John Richardson, the Ugley Vicar, has just made this contribution to the current CofE debate over women bishops.
Several years ago, I was at the infamous Reform annual conference where the Revd Phillip Jensen spoke, in his usual robust terms, about spiritual prostitution in the Church of England. Later, in the question time, I made the suggestion that Reform churches ought to pass the so-called ‘Resolution C’, petitioning for episcopal ministry under the Act of Synod 1993. Phillip backed this up by saying to the assembly that they ought all to do it immediately, not least (as I recall him saying), “to make it clear you do not want women bishops.”
And here we are again, several years down the track, with very few Evangelical Resolution C parishes, women bishops hoving into view, and Reform threatening to shoot itself (as far as membership of the Church of England goes). Nice plan.
And the reason we haven’t got these Resolution C parishes is that, apparently, ‘half a cake is worse than none’ and ‘you’d have to have an Anglo-Catholic bishop’ (which is actually not true —read the words of the Act).
But there is still —just —time, if Reform have the guts for the solution, which is this: get an English bishop consecrated for the Conservative Evangelicals, and signal that, should the time come, it is his episcopal ministry, and his only, that you will accept. Stop all the talk about leaving and setting up your own alternative. Stay and fight.
Now some will say it would be illegal. Go and read the history of Anglo-Catholicism! Of course it is illegal. Anglo-Catholics went to prison for what they believed, put there by the prosecutions brought by those who wanted to keep the Church of England from their influence. They won. And they won because they had a coherent understanding of the Church and they were prepared to go to the wire for what they believed.
The current problem with Conservative Evangelicals is that, when it comes to their place in the Church of England, they have neither of the latter qualities.
“Or suppose a king is about to go to war against another king. Will he not first sit down and consider whether he is able with ten thousand men to oppose the one coming against him with twenty thousand?” (Lk 14:31, NIV)
The first requirement for a good plan —is that you should have a good chance of winning. And as we know, it is who dares wins. Will we dare? We might still lose, but at least it won’t be as painful as shooting ourselves in the process.
I have to say, I like John’s stance. It appears that +Fulham and others have the mettle for a bit of a fight. Will they go this way? Who knows. But it seems clear that the time for “continuing to make the argument” (as one senior CofE figure put it to me yesterday) has actually passed us by.
Women bishops is going to be a reality. Are we simply going to stand back, or even aside, and let it happen?