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Parliament has the right to decide on ‘women bishops’: Anglo-Catholics please note

If anyone doubted the Erastianism of the C of E, Frank Field has now proved it

By on Wednesday, 2 February 2011

Parliament can insist on women bishops in the Church of England (Photo: PA)

Parliament can insist on women bishops in the Church of England (Photo: PA)

I begin with the BBC’s report of an interesting Early Day Motion (EDM) recently tabled by the Labour MP Frank Field, who is someone I normally greatly admire – if only, for instance, he had been elected Speaker of the House of Commons rather than the present dire incumbent, respect for Parliament would, I am convinced, be appreciably higher than it is.

Frank Field is what is known as a “devout” (which means actually practising) member of the Church of England: and what he has just done adds even more conviction (if that were possible) to my deep thankfulness that I am no longer a member of that remarkable body. When I was, I was never really worried by the Church of England’s established status: I just ignored it, and carried on as a Catholic believer within my own little corner of the Anglo-Catholic ghetto. But Mr Field’s EDM makes it impossible to ignore the fact that the Establishment of the Church of England is no mere formality. I am shocked by what Mr Field has done: but I should not have been as surprised as I was. He is simply behaving as a convinced English Anglican has a right to behave. This is how the BBC reports Mr Field’s démarche, under the headline: “MPs push case for women bishops”.

A small group of MPs has called on the government to intervene to prevent the Church of England blocking plans to let women be bishops on a “technicality”. Labour ex-minister Frank Field wants to end the Church’s exemption from equality laws on gender discrimination.

He fears this loophole could mean the measure gets overwhelming support in the dioceses but is not passed by the General Synod due to the technicality. Mr Field’s Early Day Motion was signed by six MPs from all three main parties.
They were Liberal Democrat deputy leader Simon Hughes, Labour former Home Secretary David Blunkett, Diana Johnson, Labour ex-minister Stephen Timms, Natascha Engel, and veteran Conservative Sir Peter Bottomley.

In the motion, Mr Field said the General Synod expected to debate the final approval stage in July 2012.
The motion “encourages the House of Bishops to commend the measure as currently drafted; and calls upon Her Majesty’s government to remove any exemptions pertaining to gender under existing equality legislation, in the event that the measure has overwhelming support in the dioceses but fails through a technicality to receive final approval in General Synod”.
The issue of allowing women to become bishops has long been a divisive one in the Church of England.

Well, we all knew that. But I think most people supposed that the Church of England alone would decide this matter, that it was more or less self-governing in these enlightened times – that it had, in other words, moved on from the days when Newman could write (in a note in the French edition of his Apologia pro Vita Sua, explaining Anglicanism) that: “This remarkable Church has always been in the closest dependence on the civil power and has always gloried in this.” Newman went on to explain that “it has ever regarded the papal power with fear, with resentment and with aversion, and it has never won the heart of the people”. It has, said Newman “either had no opinions, or has constantly changed them… The great principle of the Anglican Church [is] its confidence in the protection of the civil power and its docility in serving it, which its enemies call its Erastianism.”
In Newman’s day, this Erastianism was particularly dear to the Tories: Mr Field has now shown that here at least there has been an advance towards modernity: the Erastianism of the Church of England is now an “all party” concern, uniting Mr Field and Mr Simon Hughes, Mr Blunkett and Sir Peter Bottomley (undoubtedly, if she were still in the Commons, this entente would include his lovely wife Virginia, a great advocate of women’s ordination in her day).
The point is that the C of E’s “docility” before the civil power has always been quietly taken for granted by its hierarchy. If Parliament insists that the legislation be passed in the Synod (and don’t forget that whatever legislation Synod passes has to be rubber-stamped by the civil Parliament over the road, normally a formality), then it will knuckle under, with only a few perfunctory protests here and there.

That’s why Mr Field has tabled his EDM: he knows that’s the way things have always been. It isn’t always necessarily such a bad thing: when several hundred Anglican priests resigned over women’s ordination in the early 1990s, thereby losing their homes, stipends and vocations at a stroke, Parliament insisted that they receive financial compensation for this involuntary change in their conditions of employment: if the C of E had been a real Church, answerable only to theological principle, rather than a “national institution” (Newman again) answerable to the secular ideological principles of the day, they would, ironically, have left with nothing: in this case, one secular principle (employment  rights) trumped another (the “equality” of women).
So, in the end, maybe Mr Field’s EDM isn’t such a bad thing, after all. At least we know where we all stand. The state has the power to insist on “women bishops” in the Church of England, should it care to exercise it. It has no such power over the Church of Rome, and it knows it – and so does Mr Field. Those Anglicans of a Catholic mind who hope they can maintain intact the illusion that the Church of England is still the ancient Catholic Church of this land, that they can carry on somehow pretending that things are not as they have now once more unmistakeably been shown to be, should take careful note of these things. And then they should act accordingly.

