Wednesday, 28 November 2012

A Widow In The Next

As one of the great Anglican liberals once pointed out.

I have been asked to explain yesterday's claim that the 26 Church of England bishops in the House of Lords are always going to be men. The dear old C of E would plump for disestablishment rather than compromise on that. Its theological composition is not what it was 20 years ago. When Forward in Faith and Reform between them can muster more than one third of the vote in the House of Laity, as is demonstrably now the case, then the legislation for women presbyters would undeniably not have passed, and the legislation for women deacons would also probably, almost certainly, have been lost.

This should come as no surprise to anyone, any more than should the fact that half the lay votes against women bishops were cast by women, or that no legislation providing for women bishops is ever, ever, ever going to attain a two-thirds majority in that House. Anyone who does not know the latter either does not understand the admittedly fairly complicated workings of the synodical system, or else simply cannot count. They are like people who thought that Gordon Brown might not have succeeded Tony Blair as Leader of the Labour Party in 2007, or that Hillary Clinton might have been nominated instead of Barack Obama in 2008, or that David Cameron might have secured an overall majority in 2010, or that Mitt Romney might have won the Presidency in 2012.

As for those threatening to decamp to the Methodists or to the URC in disgust, not only do I suspect that they would have to be reordained as surely as if they had crossed the Tiber, but they also largely come from parts of the country with little in the way of an established culture of Nonconformity. Those of us who know it from close up know that people seeking to recreate some liberal Anglican never never land within either of those bodies would be in for the shock of their sweet little lives.

Many laypeople, not to say many ministers, still expect to hear and to deliver regular preaching of substitutionary Atonement, of entire sanctification in the Methodist case, and of fully formed "Calvinist" soteriology in much of the URC. Even more so, they expect to sing of such things. And sing of them they do. Attitudes to alcohol, to gambling, and to Lord's Day observance routinely remain utterly unreconstructed on the ground, and are almost, if almost, always written into the covenant deeds of chapels, halls, and so forth. Then there is the class thing.

But most of all, there is the fact that the trend towards what they would describe as "conservative" or even, absurdly, "fundamentalist" Biblical exegesis (but which is in fact truly radical, and the wellspring of numerous great radical movements in this and other countries' pasts and presents) is as much on the rise, especially within the URC but also among the Methodists, as it is in the Church of England. Look at how much younger, not to say more female, were the laypeople who had voted against women bishops compared with the bishops put up to whinge about it on radio and on television.

By the middle of this century, the Church of England will not be ordaining women beyond the diaconate, if at all; it will certainly never permit same-sex "marriages" to be solemnised on its premises or by its clergy, and it will discipline most severely any transgressors, of whom within 20, possibly even 10, years there will in any case be none. There will be no more Methodist or URC same-sex "marriages", if there are ever any of the former, by the middle of this century, and no more ordinations of women by the end. Or else there will probably be no more, as Americans might put it, "mainline" Methodists and no more URC by that middle, and certainly none by that end.

The ordination of women now ranks alongside the Open Table Communion Policy as a mark of a denomination in terminal decline. The Open Table Communion Policy was therefore opposed most vigorously, first by the Ejected Puritans and their successors, and then by the early Methodists. Are their main inheritor-bodies now in terminal decline? The Church of England no longer appears to be so.

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