul points out that we are called follow Christ, bear allegiance primarily to Christ, not one another, or to particular expressions of our faith.

    None of the evangelical groups mentioned here, whether CEEC, Reform or Fulcrum represents ALL evangelicals in their statements. (Although having perused the Forum discussion threads I notice there is a genuine engagement with a very broad range of views on this topic.)

    In the meantime CEEC are be calling for adequate protection for dissenters. If they are representative of a broad base may I look forward to hearing them also call for adequate provision for ordained women, in order to ensure their ministries flourish? If not, how should I view their claim?

    • Lindsay, thanks for coming and commenting here. I do appreciate it.

      I wonder if you’ll let me take you up on a couple of things that you’ve written? First, you ask,
      So if I take a stance that supports the episcopal and ordained ministry of women, am I excluded from being considered a ‘genuine evangelical’, regardless of how closely I might accord with the definition in other ways?

      I’d say “no”. Having said that, however, I’d make a couple of subsidiary comments. First, you may be a genuine evangelical but you should at least recognise that you are taking up a position that is only a very recent novelty, not least amongst evangelicals. So don’t be surprised when other evangelicals point out that novelty to you. Secondly, the complaint I’m making in my post is not that Fulcrum are not evangelical, but that they are not supporting other evangelicals by advocating for the protections needed.

      Now, on the subject of protection you write the following:

      I am excluded and rejected completely by both the CEEC and REFORM statements.

      I get that you might feel rejected by the Reform statement but what is it about the CEEC statement that makes you feel rejected? They state explicitly that they recognise that there are a wide range of positions on this subject amongst evangelicals. So what about their statement makes you feel rejected?

      Further, you write,

      If [CEEC] are representative of a broad base may I look forward to hearing them also call for adequate provision for ordained women, in order to ensure their ministries flourish?

      To which I have to respond, quite what comparable provision is needed for ordained women? The ordination of women is now widespread in the CofE and thoroughly supported by the majority. Ordained women hardly need “provision” in this respect. If you think otherwise then do show us where ordained women are marginalised and discriminated against in the performance of their ministry in the CofE? Even those few bishops who will not ordain them are happy to pass that function on to someone else.

      Whereas, on the other hand, those conservatives who, in good conscience, cannot accept the consecration of women, are thoroughly marginalised in the Church of England.

      Still, if you think ordained women are currently marginalised and need protection, I’d love to see where that is.

  4. Thanks for such a courteous reply, David. Yes I do have access to both anecdotal evidence (largely confidential) and other more independent material that suggests that in some areas of the Church of England ordained women are marginalised and experience discrimination. I am on leave for the next week but will collate and email some links as soon as possible. One example would be a post recently advertised in the C of E for a Resolution C parish (not a problem) linked with a wider Diocesan Mission post ( more problematic as it automatically excludes ordained women from applying for the mission post.) Just to be clear I have absolutely no issue with a Resolution C Parish Priest having a Diocesan wide post as I fully accept their orders, but linking the two posts at the time of advertisement extends the restrictions of resolution C to a wider post where it would not necessarily be required. I do understand why those looking for alternative episcopal oversight, anxious to look for parishes where that view is shared may feel that they have increasingly limited places to pursue their vocation and therefore marginalised. My point is that women also experience marginalization which is perhaps not always as acknowledged. At one stage, one Diocese insisted that ordained women wore Choir robes ( ie not clerical wear) during the Diocesan Chrism Mass, so that no-one could identify which women were and were not ordained, thus rendering them invisible. The ordained ministry of women is widespread and accepted by the majority, yet we live with a constant questioning of the validity of those orders and an intangible ill defined period of ‘reception’ in a way that ordained men will never need to experience. If the Church is to continue forward in a way that will enable us to flourish, should the legislation be passed, then the respect shown will need to have an element of mutuality in it.

    • thanks Lindsay,

      FWIW, I agree with you on the specific examples you cite. To tie a diocesan position to a Resolution C post is unhelpful and to discriminate between men and women at the same service doesn’t help either.

      But I think you’ll find, and any reasonable assessment would concur, that the vast majority of the Church of England is now operating in the opposite way – that there is an increasing hostility towards those who are conservative on this issue. As you note “ordained ministry of women is widespread and accepted by the majority”.

      I also think that the period of “reception” is realistically long over. The question that remains, however, is whether the twin integrities will continue to be honoured. You appear to be arguing that they should not and if so then I don’t think your call for mutuality is totally credible.

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