Many episcopal colleagues may feel disappointed that the clergy did not buy a report laying down C of E policy for the world before it had even been to synod.
This kind of bloody nose may stir memories of the Anglican Covenant project — another disastrous and ecclesiologically inept attempt to make doctrine through lawyers that backfired.
But every failure brings opportunity...
This one gives us a chance to follow up the Shared Conversations, which were generally good and constructive, properly.
A fair and effective follow-up report will
- reflect truly what actually happened in the shared conversations, instead of being heavily loaded towards doing nothing politely. A lifetime of steering round difficulties rather than facing them may not fit us for an hour such as this, but the best way out is through. If the Church of England can make it through to a place of mutual respect and understanding, evidence from churches the other side of the Atlantic that have done this is that it can lead to great spiritual and community flourishing. Perpetuate the stale debates as they have been framed these past 40 years, and we're stuck with where we are.
- include someone openly LGBTI in its composition group — 2 if there are two strong advocates of the "Living Out" position which, let's face it, is an extreme and unusual niche point of view that should be heard with the respect it deserves, but not given a veto over the result compared to overwhelming majority views among LGBTI people
- It will include in its author group, alongside others, somebody who has actually begun to think through and articulate theology and Bible interpretation to affirm the possibility of gay people marrying. A group exclusively composed of people who have never thought such a thing might seriously be possible, or are profoundly hostile to the very notion, cannot map out how to deal with the reality around us, as it’s now shaping up.
- Understand the difference between a canon and the creed. It will use the traditional approach to marriage of the Church in England before 1950s new model indissolubilism, and the Higton Motion of 1987. The Doctrine Commission of 1922-38 would make a better starting point than either of these.
- Realise that you can't make your effective theology entirely through lawyers. Lawyers are the last people you consult, to give legal effect to what you have decided to do, not the first people you use to shape your theological options.
- Expunge the almost certainly unwitting Jewish / Gentile replacement theology in one paragraph that articulates this damaging approach to NT Scripture.
- Look forward to our real missional context over the next 10 years, not simply try to draw together an answer out of the wrangling of the past 20.
This reverse for the approach the house of bishops took is an invitation to renew episcopal ministry — We need Bishops who are confident about the possibilities and limits of their role, and able, more positively, to work according to the ordinal, as servants and enablers of the people of God in their mission.
The idea, so beloved of Caiaphas, that we can resolve differences by continuing to throw a minority under the bus, but doing it politely, if you please, is a busted flush.
Bishops are not called to be nannies, old school boarding headmasters, elite experts, or a cabinet of politicians trying to manage and fix a crisis.
True collegiality can only be founded on the reality of the people involved, the truth that sets people free, missional and pastoral alignment, and mutual respect. It does not come from political gamesmanship, groupthink and manipulation.
I think pretty much all the bishops know this, really. If we climbed down from various high horses, as clergy have had to do since the end of the great ages of deference, we would be better bishops, and our work would enable, not inhibit, the flourishing of the whole people of God.