Perhaps the most intriguing party in the ongoing bun fight in the CofE over Women Bishops are Fulcrum, who describe themselves as “Renewing the Evangelical Centre” while, it seems, consistently opposing positions that evangelicals have historically held. If they represent the “evangelical centre” of England then that centre is currently situated somewhere in the Bermuda Triangle.
As yet another piece of evidence, I submit their recently published “Commentary on the Fulcrum Press Statement: Women Bishops and the Church of England“:
In our statement we support the legislation as proposed by the Revision Committee as providing the best framework for a practical way forward. This is a commentary explaining our serious questions about the Archbishops’ proposed amendments.
This effectively revives a form of statutory transfer from a female bishop to a nominated male bishop who will have co-ordinate jurisdiction with the diocesan but it does so by means of the Measure and without legally divesting the diocesan bishop of any functions. The national code of practice and local diocesan schemes will specify arrangements for co-ordinating episcopal ministry between the diocesan and the nominated bishop.
In simple terms, they go with the Revision Committee in denying dissenters any statutory provision – rather, they favour a “code of practice”. The Archbishops' amendment seeks to reintroduce a statutory provision, recognising that without it dissenters will not, in good conscience, be able to work with women bishops.
The commentary is fascinating, not least because behind the ever-conciliatory language that comes from Fulcrum, there is a real sense of digging heels in and, quite surprisingly, an almost direct challenge to York and Canterbury:
The Revision Committee had many months to work on their proposals. It took the option of vesting or transfer (rather than delegation) with the utmost seriousness but could not agree on how to proceed under this method after agreeing to adopt it. Does this intervention by the Archbishops (notwithstanding their seniority and leadership role in the church) not simply disregard and over-turn the committee’s careful work and short-circuit debate on its proposal?
Truly fascinating. The Revision Committee was, by all accounts, pretty well stymied on the issue and so the Archbishops have attempted to kick-start the issue. But Fulcrum, it appears, would rather go ahead with the watered-down proposals stonewalled into place by liberals than ensure that their (alleged) evangelical brethren get the necessary protections.
Ultimately, as the original press release makes clear, it's all or nothing for Fulcrum,
We believe the new legislation must not be framed to create what might be deemed to be a second class of bishops based on gender or a “Church within a Church”.
But, of course, the issue is not about “second-class bishops” but about what the church has longed recognised as “two integrities” – that both positions are held as valid and faithful. Now Fulcrum are joining the chorus of those who want to renege on this essential part of the original women's ordination legislation and, instead, effectively declare those opposed to women bishops as not proper members of the church. All of this, as we have noted many times, simply as a result of not having moved a muscle.
The Fulcrum commentary is full of “questions”, so I have one for Fulcrum:
Where does your position leave a parish who oppose women bishops but whose new female bishop refuses to go along with the voluntary code of practice since she feels even that would undermine her position? What do you have to say to them?
It's not all doom and gloom, though. One regular contributor on the Fulcrum site gets it. In a very welcome piece, Andrew Goddard addresses the question “Evangelical opponents of women bishops: What is sought and required?“
It is, perhaps, the best analysis and description of the varied bases of opposition from both Catholic and Evangelical sides that I have yet read – and certainly stands in sharp contrast to the excruciatingly poor stuff normally pushed out. In particular, Goddard recognises some serious problems with the CofE as an institution:
…the question of what provision is to be made for those few clergy and parishes who find themselves with a woman bishop and theological objections to receiving her ministry, though important, is not the really significant challenge. Solving that particular problem is not going to get anywhere in addressing these more fundamental questions of preserving certain forms of evangelical teaching and ministry into the future within the Church of England. Seeking to widen the “problem” of women bishops in order to secure through it some significant structural change in the church that might also help address these deeper concerns is understandable, especially if this is the only way of drawing attention to these issues. However, it is ultimately an unconvincing and damaging path to follow. It is perceived by the wider church – including many evangelicals – to be making demands in relation to women bishops that are difficult to justify in terms of evangelical theology and to make women clergy the presenting issue for wider and deeper concerns.What is needed here is the development of broad representative structures and networks among evangelicals that will support those who most experience these problems and do this in a way that is not simply critically reactive and keeps them constructively engaged with and committed to both wider evangelicalism and the Church of England as a whole. Serious thought must also be given as to how to challenge discrimination against certain evangelicals and ensure that their position as faithful Anglicans is recognised and supported by the wider church.
What, then can be done? First, evangelical opponents of women bishops have clearly and often articulated their grounds for opposing this development. Evangelicals committed to women bishops know these well but have not been convinced. What they have not done to the same extent and would help us now is if an evangelical account could be given of the nature of the problems they will face when the church has women bishops and why, theologically, current proposals are not sufficient. Second, evangelical supporters of women bishops need to engage more sympathetically with such an explanation and with the broader range of conservative evangelical concerns that are perhaps driving their demands for more provision in response to women bishops. If both of these can be done then perhaps a more creative way forward could be developed that can draw support from across a wide range of the evangelical spectrum in relation to this whole nexus of issues, including that of provision for opponents of women bishops which is facing Synod in this next week.