The Evangelical Centre – what, as in soft and squidgy, like Caramel?

They’re kidding me, right?

Yesterday Fulcrum (the self proclaimed bastion of evangelicalism’s centre ground) posted a statement on Women Bishops. It’s on their website.

Fulcrum fully supports women bishops and hopes that the Measure passes through the General Synod in November. We believe that this is the view of most evangelicals in the Church of England. We agree with CEEC that all members of General Synod must prayerfully consider the good of the whole church and vote with a clear conscience. We hope that all those who want women bishops will vote for the Measure. We further hope that those who are against will be able in good conscience to abstain, recognising that it is clearly the will of the Church to proceed, and then work with the provision, which is unlikely to be strengthened should the legislation fall this time.

If I’ve understood it correctly (and there’s no guarantee that I have) their argument goes something  like this

1. we, that is Fulcrum, think that women bishops are a good thing and we’ll be voting for them (there’s nothing exceptional about that)

2. we know that not everyone, especially classical evangelicals, agrees with us (and it’s good of them to notice our theologically principled opposition)

3. but we think that the majority of people in the C of E, that broad spectrum of differing theological opinion,  are of one mind (not that this is a guarantee of anything – popularity is no guarantee of being right – how else do you account for Cliff Richard’s string of number ones)

4. so please would those who disagree not disagree because you’re a minority (in other words, don’t rock the boat with your unacceptable and outdated views)

5. but even though you think we shouldn’t be doing this, it’s worth remembering that if you keep schtum it might work out better for you

I wouldn’t want to be misunderstood, but I’m happy for it to go on record that I love women. I really do. Just to be clear; I think they’re great. I wouldn’t be who I am today without them! I love three women in particular; my wife Rosslyn, my daughter Flora and my Mother (and it just feels too uncomfortable to use her Christian name – though she has one – she’s my Mum; she’s just not Judith to me). I love other women too. Just not in the same way. I really don’t hate women. My position on the illegitimacy of pursuing Episcopal roles for women within the Denomination called the Church of England, is not misogynistic. It’s theological. I think what’s being suggested by Fulcrum is theologically vacuous tactical pragmatism of the worst kind. But then again, I might have missed something really important!

14 thoughts on “The Evangelical Centre – what, as in soft and squidgy, like Caramel?

  1. Lauri Moyle October 24, 2012 / 6:46 pm

    I guess the point at which you might be disagreeing with Fulcrum is over whether abstention rather than vocal opposition places the “best foot forward” in the balance of conscience vs the point of view of those that are yet to be saved? You do not make a case for one way or the other in this blog post.

    So, is abstention a silent complicit agreement, or is it a signal that you are sticking to your theological position, but for the sake of the community of believers are willing to forgo that issue for the sake of bigger more important issues? In other words its a matter of whether you think this issue is so important theologically that you think unsaved people should know what the teaching of classical evangelicalism is about on maters of gender, that you are willing to make it a stumbling block to those that might otherwise find salvation. (Over and above issues of hermeneutics, where I believe there is a lot of room for disagreement over many matters, at least historically…)

    My guess is that this is the driving motive behind Fulcrum statement.

    Parallels can be sought on maters of baptism (pedo vs adult), or over communion and emphasis on the eucharist, which have existed within the evangelical community for many years, and which have not been a significant point of “public” contention. So the question arrises as to why, women at CCB are not asked to cover their heads, and why CCB is willing to work with Baptists in mission, to the extent that these are theological matters, rather than matters of current “political” relevance.

    This comment is meant to be descriptive rather than represent my views. Further, its meant to counter the flippancy of the “caramel” heading of your post.

