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.
- 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.
- 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…
- 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.