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That Church of England Vote…What Was That About?

With hindsight, we can see that the real battle in the Church of England has been with her founding principles. She was founded in the Protestant Revolution on an essentially liberal principle: that the circumstances and situation in the current culture determine the identity and mission of the church. She was now, and always has been the Church of ENGLAND. Therefore, the circumstances, personalities and cultural factors determine which way she will go. As society became increasingly secular, liberal and antipathetic to a Catholic worldview, the Catholic tendency in the Church of England could not survive.

From the first discussions of the possibility of women’s ordination the Eastern Orthodox and Catholic authorities reminded the leaders of the Church of England that such a decision would not be Catholic and Apostolic. Gradually the Church of England came to understand that she was not a historic Catholic Church, and by her voting process informed the Catholics and Eastern Orthodox of her decision. Catholics and Eastern Orthodox leaders should understand that the majority of Anglicans (for many different reasons) have never really considered themselves Catholic. Their attitude was summed up for me in a dissuasion in the mid 1980s with a female Anglican seminarian. When I pointed out that women’s ordination was an obstacle to unity with the Catholic Church she raised her voice and protested, “You don’t get it! I am not a Roman Catholic and I don’t want to be. I don’t care about so called unity with the Catholic Church. That is not something I want at all!”

She spoke the true wishes not only of the majority of Anglican clergy but also the majority of Anglicans in the pew. The ecumenical movement, for most of them, has never been more than the nice idea that they might have the occasional hymn sing with the other churches and perhaps run a soup kitchen together. The idea that they would become “Roman Catholics” was abhorrent to most Anglicans for most of them who thought it through at all were convinced of the Tractarian myth that they were already Catholic…just not Roman Catholic.

Therefore the vote on Monday by the General Synod was not really about women bishops. It was about the Church of England ratifying her original charter: to be the Church of England and to do what England wants. The vote was about the Church of England identifying herself very clearly and unapologetically as a Protestant Progressive Christian sect along with the Episcopalians and Lutherans.  Monday’s vote ended the interesting chapter in Anglican history called “The Anglo Catholic movement.” Monday’s vote was a clear repudiation of any semblance of authentic Catholicism and an endorsement of the principles of Protestantism.

Does this mean ecumenism with Anglicans is over? Not at all. Ecumenical discussions continue. It’s just that now everyone should be much clearer about the identity of our ecumenical partners.