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Monday, 8 April 2013

The burden of conscience

"Fight valiantly as a disciple of Christ
against sin, the world and the devil,
and remain faithful to Christ to the end of your life."

To the non-Anglican the Church of England must appear to be an archaic debating society in which the newly 'enlightened' struggle to drag reluctant members into the 21st Century. In a secular society most people at least have some understanding of conscientious objection but apparently not in a religious context so they employ secular criteria to arrive at the wrong conclusion. I remember men who were not called to fight in WWII being described as 'conscies' without any awareness of the facts. Possibly they were conscientious objectors but they were probably in reserved occupations which barred them from active service.

During WWI in their ignorance many feminists and suffragettes handed out white feathers to men who were not in uniform, including honourably discharged wounded soldiers and those on leave from the front assuming them to be cowards. So earnest were some of these women that the facts became irrelevant to their cause believing only what they wanted to believe.

Little has changed. Maintaining the baptismal promise to "remain faithful to Christ" in one's attitude to the ordination of women attracts the stigma of misogyny. Continuing to believe that Holy Matrimony is an honourable estate between one man and one woman attracts the stigma of homophobia while the charge of bigotry is freely hurled at anyone who fails to toe the shifting revisionist line. Fortunately a significant minority still consider relevant facts so they refused to vote in favour of the ordination of women bishops without the promised safeguards that enabled women to be ordained priests in the Church of England resulting in a defeat of their own making.

I have no idea what to expect from the July 2013 Synod but some have suggested that a two-stage Bill similar to that being presented to the Governing Body (GB) of the Church in Wales in September may be a way forward. According to a Press Release preliminary GB group discussions are to take place on 10 April but given the firm stand already taken by the establishment (here and here) it is difficult to see what could be offered that would be acceptable to traditionalists resulting in the danger that if no agreement were possible the establishment would seek to find a way around the problem in the knowledge that the ordination of women bishops had been agreed. That does not suggest a sensible solution for those who already feel betrayed by actions taken to date.

In looking for a new way forward women who would be bishops and their supporters must accept that for traditionalists, remaining faithful to Christ is not an optional extra but the faith of the Holy Catholic Church as we understand it in common with the majority of catholic and orthodox Christians worldwide. If we were a debating society to be swayed by secular criteria we would not have to bear the burden of conscience but that is not how it is. To say yes to secularism would be saying 'no' to Christ. 

The honourable way forward would be to satisfy first the needs of traditionalists and evangelicals. To do otherwise would perpetuate the legacy of ordaining women to the priesthood by fair means or foul, in that case foul given the already broken promises. In conscience as Christians we can and must do better.

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