  • Nightblogger

    Let’s not forget that the primary reason for the Erastian Elizabethan settlement was to have ultimate state control over Protestant and Catholic extremes so that they didn’t continue killing each other. If the state now has to intervene to ensure that the established church continues to respect the equality on which oour state is built then so be it – though personally I doubt it will come to that.

  • Jorge

    You actually believe in gender ideology? You believe that the average woman is just as capable and willing as the average man to be a combat soldier, while the average man is just as capable as the average woman to take care of small children?

    If you ask the average girl what she wants to do when she grows up, would she reply “I want to be a soldier!”?

    Men and woman are equal in dignity, but not in vocations.

    To force woman-bishops in the CoE would be evil. That is against Tradition. Therefore, the woman-bishops will be, by exclusion, people who care not about Tradition. What I mean is, not only do women in general lack God’s mandate to be bishops, but the ones that insist on it are precisely the ones who are not pious.

    In other words, the CoE may go in the direction of the Episcopal Church of the USA.

    They need our prayers.

  • GFFM

    Are you kidding “equality?” You think incessant intrusion into religious belief and affairs is about equality? Utterly and completely ridiculous.

  • Anonymous

    “remove any exemptions pertaining to gender under existing equality legislation”

    Is it just me who sees these words and feels a sense of alarm that the removal of such exemptions would not be read as applying only to the CofE?

    Clearly, no government can force the Catholic Church to ordain women – but it might not stop them trying, and persecuting us when we refuse.

  • AncientBritonPetros
  • W Oddie

    Yes, I WAS kidding, of course I was: that’s why I put “equality” in quotes.

  • W Oddie

    See my response to GFFM above. Of course i don’t beieve in secular ideas about gender equality. But the secularised C of E does: that’s the point.

  • Gavin Drake

    What part of “calls upon Her Majesty’s government to remove any exemptions pertaining to gender under existing equality legislation” do you think exempts the Catholic Bishops Conference of England and Wales from this threat?

  • Jorge

    I was responding to Nightblogger.

    I know you do not believe in gender ideology – no orthodox Catholic does.

  • Maridadi

    Brendan Behan put it a little more crudly: “I couldn’t see myself in a Church founded on the syphalitic bollocks of a serial killer.”

  • W Oddie

    Sorry; of course you were.

  • W Oddie

    Well, let them try it. What a good opportunity for our bishops to witness to their faith: maybe they will sen a few to jail.

  • Jonathan P Manning

    It’s not just you, that’s the first thought that crossed my mind. Perhaps we can expect a situation like China’s were there are ‘official’ catholic bishops who are approved by the state and who might be women, and an authentic underground catholic church with real bishops.

  • David Lindsay

    Even if for the wrong reasons, Frank Field is right. The General Synod does not have the final say on women bishops in the Church of England. Parliament has. No one who does not accept in full the claims of Rome can submit to Her; no one who does can fail to do so. In its own terms, if a new network of Conservative Evangelical congregations would better serve the proclamation of the Gospel, then it must be created anyway. In neither case does any other consideration arise. Certainly, the prospect of either need not concern Parliament as a body.

    Classical Christianity is the basis of this state and the foundation of all three of its political traditions. But independent research has found very large proportions of the women among the Church of England’s clergy to be doubters of or disbelievers in key points of doctrine. Two thirds deny “that Jesus Christ was born of a Virgin”. One quarter denies the existence “of God the Father Who created the world”. Assuming a woman on the episcopal “team” in each diocese, of those with privileged access to the media and other organs of national life as the voice of the Christianity professed by seventy-two per cent of Britons, at least one eighth would be agnostics or atheists.

    A positive decision to retain declared “Fathers in God” within our parliamentary system and wider national life would emphasise the importance of fatherhood. That would set the tone for the introduction of a legal presumption of equal parenting. For the restoration of the tax allowance for fathers for so long as Child Benefit is being paid to mothers. For the restoration of the requirement that providers of fertility treatment take account of the child’s need for a father, and the repeal of the ludicrous provision for two women to be listed as a child’s parents on a birth certificate, although even that is excelled by the provision for two men to be so listed. And for paternity leave to be made available at any time until the child was 18 or left school.

    That last, in particular, would reassert paternal authority, and thus require paternal responsibility, at key points in childhood and adolescence. That authority and responsibility require an economic basis such as only the State can ever guarantee, and such as only the State can very often deliver. And that basis is high-wage, high-skilled, high-status employment. All aspects of public policy must take account of this urgent social and cultural need. Not least, that includes energy policy: the energy sources to be preferred by the State are those providing the high-wage, high-skilled, high-status jobs that secure the economic basis of paternal authority in the family and in the wider community. So, nuclear power. And coal, not dole.

