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The High Price of Establishment

By Wesley J Smith, First Things

I happened to be in London when the Church of England voted to reject female bishops. The verdict came as quite a surprise.

[...]  Because traditionalists elected enough of their own to the House of Laity two years ago, they were able to prevent the requisite majority in that body by six votes.

Uproar! Thunder and lightning! Wailing and gnashing of teeth! Newspapers—conservative and liberal alike—ran screaming headlines decrying the “scandal” of rejection. Caustic editorials flew in all directions. The Church was accused of “committing suicide.” Even Prime Minister David Cameron decried the rejection from the floor of Parliament, warning darkly that the Church of England had better “get with the program.”

As an American, it was a bemusing experience. I had never seen an entire nation react so viscerally to the action—or in this case, inaction—of a church.

But I was astonished when, the day after the vote, the Archbishop of Canterbury not only bemoaned the failure in his farewell speech to the General Synod, but also insisted that the Church had betrayed its responsibility to reflect the sensibilities and values of the general culture: “Whatever the motivation for voting yesterday,” Williams sternly lectured his flock, “whatever the theological principle on which people acted or spoke,” dissenters had to understand that their objection to woman bishops “is not intelligible to wider society. Worse than that, it seems as if we are willfully blind to some of the trends and priorities of wider society.”

Whatever his settled views of the matter, the unfortunate suggestion in these remarks is that the Church of England has the duty to be of as well as in society, rather than in, but not of it—a breathtaking assertion for a major Christian leader that turns the traditional and proper role of faith on its head.

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