Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Another reason to reform the Synod system

Thanks to Lesley for drawing attention to this on Damian Thompson's blog. Opponents of the proposed scheme for women bishops are apparently rubbing their hands at the prospect of blocking any further progress once the legislation returns to Synod. They believe that the recent election to General Synod has delivered them enough votes to prevent the two-thirds majority needed (why two-thirds, by the way?) for final approval. I have no problem with this in principle. This is supposed to be a democratic process, and if we are silly enough to set up a situation where a one-third minority can block a motion, then so be it. But the way in which this is being touted is thoroughly distasteful.

Incidentally, the source for this may not be entirely reliable. I have no idea what the provenance of the "Christian News Release Service" is, but apart from mistrusting any organisation that is capable of such egregious capitalisation, it seems hard to believe that everybody's voting intentions are already known so accurately.

What this does reveal, though, is the presence of "groups" on Synod. I was already aware that these existed, but had naively imagined them to be no more than interest groups, or perhaps fringe meetings of those with broadly common interests. The idea that there are blocs who consistently vote together, and decide their intentions in advance, is an eye-opener for me, and I don't like it. I would prefer to think of the Synod as a group gathered together to discern the Holy Spirit's guidance, listening to each other and praying, and then voting as their consciences tell them. Is that too much to ask of a Christian assembly? Apparently so.

The Synodical system is based on a Parliamentary model, and some of the elected reps seem to be taking that further than intended by forming their own parties. Party politics, with its adversarial nature and vested interests, will not serve the church well. Synodical government is not working, and it needs reforming.

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UPDATE, 7.00 pm

Thinking Anglicans has published the original text of the press release (in two versions; form critics please note). This shows the authorship and, exactly as Pam predicts in the comments below, it turns out that the "Christian News Release Service" is actually Rod Thomas and Simon Killwick, representing the two bloc votes referred to in the release.

This cynical and clumsy manipulation of the media rather seems to prove my point. Not only is Synod copying Parliament in setting up parties, it also wants to emulate it in spin and dirty tricks. If they have these votes in the bag, why bother putting out this spurious press release at all? It's just anti-social behaviour, rabble-rousing and attention-seeking. This poorly written message comes across like the sort of threatening note that a slightly odd flatmate leaves on the fridge in the small hours when they think you've eaten their cheese. As an evangelical, if I were on Synod, I would be embarrassed by this.

This kind of playground behaviour is doing nobody any good. How about a code of practice for Synod members?

9 comments:

Pam said...

The only results Google shows for the Christian News Release Service are the mention by Damien Thomas and then people quoting him on their blogs. They certainly don't have any web presence and as there are no names attached to the statement they can't be questioned about their methodology.

I think the statement is more likely to be an attempt to manipulate the news agenda than a reflection of the reality because anyone with any sense who can't live with women being Bishops n the C of E will not be hanging around for another few years trying to temper what is, for them, an intolerable situation regardless of what 'safeguards' can be negotiated. The only rationale for being elected to Synod and fighting for legisliation would be that we all know Parliament is unlikely to pass another act based on gender discrimiation, so voting for statutory 'protection' will mean nothing at all happens.

There may be a few people who think the prospect of holding up women becoming bishops for another cycle of Synod is worth giving up time and energy to being a GS member, but in practice I question whether this will be a significant number of those who have been elected who are opposed.

I would like to believe that the majority of those new GS members who don't believe women can exercise an episcopal ministry are genuinely seeking a way forward and so will listen and engage with the process.

I think the most destructive aspect of this statement is, as you have indicated, that it undermines our faith in those who have been elected to GS to listen to each other and to the Spirit.

They all need our prayers.

Pam said...

Whoops, I mean Damien Thompson of course.

Suem said...

You thought Synod was about prayer and discernment and not politics, factions, plots and schemes, more politics... Oh dear!:)

I think there is some prayer and discernment...

A taxi driver also said to me, " members of the Church of England Synod come for the weekend and they drink the place dry. It's like having the students back."

Charlie said...

Not necessarily, but I am suggesting that it might be quite good if it was.

Fr Ivan D Aquilina SSC said...

Thanks for your comment, atpresent blogger is not allowing me to publish it, I will when it does

Gurdur said...

Some comments of mine on all this. Cheers.

Revd John P Richardson said...

Charlie, I was once (literally) a member of General Synod. One thing that struck me was that when it came to a vote, the House of Bishops regularly voted en masse the same way.

Clearly, therefore, they had decided somehow in advance what their 'party line' would be. I didn't like it, and felt it was subversive of the supposed process of debate intended to persuade, but it showed that 'playing the political game' was built into the system.

However, if you imagine Synod could not be political - especially given the current state of the Church of England - you are indeed 'an Israelite without guile'.

Charlie said...

Dear readers and commentors, due to the interest in this post I have now added a few more reflections here.

Suem said...

AND you're on Church Mouse! Congrats:)