Thoughts on Synod

So the Manchester motion on Women Bishops failed to garner support, instead a motion was passed that pretty much asked the House of Bishops to look at the legislation before the summer session, but not to do anything substantial with it in the manner of changes. That means that the last but one stand of traditionalists to get a more robust provision for them has fallen. Now all that’s left is the final vote in the summer on the substantive motion.

Some thoughts.

  1. The fact that the Synod has time and time again rejected more robust provision for traditionalists (whether anglo-catholic or evangelical) should cause some of us who are complementarians and opposed to women bishops on theological grounds to just stop for a moment and consider whether we are wrong. Yes, synods and councils can err, but at the same time the Spirit does speak through his church. Of course, one might want to define “church” as the church catholic and look at how two of the biggest arms – the Roman Church and the Eastern Orthodox Church – both wouldn’t even consider ordaining women in the first place, but there is a need for those in such a significant minority to consider that they might actually have got it wrong on this issue. Such a reflection might lead one to study once again the Scriptures and Tradition and to come to the same conclusion again, but simply to dismiss out-of-hand such an over-whelming majority in favour of such a development is to not take theological development seriously. So it’s back to the basics for a few months, engaging with the best of the arguments on the other side to see whether there really is a case for what is going on right now in the Church.
  2. Looking at the numbers for this vote, it’s not apparent that the final measure will garner the two-thirds necessary majority in all three houses. The vote on Wednesday was first on an amendment to the motion and then on the amended motion itself. In both of these case the vote in the House of Laity, whilst in favour of moving forward on the middle ground, was clearly far short of the 66.6% required in the summer to pass the legislation extant.
    Now, there are two ways of looking at this. The first is that when it comes to the final vote people will vote differently. What will happen is that either those who are broadly in favour but would have preferred better provision for traditionalists will fall in behind the legislation as it stands. Alternatively, what might happen is that a coalition of the poles, those who want better provision and those who want women bishops without any safeguarding for traditionalists, will form either a formal or (more likely) informal alliance, an unholy coalition as it were, and vote down the legislation on the grounds that over the next five years they can produce something far more to their liking.
    What we do know is this – when the Synod was asked to choose this week between different options (the Southwark motion going for a “Single Line Act” stance, the Spiers amendment (which was passed) which was essentially a holding motion and the Manchester Motion reverting to the Archbishops’ Amendment) it went for a middle of the road approach, but such an approach could not muster the necessary two-thirds majority. That might mean that there were some who wanted less provision for traditionalists who voted no on Wednesday who will vote yes in the summer, but that would need to be a quarter of all those who voted no. I’m not so sure that’s the case.
    So my suggestion is this, like it was before Christmas –  the legislation will probably easily pass in the House of Bishops and Clergy, but it may very well be neck and neck amongst Laity. So much for those who claim the laity never get a say…
  3. Here’s a thought. If the Synod in the summer votes in Women Bishops without the provision that traditionalists want, we have established the principle that it’s OK not to give a minority pastorally what they want, even in the light of cries for justice. If that’s so, then if the House of Bishops’ review on Civil Partnerships and Human Sexuality eventually decides that we will not go down the road of authorising liturgy for same-sex unions, the proponents of such a cause cannot declare that this is a fundamentally unfair way of treating a minority position. Either we accept that the losing side in a theological debate loses, or we don’t. What is not consistent is to not give one minority what it wants (and indeed to argue vociferously not to give that minority what it wants), but for that same camp to then complain when it is treated in the same way.
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  • Drew_Mac

    Don’t think it’s like for like. I think we either have women bishops for the whole church or we don’t – trying to do both means two churches. Letting gay marriage be a conscience issue for parishes and clergy is simply doing what we do on the question of divorce and remarriage.

    • http://www.peter-ould.net Peter Ould

      Not so simple – remarriage of divorcees, which is clearly granted by Scripture in cases of abuse, adultery and abandonment, does not require any change to the liturgy. By contrast, gay marriage would require new liturgy and that would therefore make it doctrinal (being good Anglicans, our liturgy defines our doctrine). That means that by the very existence of such a prayer in my prayer book, even if I don’t use it, it would be acknowledged as something I would have to accept as valid.

