Women Bishops – Now What?

I’m sure most of you know already the events yesterday at General Synod. Three different amendments were presented to the Women Bishops legislation, each of which designed in their own way to provide some statutory recognition and protection for those who cannot accept the theological viability of Women Bishops. The Clone has a summary over at Stand Firm which is well worth reading.

Over the course of the day, Synod voted to note the report of the Revision Committee which we have written about previously. The Committe, remember, were unable to agree on legislation to provide statutory protection for dissenters and ended up recommending a Code of Practice – a solution which both Anglo-Catholics and Evangelicals had pointed out (on numerous occassions) were simply insufficient and reneged on previous guarantees and promises made by General Synod.

Next, debate and voting moved to 3 amendments put forward by various parties. In some senses these provided a range of choices for Synod.

The first (512a), advocating for seperate dioceses, was defeated; 134 in favour, 285 against and 8 abstentions. The vote for was, perhaps, higher than had been expected and caused renewed interest.

The second amendment (513a), called for an equivalent of TEA (Transfer of Episcopal Authority) – ie a woman diocesan bishop would, at request of a parish, transfer her authority to a male bishop suitable to the parish. This was defeated in houses Bishops 10-28-2 (aye-no-abst), Clergy 52-124-3, Lay 73-118-4.

Finally, amendment 514a was put forward by Canterbury and York. This was seen as a middle ground, essentially providing for a “sharing” of authority between diocesan and alternate bishop. The mood in the chamber was, some have reported, conciliatory – on both sides, it might be noted. However the amendment was defeated in houses with Bishops (25-15-0) and Lay (106-86-4) voting in favour, but clergy voting against 85-90-5.

Further amendments lapsed through lack of the 40 members needed to call a discussion and vote.

What now? Neither anglo-catholics, conservative evangelicals or those who recognise they need protection, have got what they want. What will happen next?

I think that what is going to happen is this – the legislation will fail.

Why do I believe this will happen? Because as the legislation currently stands the current provisions of Resolutions A, B and C are torn up and even though the Measure instructs Bishops to introduce a scheme that transfers episcopal care to another Bishop, that Bishop can be anybody the Diocesan chooses (rather than the current “flying Bishops” who are agreed to be acceptable to dissenting parishes). Furthermore, the proposed Code of Practice is not a legally enforceable document so it can be safely ignored if so chosen. This means that dissenting parishes have to put up with whatever is offered to them (for example, a retired Bishop who is a liberal and happily ordains women) or shut up. Anyone can see that that is not acceptable.

And I think a number of members of Synod see that as well. They are members who are in favour of women bishops but want to see adequate protection for dissenting parishes and clergy. They are not low in number and they realise that this so called “inclusive” legislation is in danger of excluding very many people.

I want to suggest that these people will vote “no” on the final vote. The reason why the Measure might then fail is because the final vote will need a two-thirds majority in all three houses. Let’s just do some quick maths.

Take the vote on the Archbishop’s Amendment and reverse round the figures (since those who voted “yes” to the amendment are most likely to vote “no” on the final Measure).

House Yes No Abst
Bishops 15 25 0
Clergy 90 85 5
Laity 86 104 4

That’s a clear fail.

Now of course, no-one expects the vote to go like that. Many of those who voted for the Archbishops’ Amendment will happily vote for the un-amended Measure. But some won’t. Some (I hope) will see that Synod has to give more protection for traditionalists then the Measure currently provides.

This table shows you what the smallest levels of “no” are in each House to prevent the Measure passing (assuming the same people abstain).

House Yes No Abst
Bishops 26 14 0
Clergy 116 59 5
Laity 126 64 4

What does this mean. It means that it requires at least the following numbers of each House who voted for the amendment to “switch” their vote on the final measure in order for the whole thing to pass.

House Num % of House

% of those voting
for AB’s Amd

Bishops 11 27.5% 44%
Clergy 26 14.4% 30.6%
Laity 40 20.6% 38.5%

I suggest that the chances of the vote failing at the last hurdle are greater then some might think, especially given the fact that the most conservative amendment (separate dioceses for dissenters) received the support of 32% of those who voted (remember it needs just over a third – 33.3% – to say “no” for the whole measure to fail). Given that the votes don’t always fall equally in each House, the chances that the final vote will fail in one or more House (I would suggest in the House of Bishops or Laity is most likely) is not insubstantial.

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