Anglican Perspectives

Update from the Church of England

chris sugden

Source:  AAC International Update

The following first appeared in the January 22, 2013 edition of the American Anglican Council’s International Update email. Sign up for this free email here.

By Vinay Samuel and Chris Sugden

On Friday, January 18, the House of Laity debated a motion of “no confidence in the chairman”.

We enclose a report by Sarah Finch here as well as the text of Philip Giddings’ speech here in response to the debate. The motion was defeated by 80 votes to 47 with 13 abstentions.

Robert Piggott, a BBC Religion correspondent, judged that “Whatever the precise intention, the motion’s defeat, by a comfortable margin, not only leaves Dr Giddings secure in his post, but will stiffen the resolve of conservative Evangelicals, and traditionalists on the Church’s catholic wing, in their demands for exemptions from serving under women bishops in the future. ”

The fact that this motion was supported by a number indicates something significant in our culture which has affected the Church of England. It is the relationship between diversity and commitment.

Elaine Storkey, whose commitments include being President of Fulcrum and of Tear Fund, argued that: “We would have to get confidence that Dr Giddings’ loyalty to the House of Laity does not come second, to be at variance with his loyalty to any other groups, including Anglican Mainstream….We would have to have confidence that he is at the very heart of our church’s concern in its mission in the world today. We would have to have confidence in Dr Giddings’ focus of unity in our church. We would need to believe that he has the persuasion and relevance in the public square when representing lay members of the church……..Do we have confidence in Dr Giddings to lead us into the future with the Church of England with all the things he has on his plate?’

Dr Storkey asked whether, given Dr Giddings’ known theological commitments, he is capable of exercising the role of Chairman of the House of Laity. She did not think so. In other words, having certain theological commitments meant it was impossible to exercise the embrace of diversity she required of a chairman, a representative, a leader in mission and a focus of unity.

Dr. Storkey here redefines the office of chairman. In her view it should represent the majority opinion. This contrasts sharply with the view that one of the roles of a chairman is to protect minority opinions. This demonstrates one of the current fault lines over diversity.

Dr Philip Giddings
Dr. Giddings

One view is that we should not keep pandering to minorities for too long, be they religious or political. At some point they have to shape up or ship out. This view has often characterized certain political views and parties of the right and is often born out of fear and a sense of being threatened. It is somewhat odd to find it espoused by the President of Tear Fund, an evangelical development agency set up initially by the Evangelical Alliance.

The Anglican view on diversity has always been, within the limits of scriptural and Anglican obedience, that the majority do not define the limits of what the minority can believe and do.

Dr Giddings responded that his commitments were known at the time of his election; that he did not argue for those commitments in his synod speech on November 20, but that he saw it as his duty to represent the concerns of a minority in the House of Laity which had not adequately been addressed in the discussion of the women bishops’ legislation which they regarded as inadequate and flawed. He was arguing for diversity.

Ruth Gledhill, the Times Religious correspondent, said on BBC Radio on December 30 that “the legislation which I reread again recently was not actually very good – many would say it was a bit cobbled together and maybe in the long term it might be seen to be the right decision that it did not go through this time.” I am given to understand senior figures in the Church of England have since reached the same conclusion.

Philip Giddings articulated that point in his speech on November 20.

The people who faced particular anger after the November 20 vote were not those who could not accept the development of women bishops, but those who could, yet voted against the proposed legislation on the grounds that it was flawed and did not provide “proper provision”. On certain matters diversity is not allowed.

And here is the shadow that hangs over the resolution of the women bishops’ issue even though the House of Bishops stated in its December meeting that those who could accept and those who could not accept women bishops were both loyal Anglicans.

Some of the arguments deployed in the “no confidence” debate show that some proponents of women bishops not only do not think the position of those who cannot accept women bishops is legitimately Anglican, they do not think their case should even be made on their behalf by anyone with a representative role because such a case does not belong in their definition of what it is to be Anglican. Is the issue then more accurately put that having particular theological commitments renders one in their eyes incapable of the “even handed representation of diverse views” they require of a chairman? The question may fairly be asked in return to them – do their commitments render them incapable of allowing the diversity they so applaud in principle? Who are the closed minded now?

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