  • James Ogley

    Peter, you’re the only person I’ve noticed being prepared to say what you’re saying in Point One.  As you’ll know, I’ve been quite vocal

    • http://jamesthevicar.com/ James Ogley

      Ack, managed to post mid-typing…

      …about my position being that I am egalitarian as a theological position, based on how I read the Scriptures and that I think those whose reason for agreeing with me is that “in this day and age” or that it puts us in line with society as a whole are missing the point and doing their theology the wrong way round.

      Equally, there are people whose objections are less than honourable – both positions are a spectrum of reasons.

      The beauty of holding a position based on an honest reading of Scripture is that it has also to involve allowing ourselves to re-read Scripture and see it afresh, to discern truth in a way that differs from how we had previously done.  Also to allow it to “read us” – to bring to light our failings, shortcomings.  (I have already shifted by being persuaded by wiser people than I that allowing provision at all is the more Biblical approach)

      I hope I’m able to do the same reflection, to allow myself to return to the texts and be able to change my view (or not – as you say).

      It does seem to me that if as a church, we are to make women bishops – and I heard traditionalists who would oppose such a move say this at both General and Diocesan Synods – they need to be fully bishops.  There is a danger in providing what you describe as “more robust provision” that we create a situation in the church where people only accept the authority of bishops if they want to.  Every wedge has a thin end.  Yes, we need to make provision to keep brothers and sisters who have profound difficulty with this move (in my view, this return to the model espoused by the New Testament – but see above) within the Church of England – but not at any cost.  The mind of the church seems to be that this is an appropriate way to progress, deviating from it – in either direction – would be also to exclude but to exclude the majority.

      • http://www.peter-ould.net Peter Ould

        I just think its beholden on those in a minority to question if they are wrong. And yes, the beauty of holding the Scriptures as your final authority is that you must therefore honestly subject yourself to them.

        I think you’re right about any *fudge* on women bishops. In some sense, that’s why a third province would be a perfect solution – it creates an alternative jurisdiction and the issues about women being or not being bishops is avoided – within their dioceses they are bishops completely – if you stay in York or Canterbury you agree to that.

  • Si Hollett

    absolutely agree with point 1, but I 

    • http://www.peter-ould.net Peter Ould

      Good point.

  • Mashwilliams

    ‘Scuse me for saying, but whats wrong with being in a minority? “Narrow is the gate…. and few are they that find it”  I’ll be in that blessed minority anyday.

    • http://www.peter-ould.net Peter Ould

      Oh I’m perfectly happy being in a minority, just always keen to make sure I’m in the correct minority!

  • Jimbo1978

    I do find it frustrating how intolerant some folk (whom I muchly respect) are of those  who simply hold to the time old view that women are not called to be priests. I think it would be a great reflection of our desire for Christian unity if the Church of England made generous provisions for those who in all good conscience and with strong scriptural arguments insist that they could not serve a women bishop of priest, nor accept their authority to ordain etc. I personally, on balance, support the ordination of women bishops from a scriptural standpoint, but am far from completely decided on the matter and would only vote for the measure  if adequate provision was made for those who remain opposed. Sadly, some who call themselves liberal can be anything but liberal!

    As for gay marriages in church, the scriptural arguments for this are insultingly bad..they simply don’t exist in any form worthy of respect and therefore whilst I respect my fellow Christians who hold these views but there  is no way on earth I would ever support a move to have Christian gay marriages.. you cannot ask God to bless what He has already condemned, and here’s a very key point for the application of this amidst disagreement.

    As pointed out by a wise man, only doctrinal matters are exempt from the equalities dictats, were the matter left to individual churches then individual priests would be left to bear the brunt alone and possibly no longer be exempt under the clauses by which churches are usually exempted.. in short, it would be a great act of cowardice by the Church of England to leave it’s parish priests subject to the law without being able to claim the protection of their Bishop.. I hope and pray we never succumb to such a temptation.

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