The Institute on Religion and Public Policy News Service writer Daniel

Blake reported on October 2 that Nick Howard, a son of the former Conservative

Party leader Michael Howard, has been refused ordination in the Church of

England. The transgressions which led

to this end are typical of similarly placed men of orthodox conscience: he

refused to take communion at his college’s weekly service, protested the notion

that one could follow Christ in the context of a homosexual relation, and would

not admit equal spiritual value to religions other than the Christian

faith. In sum, he actively opposed the

apostate religion that goes by the name of Christianity in the majority of

theological colleges. For this he was

branded as a troublemaker, and identified by his tutors as someone whose

“unwillingness to listen” would make him unsuitable as a vicar.

I had a similar experience in the Episcopal Church, where I put myself

forward as a candidate for the priesthood near the beginning of Frank Griswold’s

episcopacy in the Diocese of Chicago. In those days the progressives’ most obvious pons asinorum was women’s

ordination. Two of us in the weekend

candidates’ retreat were quickly identified as opposing it. We were rejected, of course—a service the

General Convention later provided for officially on behalf of the whole

denomination. (Since 2002 no one who

opposes women’s ordination may be legally ordained in the Episcopal Church.) Out

we went with the other cranks, the ill-spoken, and the unlovely—those who at

any time would have been judged as insufficiently reflective of Episcopalian society. General fruitiness seemed to be no bar, but

excessive attention to the theology of the Prayer Book (John, my fellow

conservative’s sin), was. My problem was I

was not a team player, lacked a sense of humor, refused to be appropriately

vulnerable to the examination process, and clearly bothered a fairly nutty Anglo-Catholic

priest among my examiners by not apologizing for partaking of the Blessed

Sacrament only once a week. Angry and

chagrined at the time, I now thank God for the deliverance. I would have had to leave anyway, sooner

rather than later.

On later reflection, what bothered me most about what happened to the likes

of John and Nick and me, and many others like us, is not so much that we fell

victim to the unjust reign of an evil party in the church. We were all hoping, no doubt, to slip by it, but none of us were really surprised, I suppose, when we didn’t. We knew with whom we were dealing. If positions were reversed, I would not have

allowed the likes of them proceed to ordination either: you don’t ordain

people you believe to be heretics or apostates. In any event, we got no more from them than we had a right to

expect.

No, what bothered me was that the professed orthodox within the church

did not react appropriately. Their

general response to news like the rejection of people like Nick Howard, no

matter how many times multiplied, no matter how strongly shown to be

attributable to orthodox conviction rather than personal fault, never amounted

to effective resistance. They never

erected effective bulwarks against error, and never dared the risk of real

loss—until, of course, the situation was so desperate and their church so far lost, that there was nothing much to risk any more because

everything that could once have been deployed against a real enemy had been

captured. They drugged themselves

spiritually to believe there was no enemy, or crossed over, or temporized by accepting

women’s ordination, but declaring that they would never accept homosexuality,

or made a loud show of resistance in which no blood was shed. Collegiality was retained in the House of

Bishops; heresy was declared to be preferable to schism—as though the Episcopal

Church was the Church Universal–which no Anglican is supposed to believe

either by creed or tradition.

Even

now, I think I can hear the winds of head-shaking and tsk-tsk-ing from the

British Isles, just as I once heard them in the States. A great many people no doubt think Nick Howard has been very

badly treated, very badly indeed. (But

are we really sure those chaps in Durham were wrong about him? Can see their point, wot?) Now, is everything ready for the Harvest

Festival?