Subverting Diversity: An open letter to the Archbishops of Canterbury and York

Jan 10, 2019 by

from the Parochial Church Council of St George’s, Headstone, Harrow

The Most Revd and Rt Hon Justin Welby
The Most Revd and Rt Hon Dr John Sentamu

Your Graces,

The Parochial Church Council of St George’s, Headstone has considered the Independent Reviewer’s report of 13 December 2018 on its grievance brought against the Bishop of London in connection with the House of Bishops’ Declaration on the Ministry of Bishops and Priests. The Independent Reviewer has misrepresented the PCC’s grounds of grievance, and undermined assurances given in the House of Bishops’ Declaration and the appended Guidance proffered to promote a ‘climate of trust’ [Declaration paras 10, 30, 38, Guidance para 2], ensure ‘mutual flourishing’ [Declaration paras 5 (points 4, 5), 14, 38] and ‘sustain diversity’ [Guidance para 2]. For the reasons given below the PCC believes that the Independent Reviewer has not acted impartially and fairly and that, in accordance with paragraphs 5 and 7 of the 2014 regulations made under Canon C29, he should be removed from office.

In particular, he has

  • isolated the PCC’s requests from their carefully articulated theological context [Report paras 20-22, 45, 50-54],
  • ignored the PCC’s theological conviction of ‘the gender-specificity of the episcopate as intrinsic to, and its sacramental significance dependent upon, its marital status prescribed in Holy Scripture and the Ordinal appended to the Book of Common Prayer’ [Grounds of Grievance i], and thereby
  • precluded as not ‘founded on theological conviction in relation to gender and ordained ministry’ or ‘the ordained ministry of women’ [Report paras 36-37] the PCC’s request for a bishop ‘whose marital status conforms with Apostolic teaching and practice expressed in the historic teaching and practice of the Church of England’ [2016 Resolution and Statement of Theological Conviction and Needs],
  • misrepresented the PCC’s unambiguously expressed ‘theology of communion’ [Grounds of Grievance ix, x, xi] as a ‘theology of taint’ whereby ‘a bishop who ordains women to the episcopate or the priesthood thereby invalidates his own orders and renders invalid the orders of those whom he subsequently ordains’ [Report paras 50-53],
  • excluded relevant correspondence from the published documents [S Keeble to the Independent Reviewer, 3.12.18, reproduced below],
  • invoked extraneous sources to vitiate the plain sense of the House of Bishops’ Declaration and correspondence in 2016 with the then Bishop of London concerning the PCC’s Resolution and Statement of Theological Conviction and Needs [Report paras 24-33, 41-43, 50-53],
  • regarded distinctive traditional catholic and conservative evangelical theological convictions on female ordination as matters of ‘churchmanship’, extrinsic to the commitments of the House of Bishops’ Declaration [Report para 54], and thereby
  • nullified the House of Bishops’ undertaking to accommodate differing requirements of traditional catholics and conservative evangelicals [Declaration paras 5 (point 5), 9, 10, 22, 23, 26, 30, Guidance paras 2, 4, 13].

St George’s PCC remains unable to recognise the appointment of either the Bishop of Fulham or the Bishop of Maidstone as consonant with its Resolution and Statement of Theological Conviction and Needs and the pledges of the House of Bishops’ Declaration. Irrespective of the Declaration, however, the PCC is grateful for the promise of the continued sacramental and pastoral ministry of the Rt Rev’d Robert Ladds, retired Bishop of Whitby and an assistant bishop in the Diocese of London. Neither the Bishop of Fulham nor the Bishop of Maidstone will be invited to exercise his ministry at St George’s, Headstone.

Yours faithfully,

Richard Buck

Secretary to the Parochial Church Council of St George’s, Headstone

10 January 2019

Response allowed by Independent Reviewer to the Bishop of London’s letter to the Vicar and Churchwardens of St George’s, Headstone of 1 November 2018 (after the PCC’s submission of the grievance) with a request (declined) for it to be included among the documents annexed to the report.

