Monday, December 06, 2004

Archbishop of York; "Church is imploding..."

Dr. David Hope, Archbishop of York, will be retiring in February and has been appointed as vicar of St Margaret's in Ilkley. That a man who is 64 (young by today's standards) would give up the second highest post in the Church of England (second only to Canterbury) to become a parish priest once again is an amazing thing. But Dr. Hope is an amazing man.

He is of the Anglo-Catholic tradition, a tradition that is not heard from much anymore. He is considered a "traditionalist," often defined as "conservative" today, which is unfortunate. He has held a position against women's ordination and the ordination of non-celibate homosexuals, although the way he speaks about such issues would most likely be quite foreign to many Evangelicals.

Consider this recent article and comments by the Archbishop in regard to women bishops in the Church of England;

Dr Hope continues to oppose women's ordination as a breach with the universal church's traditions. He believes the Church of England fudged the issue of the episcopacy when it made the decision to allow women to become priests in 1992.

"The question of whether women should be made bishops once they had been ordained is absolutely pivotal. It seems to me absolute nonsense for women to be ordained to the priesthood but not to the episcopacy because the two are inextricably linked. It seems to be an inevitability. It is an absolute nonsense to suggest [one of the report's recommendations] that women could become suffragans but not diocesans. In principle there could be the possibility of a woman archbishop."
Even if you disagree with him regarding the ordination of women, as I do, I think he makes an important point. When I first heard of the current flap over women bishops in England, I found it quite confusing. One would think such a discussion would have occurred prior to the approval of women priests. Of course women bishops will follow. How can we say that a woman may represent the bishop, but cannot be the bishop? If women are allowed as priests, but not as bishops, or even worse, only as suffragan (assisting) bishops, we will have redefined holy orders as a hierarchy that must be patriarchal. That is not a definition that I, and many others, are comfortable with.

Although taking a tradionalist's stance on the ordination of non-celibate homosexuals, Dr. Hope does understand persecution on this issue from a personal perspective. The Archbishop's response to this smear campaign was quick and effective;

Unmarried, a priest in the Anglo-Catholic tradition, in the 1970s he was called in to impose discipline on the exceedingly camp high church training college at St Stephen's House in Oxford. On the other hand, Jeffrey John, the celibate gay theologian briefly appointed bishop of Reading last year, who was one of Dr Hope's students at Oxford, has spoken of his support when he told him he was gay. Yesterday, Dr Hope said of John's ordeal over the Reading post: "I felt very strongly for him."

In 1995, when Dr Hope was Bishop of London, he reacted to a letter from Peter Tatchell, calling on him to out himself as gay, by publishing the letter and denouncing the activist's attempted intimidation. It was a brave stand and prompted his concession that his sexuality was a grey area. He said yesterday: "I felt it was bullying. It was misplaced and misjudged. The sort of things he wrote to me were intimidatory. My remark just came out. It was one of those things, not premeditated."
Dr. Hope was applauded by many in the Church for bringing this attack to light, and refusing to play their game. One's sexual orientation has never been an impediment to ordination. To attempt to "out" celibate bishops is an outrage (pun intended). Dr. Hope was appointed Archbishop of York shortly after this most unpleasant incident.

I recall back in the early 90s when there was an attempt to "out" suspected gay bishops by gay rights extremists on this side of the pond. At one time, I had two close friends who were of the Anglo-Catholic tradition. One was a bishop. The other went on to become a bishop. Both were unmarried. Even though we prayed the Daily Office together each day, and had a cup of coffee afterwards in the bishop's office, the question of their orientation never came up. Nor should it have. Such a conversation was way beyond the boundaries of polite conversation within the Catholic Churchman tradition.

When it came time to participate in the mandated Human Sexuality Dialogue, they asked me to spearhead it. They remained silent on the issue. I understood why I was being asked to take the lead on this. I was married, with children. I didn't like it, as it would label me the diocesan "token liberal," but I did it, because the bishop had told me to, and I am a person under authority.

This is how things were done in another era. There were strict, yet often unspoken, rules guiding not only liturgy, but even casual social interactions. It was a matter of having good manners. It was about being a person of grace. The bishop retired in 1994. He seemed quite troubled at the time. I have heard rumors that he received one of those "outing" letters. He became ill a few years later, and moved on to the nearer presence of our Lord shortly after. May this man, who taught me the meaning of grace, rest in peace.

Dr. Hope also once offered some thoughts on the internet, which may be worth the perusal of those of us who spend long hours in front of the screen each day;

I am concerned particularly about the introduction of modern electronic technology which is moving at such a pace," he says. "I fear that we are becoming a nation which simply sits in front of a television screen and orders its lives at the press of a button or a mouse. You can live your whole life and do almost everything from there - shopping, film viewing - if you choose. That has serious implications for social intercourse and social interactions. It merely underlies the individualism and individuality which in one sense is right but has to be properly balanced with the way we interact with each other for the health of the nation.

I think it will mean a further fragmentation and break-up of our society if we are not vigilant about this matter. Furthermore we need to have some regard for the underlying bedrock of spiritual values and the spiritual dimension of who and what we are as persons. That is in danger of being lost in our technologically driven age. I recognize it in myself. No sooner do you get into the Internet than you look up one subject, become fascinated and are drawn to look up more and more...

...The danger is that we could be moving towards a soulless society. The technology consumes us, it actually begins to ensnare us. That is not to say it is a bad thing in itself. I go around schools in the diocese a lot and I see children on the Internet, looking at CDroms for information. All that is extremely positive and valuable. But we do need to be aware of the other side. This could mean a society which is even more materialistic, which puts its faith and trust in a technology which is itself vulnerable. It could have serious implications for our social intercourse, for all societal bondings, for the way we are as human persons and the way we develop, because we develop through our interactions with other people.
Finally, I want to offer some of Dr. Hope's recent thoughts on the issues of the ordination of homosexual clergy and women bishops, and their divisive effects within the Church. These are words that I needed to hear today. I will leave them with you without further comment;

...What I do worry about is whether or not by so concentrating all our hopes and energies on these two particular issues, we are imploding on ourselves...If you take people back to the Christological controversies of the first five centuries of the church, there were huge fallings out. Have we not learned the lessons from that? At the end of the day, what is the business of the church? It's about bringing people to Jesus Christ and about living the life of Jesus Christ. Whatever the divisions, those are the key issues.

The infighting puts off both young and old people. If it [the Church of England] doesn't see this in a much larger context of the whole Christian doctrine of creation, redemption and sanctification, it will allow itself to implode on these two issues. We need to turn ourselves outwards.

If you go to a hospice where they're working with the dying, they're not asking you whether you're in favour of women bishops or whether you're gay or any of this, that or the other. The important thing is that the work of the persons there actually engages...

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