OK, I admit straight away, this isn’t really about ‘heresy’ in the full-on sense of ‘damnable religious errors’. Nor can I think of a word-play on ‘supercalifragilisticexpialidocious’. But in the old sense of haeresis
, meaning wrongful divisions in the body of Christ, I do think that we are currently facing ‘heresies’ caused by fudging the issues, and we will soon be facing more.
Let us go back, for a moment, to the decision to ordain women into the priesthood of the Church of England, taken in 1992 — or rather, let us go back to the ‘indecision’, for that is unarguably what it was.
When the Church of England put to Parliament (as it had to) the necessary legislation to allow women to be ordained as priests, it included in that legislation the option for parishes to reject their priestly ministry. Looking back on it, that was an extraordinary thing to do. Is there any other example of a law where people can choose not to have that law apply to them?
Moreover, the Church itself spoke about the introduction of women priests as being a ‘process of reception’. That is to say, it was not prepared to commit itself to saying that this was exactly right —rather the approach would be ‘suck it and see’.
Then, on top of all this, Synod introduced its own legislation, an ‘Act of Synod’, to provide episcopal ministry for those who would be discomfited by the association of their existing bishop with the theology and action of ordaining women.
Thus, from its inception, the ordination of women was a fudge: systematically, deliberately — and inevitably, for without such a fudge it would not have taken place when it did. If the General Synod had been told, “You must decided now, one way or the other”, it is certain that it would have decided to wait.
However, the fudge was in place. And what happened next was equally inevitable, but unforseen by many. First, the assurances contained in the legislation where deliberately, but covertly, disregarded. The Act of Synod had declared that a person’s views on women’s ordination would not count against them when it came to selection for the higher offices in the Church. Yet extraordinarily, after 1993 almost no opponent of women’s ordination was found to have the qualities necessary to become a bishop. Indeed, there were unsubstantiated rumours of potential candidates being given a ‘fireside chat’ to inform them that on this issue there was only one option —you were for, or you were out
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