The Press Release following this week’s meeting of the College and House of Bishops reveals an agenda that is a masterclass in manipulation.
Begin with a bible study on Romans 12 – and remind the bishops that it is all about unity - “what it means to be a body where we all depend on one another and live interconnected lives.” Forget all the tricky things that Paul has said in earlier chapters about God’s wrath being revealed against the “unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness supress the truth,” or those that come later, calling on them to “make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires.” Stick to the message of institutional unity at all costs.
Then move on to a discussion about the provision made for those unable to accept the ministry of women bishops – knowing that it is an issue that divides those orthodox on sexuality and that one of the more forthright bishops has already announced, “It ain’t working.” The timing of this ‘review’ cannot be a coincidence.
The House of Bishops Declaration on the Ministry of Bishops and Priests (2014) has formed a focus for discussion about the kind of “formal structural pastoral provision” that will be offered now that the Prayers of Love and Faith have been commended by the House of Bishops. Those seeking such provision have consistently said that the issue of blessing same-sex couples is of a different order to women’s ministry and thus greater provision would be required. For example, in this month’s Evangelicals Now, John Dunnett, the National Director of the CEEC, wrote that “any solution must provide orthodox archepiscopal oversight.” On the other hand, many of those wishing to use the Prayers of Love and Faith have said that such provision is unnecessary and divisive.
According to the Press Release, during the discussion the bishops “heard first hand examples of the experiences of female clergy, including examples of misogyny and online abuse,” and then there were, “discussions in small groups and in plenary about lessons which could be learned from the 2014 arrangements.”
It is likely that the bishops also heard from those for whom the arrangements had been made – but that is not recorded. Instead it would seem that the main reason for reviewing the 2014 provision at this point in time was to ensure that the lesson learned from it was simple - any formal provision, however inadequate, is divisive and allows abuse and misogyny (and potentially homophobia) to thrive.
But that is not all. The agenda continues.
Finish a difficult day with a relaxed evening – listening to wise “special guests” be interviewed by the Archbishop of Canterbury. It may have been more interesting if the “special guests” had also been able to interview the Archbishops – but that might have been harder to control.
Start the second day, thinking about “issues of public life.” In so doing, remind the Bishops that nowadays they are not primarily called to “teach truth and drive away error” in the Church – but to commend what is good in the world and challenge what is bad. It would be fascinating to know if any bishop dared raise the question of the Post Office scandal and the Archbishop of Canterbury’s support of Paula Vennells.
And once the bishops have been reminded of the importance of unity, the dangers of formal pastoral provision and the opportunities afforded by their place in the House of Lords, then, and only then, turn to the Prayers of Love and Faith.
“..the bishops discussed how we move forward as a whole Church, pay attention to the needs of those who hold profoundly different views, and consider making commitments on what a more unified approach to these next stages of implementation might look like.”
It seems that the simplistic manipulative message of the agenda did it’s work and the House of Bishops are agreed that a more unified approach is necessary, based at best on a 'commitment' from the House of Bishops.
Having kept the orthodox on board with promises of “formal structural pastoral provision,” it would appear such promises will soon dissolve.
The House of Bishops are now looking forward to the,“Bishop of Newcastle Helen-Ann Hartley and Bishop of Leicester, Martyn Snow, further developing a paper for General Synod next month.” They may be the only ones.
In the article mentioned earlier, John Dunnett suggests that if a “new ecclesial space for those wishing to depart from the Church of England’s historic and Biblical doctrine” is not created, then the Anglican Communion is likely to fall apart.
If this Press Release is to be believed, then CEEC must prepare to be disappointed.