River Wissey Lovell Fuller

Reader's Letter

March 2005

Keith looks at the dilemmas that faces his church Synod

I am looking out of my window at the remains of last night's snow and gales, but we are only a few weeks from Easter and although the ground is drenched, the sky is blue and the sun shining strongly. Midwinter seems barely days ago and yet I can already see the promise of Spring and Summer, with some daffodils already out.

It is a busy time for us in the Church. Lent has already started. The General Synod starts its latest sittings as I write - it is a time when we are expected to be thoughtful and caring and to look at all that we have and to ask how we can be compassionate and generous.

The Synod (which is the nearest thing the Church of England has to a governing body) is not going to discuss the recently announced impending marriage of Charles and Camilla, although many are convinced that this finally disqualifies Charles from becoming Supreme Governor of the Church, when he accedes to the throne - and by the next Synod the marriage will have been celebrated and then, after the civil ceremony, blessed by the Archbishop of Canterbury himself. Probably most Britons feel that it is about time they got on with it and good luck to them. Many, many Christians also feel, if only out of compassion, that we should be generous and wish them luck.

The big issue before the Synod, that IS on the agenda, is the question of Women Bishops. Having now ruled that women can be ordained as priests, it seems barely logical, even theologically logical, that they should be rejected on principle as candidates for elevation to the rank of Bishop. Confused into this debate is the question of the standing of gay men and women in the Church, especially in the priesthood.

The opposition to any further relaxing of the rules is based on interpretations of the Bible and the lack of apostolic tradition for women and gays in these roles. It is sincere. Those who are in favour point to Jesus' attitude to the law of Moses. He was NOT cavalier in disregarding it, as some suppose, but argued strongly for the need to uphold the law. However, when asked which were the most important laws, he summarised the whole of the law into two commandments - to love God and to love humankind. He looked beyond the prohibitions and requirements of the detailed written law to the motives behind and the divine purpose of the law. By the same token, for example he adjudged any one as fully guilty of adultery who even looked lasciviously at a member of the opposite sex, even if those thoughts remained wholly private. Where circumstances required, he would breach the letter of the law - for example he would heal on the Sabbath.

So I would argue that our adherence to law and tradition must not be blind or unthinking. Many years ago Galileo Galilei was convicted by the Church for his propagation of what were perceived as heretical theories - theories which are now widely, if not wholly universally, accepted. He said 'I do not feel obliged to believe that the same God who has endowed us with sense, reason, and intellect has intended us to forgo their use.' I find it very difficult to find any basis for contradicting any part of that. In fact, I would add to it, that the God of unearned Mercy and unnecessary Grace must appreciate us the more when we find it in ourselves to give undeserved Mercy and Grace to whose with who we have to deal - ie when we obey Jesus' command to love our neighbour.

With a following wind and possibly some divine nudging, maybe our Synod will be able to look at the rules and traditions and apply sense, reason, intellect, mercy and grace to their application. I am sure that Galileo had every confidence that in four hundred years people would look back and marvel at the hidebound attitude adopted by the Church towards him with horrified amusement, as we do (except for the flat-earthers of whom there are still some about). I am personally confident that in another four hundred years people will be as horrified and amused at the 20th Century Church's attitude to the inferiority of women as most of the Dutch Reformed Church in South Africa are now to their attitude to the inferiority of non-white races only 25 years ago.

GK Chesterton was a Roman Catholic writer in the first half of the 20th Century. All of us who are sure we are right need to think about his view of bigotry. 'It is not bigotry to be certain we are right; but it is bigotry to be unable to imagine how we might possibly have got it wrong.' I hope we have no bigots sitting in the General Synod on either or any side of any of the debates.

I have mostly looked at the question of Women Bishops in the Church of England, which is, in a sense, a private domestic difficulty - but the same general sentiments apply to any debate or dispute about change and progress. NIMBY is a sort of Chestertonian bigotry!

Keith MacLeod

Licensed Lay Minister (CofE)

Keith Mac Leod

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