Church of England

There's one surefire way of silencing objectors to women bishops – without changing the liturgy

 

There is a serial objector who pops up at the consecration of just about every woman bishop in the Church of England, and he isn’t even an Anglican. The Rev’d Stephen Holland is pastor of Westhaughton Evanglical Church, which proclaims: “We are a Bible believing church and hold to the complete and full revelation of God’s word to mankind as revealed in the Holy Bible. We believe such contains all that is necessary for man’s spiritual knowledge, wellbeing and future happiness.”

Fair enough.

The problem is that Mr Holland seems to believe that all other churches must also believe what his church believes about the Bible and its apprehension of “full revelation”; and also believe what he believes about spiritual knowledge, wellbeing and the pursuit of happiness. And none of these, it seems, can come from women bishops, so he trundles from cathedral to cathedral waiting for his moment to butt in and proclaim the authoritative word of God and expound the “full revelation” of the role of women in the Church.

The campaign group WATCH (Women and the Church) are understandably irritated that a pathological misogynist keeps ruining their special consecratory days, so they’ve asked the Archbishop of Canterbury to put a stop to the protests. In a statement, they include part of their appeal to Justin Welby:

“…such interruptions create the perception that the Church is willing to allow a woman who has been called by God and the Church, and appointed by the Crown, to be publicly insulted and undermined. If that is so, it undermines and insults all women: and especially women for whom female bishops are potent symbols of a radical shift in the Church’s treatment of women. ‘Maybe things haven’t changed at all, underneath’, they might conclude.”

And the Archbishop has heard their cries, and has responded. It seems that “conversations are in progress with the relevant people so that, in future, objections such as that at Canterbury Cathedral in June will not be allowed”.

Thing is..

In the Church of England’s liturgy for the Ordination and Consecration of a Bishop, we find this:

Consecration of bishop

Now then..

The masculine pronoun may be italicised, but it is most definitely masculine. Some might argue that this very liturgy undermines women’s ministry more than the serial objections of the Rev’d Stephen Holland or similar objections made by the Rev’d Paul Williamson on the grounds of an “absolute impediment”. And note that the opportunity to object is intrinsic to the liturgy. What’s the point of asking the congregation: “Is it now your will that he(/she) should be ordained?” if that will may not be expressed in the negative? What manner of liturgy is it which asks the people of God a straightforward ‘yea/nay’ question but then limits the response to ‘yea’ in a manner which coerces the conscience of those who demur? Surely WATCH ought to tolerate the intolerant, and smother Mr Holland with lots of feminine episcopal love instead of seeking to cast him into outer darkness?

Except..

What if a Roman Catholic priest, believing, as Pope Emeritus Benedict does, that Anglican Holy Orders are “absolutely null and utterly void“, decided to intervene in multiple Church of England weddings at the point where the vicar asks: “First, I am required to ask anyone present who knows a reason why these persons may not lawfully marry, to declare it now”? What if this meddlesome priest went from parish to parish to proclaim, at this moment of opportunity, in accordance with his notion of “full revelation”, that since the officiating minister is not a valid priest, that he (or she, whose holy orders, being a woman, are not merely “absolutely null and utterly void”, but morally, ethically, spiritually, physically null, and positively, absolutely, undeniably and reliably void) may not presume to marry any couple in the sight of God, and so the service is a sham, a façade, a fraud perpetuated on the poor couple who are being duped into believing that they are married in the sight of God?

Lawful as his objection would be (for the call to know any ‘just cause or impediment‘ is a statutory obligation), would it be acceptable? Would the serial undermining by a minister of another Christian denomination to the lawful liturgy and theological validity of Anglican Christian marriage be tolerated?

The answer, of course, is no. Couples would be incensed if their happy day were ruined not merely by the jarring interjection during the marriage ceremony, but by the weeks and months of worry as the day approached.

There is no statutory obligation at all upon the Church of England to seek the views of congregants at the consecration of a woman bishop, so the liturgy may be amended. Perhaps members of the Liturgical Commission might put a proposal to Synod, inclining more toward an affirmation on behalf of those gathered, so that instead of asking the question: “Is it now your will..?”, the Archbishop declares something like: “And so, by your presence here today, you affirm and bear witness to the ordination of X..”

At least that might deter those who demur on the validity of women bishops from attending their services of consecration. And those who decide to be present but still demur are denied the opportunity to object.

And yet..

There is something vital and vibrant in the liturgical exchange as it is presently formulated: the drama makes the congregation active and participant. If this is to be retained, there is no reasonable way of silencing those who decide to be offended.

Unless..

There is one surefire way of silencing the Rev’d Stephen Holland: report him to the police for ‘hate speech’. Really, it would render his protests as “absolutely null and utterly void” as Anglican Holy Orders. Beyond all doubt; really, it would. For the consecration of women bishops involves two cardinal ‘protected characteristics‘ – gender identity and religion – and the police will record as a ‘hate crime’ anyone who offends against them (along with race, sexual orientation and disability). A ‘hate crime’ is defined as: “any criminal offence which is perceived, by the victim or any other person, to be motivated by a hostility or prejudice towards someone based on a personal characteristic”. And hostility is defined as including: “ill-will, ill-feeling, spite, contempt, prejudice, unfriendliness, antagonism, resentment and dislike”. That sounds like one or two objectors to women bishops.

And if the Church of England ever moves to consecrate a one-legged lesbian of Asian extraction as a bishop, you could probably get the troublesome Rev’d Stephen Holland muzzled for good for offending against every protected characteristic under the sun. Being a good Christian, he’ll deny that he’s motivated by hate, of course, but that doesn’t matter: if you feel he is, as WATCH clearly do, you can report him via the True Vision (‘Stop Hate Crime’) website. No evidence is necessary: this is about subjective perceptions, emotions and hurt feelings, not verifiable judgments of hostility. You can even remain anonymous. How neat and convenient is that?