The Bishop of London’s view of the legitimacy of the marital element of the PCC’s statement and request is set out on page 3.

The bishop states that ‘the issue of divorce and remarry (sic) are not within the criteria set out in the House of Bishops’ Declaration’. However, the scriptural stipulation that a bishop must be the husband of (no more than) one wife, included in the Ordinal, both excludes the possibility of female bishops – there is no allowance for a bishop to be the wife of (no more than) one husband – and places episcopacy within the context of biblical teaching on marriage, from Adam and Eve, to God’s marriage to Israel, to Christ as bridegroom and the Church as bride. The marital aspect of the PCC’s statement is, therefore, clearly ‘founded on theological conviction in relation to gender and ordained ministry’ (Guidance, para 10).

The catholic understanding of marriage set forth in the Form of the Solemnization of Holy Matrimony in the Book of Common Prayer – between one man and one woman until parted by death – is not explicitly enjoined in the New Testament: proto protestant Martin Luther allowed polygamy in certain circumstances on the basis that ‘it does not contradict Scripture’ (letter to Gregor Brück, 27 January 1524); Resolution 26 at the Lambeth Conference of 1988 made a qualified allowance for polygamy within the Anglican Communion. The only unambiguous New Testament prohibition of polygamy concerns bishops, presbyters, and deacons (1 Timothy 3.2, Titus 1.5-6, 1 Timothy 3.12).

According to historic catholic teaching marriage is indissoluble. I am unaware of any attempt by the Bishop of Fulham to relate to the catholic constituency how his first marriage was either a ‘non-marriage’ or ‘voidable’ in terms of the Marriage Statement issued in 2002 by the Provincial Episcopal Visitors and former Bishop of Fulham, still available as one of the ‘Resources’ on the Forward in Faith website. By all appearances the Bishop of Fulham’s second marriage lies outside the bounds of catholicity, mitigating against the holy order revealed in and through Christ and duly embodied in the Church.

The scriptural preclusions of female bishops and episcopal polygamy are not unrelated, neither are they merely socially conditioned: like the catholic understanding of the indissolubility of marriage they are rooted in the apprehension of the ontological priority of the ‘mystical union that is betwixt Christ and his Church’. This ontological foundation also means that the catholic understanding of the bishop in apostolic succession acting ‘eis topon kai typon Christou’ (in the place and as a type of Christ), ‘in persona Christi’ (in the person of Christ) and ‘in persona Christi capitis’ (in the person of Christ the head) is not ‘analogical’ or ‘metaphorical’, but sacramental.

The Bishop of London’s observation that ‘the House of Bishops in May 2010 made the decision that divorce and remarriage should not exclude episcopal ministry’ has no bearing on the House of Bishops’ declared right of catholic Anglicans to appropriate episcopal provision. At the time of the House of Bishops’ decision to allow divorced and remarried men to become bishops the National Secretary of Forward in Faith told the Sunday Telegraph: ‘The doctrine of matrimony is closely associated with ecclesiology and so it would seem utterly unacceptable that divorce and remarriage be part of the regimen of those who are called to represent and effect the unity of the Church’.

From a catholic perspective the Bishop of London’s thoughts on the marriage of bishops, polygamy, and the ecclesial ramifications of the relationship between Christ and the Church are atomised and incohesive. This is in marked contrast to the systematically configured London Plan – predicated in part upon the catholicity of the Bishop of Fulham – deviation from which would ‘undermine the integrity of the Diocese’.

The PCC’s statement and request, with a holistic view of holy order, is for episcopal ministry in conformity with ‘apostolic teaching and practice expressed in the historic teaching and practice of the Church of England’. While that may not conform to the Bishop of London’s conception of ‘true catholicity’ (page 3, last sentence), it patently does arise from genuine ‘traditional catholic’ concerns (Guidance, para 13).

Stephen Keeble

3 December 2018

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