    To argue for this by word and by sheer presence is a role for living icons of God the Father, addressed as “Fathers in God”. Parliament must do its duty and reassert the importance of fatherhood by rejecting any proposal for women bishops. No matter what.

  • RJ

    Yes, that occurred to me also. What if it becomes illegal to refuse to ‘marry’ two homosexuals. The reasoning would be something like: the Church is offering a service to one section of the community which it is ‘unfairly’ denying to another on the grounds of sexual orientation.

  • Barry

    If parliament removed the exemption, it would not do it just for the C/E, that would be discrimination. It would then apply to RC priests and Muslim Imans. It obviously won’t happen. Frank Field was just expressing an opinion, nothing more.

  • Anonymous

    “What if it becomes illegal to refuse to ‘marry’ two homosexuals. The reasoning would be something like: the Church is offering a service to one section of the community which it is ‘unfairly’ denying to another on the grounds of sexual orientation.”

    This has already been explicitly theatened, see below.

    The agenda is one of “gradual creep” – winning their war step by step.

    Ben Summerskill, head of gay campaigners Stonewall, recently said: “Right now faiths shouldn’t be forced to hold civil partnerships, although in ten or 20 years that may change.”

  • Anonymous

    More worrying, and more likely, is a level of financial penalisation which would lead to the sale of church property to pay fines.

    And can we really see ourt bishops going to jail for the faith? They’d crumble happily in the face of the threat. “Oh Holy Father, but we HAD to…”

  • W Oddie

    That would be the test. if they were to refuse to pay, then they could get themselves sent to jail. That’s what we could encourage them to do. Unfortunately, it won’t happen (I mean of course that they won’t get the chance to prove their fidelity).

  • Bwaj

    No Frank Field. Parliament has no right to decide on these matters. God speaks through His true Church (the Catholic Church) and those who disobey her by voting for the invalid consecration of ‘bishopesses’ will be cast into Hell on the Last Day..

  • Bwaj

    They will be cast into Hell if they try.

  • Bwaj

    That’s what Summerskill thinks. It was the ‘New World Order’ who said homosexual sins would be legalized six months before this rebellion.

  • Bwaj

    Perhaps you should remember it is not only the invalid ordination of women to the presbyterate and episcopate that is leading many Anglo-Catholics (who believe in many ways as traditional Catholics do concerning the Catholic Church, the Sacraments, invocation of Saints, Purgatory etc.,.) but also their condemnation of homosexuality (i.e. sodomy and same-sex unions).

  • Bwaj

    Frank Field should get it through his thick head – the antiChrist government does not own the Catholic Church. The head of the Catholic Church is the Pope..As for Muslims – they wouldn’t dare – have you ever heard of cases concerning this Satanic ‘equality’ tripe being brought against Muslims?

  • Bwaj

    Perhaps you should understand the facts about the Church of England – Henry VIII, invalidly, declared himself head of the Church which he was not. Parliament has never had any such right even where the CofE is concerned and for the record when Parliament rejected the 1928 Book of Common Prayer but the General Synod (and House of Lords) twice voted for it the invalid opinion of Parliament was rejected.

  • Bwaj

    Let’s get history right and not the lies of false historians shall we? Henry VIII executed Protestants as heretics because they rejected ‘The Six Articles’ (1539). He martyred Catholics for rejecting the Royal Supremacy. When he died Parliament, without authority, repealed ‘The Six Articles’ (1539) and martyred many Catholics because of their Faith. It had nothing to do with Edward VI as these acts were made in his name by Protestants who wanted Church land and money for themselves. It is not right to call Queen Mary ‘Bloody Mary’ because of her Catholic Faith as there are few historians who acknowledge that under Mary the original articles of King Hinry VIII (‘The Six Articles’ (1539)) was restored by Parliament and there was even a day of repentance for England’s sliding into Protestantism.

  • Bwaj

    If women want to be soldiers that is upto them – not you.

  • candylin

    render unto ceaser..poor c of e  i do hope some good comes out of all this .

  • Robin L

    The excellent evangelical Anglican theologian Colin Buchanan, formerly Bishop of Nottingham
    foresaw precisely the current morass in which the Anglican Church now finds itself.
    Colin Buchanan called for the disestablishment of the Church of England a decade ago and he
    did have support among a sizeable number of Anglican clergy.
    I doubt whether politicians have the Constitutional power to change the apostolic structure of
    the Church of England, since that power rests with the Queen and the Primate equally. It would certainly be an interesting question if the Queen disagreed with Welby over episcopal priestesses.
    However I do think that those in the Christian Churches who have woken up to the relentless
    drive of secularism and neo-liberalism to transform and remake all societies and traditions in the image of their gods, to start the reverse revival of resistance and tradition by impassioning their fellow
    Christians to recover their true faith!

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