Archbishop Cranmer has written on his blog an article entitled The revenge of the liberal laity. In it he quotes the full text of a letter from Gavin Oldham, a lay General Synod member from the diocese of Oxford. In it Oldham explains why he will be voting for the vote of no confidence in the chair of the House of Laity at the meeting of the House next week.
Here is the letter.
Dear friends in Christ,
On 18 January the House will be debating a ‘No Confidence’ motion in its Chair, a motion which has arisen directly from the General Synod debate on women bishops in November. I have given my support to the motion being debated, and it is my intention to support the motion on the day unless by the grace of God there is clear evidence of change.
I owe it to my friends in the House who voted against the women bishops’ legislation to explain why I have given my support, and how my views have changed since that day in November. Let me first explain that I have been a member of the General Synod since 1995 representing Oxford diocese: as does Philip Giddings, who I have been fortunate to regard as a friend over these last 17 years. I am also a member of EGGS, as he is and, although I have been a consistent supporter of women bishops, I regard myself very much as an Evangelical, albeit one who places a high importance on the place of reason alongside scripture and tradition.
This is not in any respect a personal issue.
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Over the past years my position on women bishops has been to support the maximum provision for those who have found it difficult to accept the change, consistent with the solution being convergent for the Church as opposed to divergent. I explained this position in July 2012 at the meeting of the House which took place before General Synod. I have never been prepared to contemplate a solution which could evolve into a schism.
However my position has hardened considerably since the November debate, as I have come to realise that it is the destructive ideology of male headship which lies at the root of our problems.
Our deadlock over women bishops has, of course, resulted from a combination of Anglo-Catholic and conservative Evangelical opposition. The Anglo-Catholics naturally look to Rome for a lead, and while Rome might prefer to see a clear resolution of the matter within the Church of England, it is not about to give that lead.
However it is the concept of male headship, espoused by many of my Evangelical friends as theology, which presents the major problem: as was clear from speech after speech during our debate. For while valid questions may have been asked about the representative quality of the House of Laity in the General Synod, the Church should – and does – acknowledge the vibrancy and growth of Evangelical churches which have so much to offer. This vibrancy is not dependent on the adoption of male headship ideology by conservative Evangelicals, but on the working of the Holy Spirit through people of faith.
I have come to realise since the November debate that male headship is to be seen alongside a number of similar major historical issues where prejudice and discrimination have been justified by selected biblical references. These include slavery, national socialism, apartheid and ethnic cleansing. Male headship has its roots in the same soil of prejudice and discrimination. It is another elitist creed which, in my view, has no place in the Church of England, nor indeed in the Christian faith.
It may be helpful to consider these selected biblical references through the filter of the two great commandments from which hang all the law and the prophets. For example, how can a man who is a male headship advocate claim to ‘love his neighbour as himself’ if he is not prepared to accept that she can carry the same roles within the church? Obviously it can’t be ‘as himself’, or perhaps he is denying that women are his neighbours by virtue of their gender? I don’t think Jesus was making that distinction.
The Bishop of Liverpool spoke clearly in the debate setting out how he had come to understand St. Paul’s teaching, and why it should not be used as a prop for male headship ideology. The bishops are the seat of theology within the Church, and I do feel that conservative Evangelicals should listen carefully to, and be prepared to accept, what they say.
The ideology of male headship has come to have assumed the status of doctrine, but even doctrine is shown as capable of change from a biblical perspective. St Peter was clearly of the doctrinal view that the Gospel was meant only for the Jews, and yet his vision at Cornelius’ house (Acts 10) made clear that he must change. And thank God that he did, because otherwise we would not have the opportunity to receive Christ’s salvation today.
So I have come to realise that male headship ideology must be confronted and not appeased, just in the same way that St. Peter confronted his erstwhile interpretation that the Christian faith was reserved for the Jews. Male headship is simply the latest in a long line of elitist creeds, and it is time to consign it to history, as with the others.
Finally, let me say again that the 18 January debate is not personal: it is about the integrity of the House of Laity. Nobody will be more delighted than me to see Philip being prepared to encourage Evangelicals to pursue their zeal for Christ unencumbered with elitist ideology. With best wishes