Future Church of England: A Couple of Bishops

Before Christmas, announcements were made of two new bishops. Libby Lane was announced as the new Bishop of Stockport and the first female bishop in the Church of England and the post of the Bishop of Maidstone was announced as being for a conservative evangelical, i.e. one believing in male headship.

In a sense, both announcements were, I think, a way of announcing the new state of things in the Church of England.  On the one hand, we are now a church that consecrates women as bishops, on the other we respect and want to see conservative evangelicals flourishing.  That may have been the intention, but a couple of problems struck me.

Firstly, it was an interesting place to appoint the first woman as a bishop.  The Diocese of Chester (where the Bishop of Stockport is located) and, in fact, that particular area of the diocese, has a lot of conservative evangelical ministers and churches and (I am told) a lot of traditional anglo-catholics. Relatively speaking, Chester is a Diocese that is supportive of conservative evangelical ministry.  A charitable view of the appointment would be that this would be the place to see how things would work, because conservatives would have a kind hearing in this context.  A less charitable view could also be taken!  In any event, it would seem to me to be likely to be extremely messy - a new bishop in a context where a large number of churches will not accept her as such.

Secondly, the announcement of the Bishop of Maidstone was intriguing, simply because the applicant is required to take "a conservative evangelical view on headship," but also to act for conservative evangelical churches "with the agreement of the relevant diocesan bishop" and "by invitation." It seems to me that the job-spec includes a fairly glaring contradiction : you want someone who takes a conservative evangelical view of headship to work under the headship of a female bishop!

Now I know lots of conservatives will argue for ways of understanding this which would allow a someone to accept the job.  I can think of a few, e.g. 

  • we work in a imperfect church and we have to work with the best imperfect situations we can get and work for reform;
  • in some sense the headship isn't church leader headship (it's administrative or parachurch or something);
  • go for the job and ignore the diocesans' authority.
I'm sure people could come up with better and more nuanced one.  Either way, it's a tough job and it's debatable whether it will be possible for a truly conservative evangelical to do and to be effective.

It's a new world and I can't see anything but further conflict and division.


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