    • theurbanpastor October 26, 2012 / 9:28 am

      You’ve got to love flippancy sometimes though haven’t you?!
      James’ comment is helpful. The discussion about what’s biblical wrt female episcopacy is still to take place in Synod and Fulcrum’s approach seems to be saying don’t carry on rocking the boat. Obviously, I have a pretty settled view (although it’s more nuanced than many might assume. I’m less concerned about Women Bishops than Women Priests because of my understanding, and the Anglican Denomination’s misunderstanding, about what a Bishop is. In biblical language Bishops are Elders. They’re interchangeable terms describing the same reality; a group of godly men who lead the local church. That’s not to deny some sort of trans-congregational role for people like Titus. And so obviously the Bishop of Southwark is not an elder in our church. He’s the Bishop of Southwark and he has a function within the Diocese. But he doesn’t direct the life of our (or any other) local congregation. I wouldn’t go quite as far as to suggest that he’s a glorified administrator crossed with a real estate agent. But there are elements of those responsibilities in his role. I think Paul’s role in Acts 14, when he revisits the churces he planted, is helpful in describing what the Bible might encourage from those appointed in this role. I may blog on it at some stage.
      I’ll be honest, Lauri, I don’t understand most of the rest of your comment and haven’t got the energy to engage with it! But thanks for commenting. Big love to you and the family. Missed you at the tenth B’day celebrations.

      • Lauri Moyle October 26, 2012 / 11:39 am

        Yes congratulations on 10 years.

        What I was attempt to draw attention to by mentioning other issues is that in church history Evangelicals have disagreed on more fundamental issues than women’s ordination, such as Baptism or the nature of the sacraments, but those issues, for what ever reason those issues somehow dont seem to generate the same sort of ire between classical evangelicals (I like that term by the way, sounds vintage-cool) and moderates, open-evangelicals and liberals.

        I think you previously said that this issue and the issue of homosexuality are necessarily only about the “presenting problem” but are more deeply a sign of departure from faithfulness to scripture (hence the head-covering quip).

        If that is the case, why these issues now, and not other issues, such as wanting to be in the same ecclesiastical group that has a more catholic view of the bread and wine, over which blood was spilled (and not just Christs)?

      • Lauri Moyle October 26, 2012 / 12:34 pm

        I guess what I am also responding to or rather thinking about out loud (particularly now you mentioned the use of the words “loony left/right”) is Kurhts article here:

        With that in mind his article on Cricket and team playing was also rather refreshing in a bridge building sort of sense… More of which I would love to see on this blog.

  2. Simon Taylor October 25, 2012 / 9:45 pm

    What Lauri said!

    This is a pretty miserable post, without any attempt to understand or engage with the Fulcrum position; just low grade knocking copy. The tone is set by the first line, with the scathing “self-proclaimed”. Well, yes, just as Reform is the self-proclaimed whatever it is, FiF is the self-proclaimed whatever it is, and so on. Shame on you.

    And you know what? You don’t love women. Christina Rees? Miranda Threlfall-Holmes? Other women from WATCH? You despise them, and you patronise the rest. Don’t kid yourself. You love your image of what women should be, nothing more.

    • theurbanpastor October 26, 2012 / 9:16 am

      Thanks for your comment Simon. I’ve clearly made you angry because you’ve ended up making some pretty bold assertions about my attitude and treatment of women that you may want to walk back from!

      It may not be the best ever post I’ve written. I think I can safely say that without fear of contradiction! You’re right, I did want to knock their position. Because I think it’s bonkers. James’ comment says it far better than I do.

      I feel no shame for my mockery of Fulcrum’s name. I’ll admit that it’s clever and that I’m a little envious of what it allows them to claim. But friends like Stephen Kurht claiming to position themselves in the safe middle ground between the loony left (presumably the liberals) and the loony right (presumably conservative evangelicals like me) is unhelpful. I’m not hugely concerned about being ‘balanced’ like a fulcrum, or even being in the safe central ground. The issue is being biblical. I don’t want to be a balanced evangelical but a biblical evangelical. If you choose a label like Fulcrum in which you claim to occupy the centre ground and claim thereby that everyone not there is extreme then you’ve got to allow yourself to be mocked a little in return. At least if you have a sense of humour!

