An Unmutual Flourish?
The Maidstone Commitments, Bishop Rod Thomas’ recent document, is difficult to read. Not in the sense of receiving and understand the text, but in terms of determining its purpose and timing within the life of the Church of England.
Is it a final legacy piece from a Bishop approaching retirement? It seems unusual for a bishop for determine policy for his successor, that the next occupant inherits a policy not of his devising but of his predecessor’s. Of course, that assumes there will be a successor.
Is it more about succession than legacy? Will the first Bishop of Maidstone to provide alternative episcopal oversight be the last? Can the document then been seen as a plea to the Church establishment to continue to provide this episcopal ministry, with the assurance that the parishes will ‘play nicely’ within the system?
Certainly no-one could quibble with the need for better Safeguarding policies and practices, providing “safe pathways for raising concerns”. That issue remains perennial and paramount, particularly for Conservative Evangelicals in the light of the Smyth/Fletcher revelations.
What is unusual is the provision that those parishes who do not accept the ordination of women announce it publicly: “to state openly their theological convictions over men’s and women’s ministry”. This is one issue among many amongst the various and varying parishes in the Church of England as a whole; yet by highlighting this to the exclusion of all others, it makes one issue the only issue, colouring everything else a parish does in its proclamation of the gospel. Does a church service require an Advisory Warning to ensure persons of a nervous disposition can turn away?
It is difficult to see the spirit of the much-vaunted Mutual Flourishing in this approach. It appears one-sided to ensure complementarian parishes advertise their view on this issue, when other parishes do not have to highlight some of their doctrines and practices, in particular those where they clearly deviate from Scripture and the Thirty-nine Articles.
For example, would it not be more honest and transparent for a self-proclaimed ‘inclusive’ church to clearly and unequivocally state in its publicity, ‘We do not hold to biblical standards on sexuality and the orthodox Christian view of marriage’? Should certain so-called ‘modern’ churches declare, ‘We do not believe Christ rose bodily from the grave’? Should we ask some Anglo-Catholic parishes to outline which of the Thirty-nine Articles they wish to have re-written, deleted, or otherwise ignored?
It seems a complementarian view of women’s ordination is one of the ‘blasphemous fables and dangerous deceits’ of contemporary Anglicanism, so abhorrent that it must come with a spiritual health warning. A new form of social distancing is now required, lest the very concept pollutes the ears and infects the minds of potential visitors to these churches.
It remains to be seen whether this concession will be the price required to secure succession in Maidstone.
The unsigned author is an observant cleric long in Holy Orders.