Peter Hitchens knocks it out of the ballpark and into the next galaxy. Just a few bits from his fantastic column:
Now how does this apply in the debate about women’s ministry in the Church? I am (reasonably) chided here for my feeble wishy-washy approach to this matter. But I’m sticking to it. The truth is that I think the Christian church is so essential to civilisation, unselfishness, kindness and justice, as the Embassy of the Kingdom of God on Earth, that I judge the importance of religious issues on that basis. Things which do not seem to me to be crucial for the survival and success of the Christian gospel , even if they trouble me personally, are relegated to the second or third order of importance.
The last thing I want to hear in church is some sort of sectional whining about who gets what job or under what conditions. I want help in discovering how we should live and die, not office politics with added stained-glass windows.
I am, as I keep insisting, very uninterested in theology. My religion can easily be summed up, understood and either rejected or accepted, by anybody who listens to Handel’s ‘Messiah’ , who reads the 1662 Book of Common Prayer and who has seen the great English cathedrals.
My instincts (which oppose needless change) might suggest to me that the campaign for women ministers ( I don’t call them priests) might well have been some sort of egalitarian project designed to strike at the roots of the Church. But, as a favourite (male) parson in my part of the world is fond of saying, the Church of England is a tough old goose. And it has turned this change very much to its advantage. In practice I have found that many women ministers are more persuasive, reverent, thoughtful and devoted, and perhaps less given to fussy fiddling with things best left alone, than many of their male equivalents. It seems plain to me that the Church, short of good clergy as it is, and very short of money, could not have coped without them, and should admit that.
I can’t see why the same thing shouldn’t go for Bishops. If they believe what they preach, and are on fire with the beauty of it, then let them be Bishops.
But I also know that plenty of my fellow-worshippers take other views.
Hitchens then goes on to defend the right of dissenters from this egalitarian innovation to accommodation as a practical matter, and to credit their win in the Synod. More:
To keep him and others like him in his post, the church set aside a small corner where there would be no women ministers. Why not do the same with bishops?
You tell me. But when (as on the BBC programme ‘The Big Questions’ on Sunday, still available on i-player) I found myself facing the champions of change, it rapidly became obvious that they were not interested in having women bishops *as such*. They could have had that years ago. They were interested in having women bishops at all costs, without any conditions or limits, and with no binding concessions to (perhaps) a quarter of Anglicans who, for one reason or another, are deeply unhappy about the idea. Well, as we know from history, if you want unconditional surrender, you condemn yourself to a much longer and crueller war than if you are prepared to make terms.
Always suspect a cause that does not present itself straightforwardly as what it is. It has something to hide. And always mistrust any movement which has universal approval. It is precisely when ‘everyone’ thinks something that the thoughtful person needs to cry out ‘wait!’ and demand time to consider.
Hitchens goes on to point out that the antis who prevailed in the vote did so fair and square, under rules that were put in place after a past debacle. More:
This is the same sort of logical judo-plus-origami which is used to transform kindly, hesitant old sexual conservatives, who wouldn’t ever be cruel to anyone, into foaming, cruel homophobes. It’s not that you have principles different from mine. It’s that you want to *discriminate* against a *minority* (voice rises). After which, of course, you’re not fit for human society.
I strongly encourage you to read the whole thing, especially the way Hitchens ends the essay, which is on a note that all of us engaged in church affairs, whether on the left or on the right, should heed:
But a church is not just a club or society , or a political party, where you can thump and shout your way to success by winning votes, briefing the media and forming factions to drive your opponents out.
If I read Hitchens correctly, the way you win may be as important as whether or not you win. What an excellent essay this is. Thanks to @niall_gooch for the heads-up. If you are at all interested in British conservatism and Church of England matters, you should follow Niall on Twitter.