      Every blessing brother …

      • Simon Taylor October 26, 2012 / 6:00 pm

        Yes, you did make me angry. Justifiably I think. But I was also personal and rude, unjustifiably so, and for that I do apologise. I transferred my experience of a conservative evangelical church – which seriously hurt my family – to you. I shouldn’t have done so.

        Incidentally, I too am a biblical evangelical – as is Stephen Kurht – and conservatives need to understand that disagreeing with them does not immediately imply that our theological understanding is non-biblical. We just happen to disagree with you. The assertion that Fulcrum’s position is bonkers is so incredibly unhelpful, and cannot lead to engagement. Perhaps that thought simply elicits a shrug from you, though. If so, that is sad. And the mockery of their name is childish. “Reform”? “Forward in Faith”? All these names are pretty stupid, just part of the modern trend for catchy, vacuous names for organisations, reports, institutions etc etc.

        Every blessing to you to …

      • Lauri Moyle October 26, 2012 / 6:13 pm

        Good on you Simon! To be fair, Kurht did say about those that might want a quick split that they are of the “looney left/right” so Perks is, to a certain extent justified in using the word “bonkers”, that is if he wants to see the Church of England split over this or other issues… Which is the category that Kurht was using in his quote to the Guardian and subsequent piece I linked to on Fulcrum. But since we dont know what Perks desire is for the problems of the Church of England over the division we dont know whether he is in fact of the “loony right”. Then again he might reject those categories, which might be appropriate if he justified why, which he thus far hasn’t really.

  3. James Oakley October 26, 2012 / 9:01 am

    Glad to see you’ve got friends who are honest with you, Perks!

    Whilst the tone of what you’ve written may be a tad pejorative, it’s your last sentence that I think is spot on. The call to opponents to abstain is “theologically vacuous tactical pragmatism of the worst kind”.

    It simply has not yet been established whether it is “the will of the church” to proceed – that’s why they’re going to vote on it at GS. There hasn’t been a vote yet. That vote is only any use if people vote according to what they think. Fulcrum should be trying to persuade people of the truth of their position, rather than trying to persuade people to vote in favour if they agree, and to cast half a vote in favour if they don’t.

    Now, where did I put that tin of Roses…? You’ve made me hungry.

    • theurbanpastor October 26, 2012 / 9:05 am

      Thank you James. That’s much better put! And probably more likely to win people than my splenetic rant!

    • Lauri Moyle October 26, 2012 / 11:29 am

      Yes, this is well put. However, Fulcrum do make a theological point in that their worry is how the message of the Gospel will be hindered over a Church divided on an issue that people outside of the church just do not understand or don’t have the patience to understand (even if they would read Perks fine tuned blog post on episcopacy–which I am very much looking forward to!)

      That is my worry too, though I must admit that I agree with your blog post James, to the extent that this is a matter of voting ones conscience, but ones conscience might dictate abstention as a viable option, as does not voting in a general election because Obama kills people in drone strikes and because Romney does not care about the poor. (say) The “vested interest” then becomes a matter of faithfulness to mission, so its not just theologically vacuous, though it is pragmatic.

      Moreover, because the Church of England is the established church, the discussion takes on a particularly public form over which MPs will have their say:

      The point about whether the church has voted on the issue is moot, when we know what the opinion pools say, and how segments of the church have voted in the past, right?

  4. MichaelA October 28, 2012 / 6:20 am

    It is a pretty breathtaking message from Fulcrum – “clearly the will of the Church to proceed”, but not a whisper about whether it is the will of God!

    I am also surprised at the suggestion to abstain – surely those who do not believe that women bishops are permitted by the word of God have no option but to vote against the measure? Anything else (such as abstention) would be playing false to their own conscience. One would think that Fulcrum would recognise that.

  5. Sarah S November 1, 2012 / 8:04 pm

    mmm. not sure if I agree with Fulcrum postion that if you disagree the best you can do is abstain. That is sitting on the fence. The whole point of the vote is to express your view. The point is voting is finding out what the majority view is. General Synod members pray and vote please.

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