Friday, July 18, 2014

What we learned from women bishops vote

So, the deed is finally done, less than 2 years after the embarrassing collapse of the original proposal, the Church of England's General Synod has voted to open the ranks of the episcopate to women for the first time. Years of anxious wrangling appear to be coming to an end, as the new rules will surely be speedily approved by Parliament and then nodded through the final stages by the same Synod, before its term of office expires next year.

I'm in favour of this, I always have been, and though for the most part I respect and value those who hold a different view, I'm sure this was the right decision. I don't have anything to add to the many comments already made on the rightness of it, only a few reflections on what we might learn by observing what happened on Monday:

We learned that General Synod hasn't improved since 2012.  Let's get the bad stuff out of the way first. We wouldn't be talking about this if the Synod had not failed, in 2012, to pass a proposal that had already been approved by 100% of the Dioceses.  And once again, on Monday, we had to listen around 85 individual speeches to a body whose members had almost entirely made up their minds how they were going to vote in advance, and yet still had to endure an anxious wait to see if they would consent to pass the legislation that all the Diocesan Synods had already approved. It is frankly embarrassing to be represented in the national eye by this verbally incontinent bureaucratic dinosaur of a body.  We need a better governance system and this process has made that painfully clear.

We learned a bit more about Justin Welby's leadership. He wasn't much in evidence on Monday but the process has his fingerprints all over it. Always Hope seems to be in danger of becoming the Welby cheerleaders' club, but still, credit where it's due, and much is due here. The Church of England seems to have unearthed a leader with the rare talent of getting things done. Instead of meekly accepting the failure of 2012, and sheltering behind the old excuse of Archbishops having no real power, Justin and his colleague Sentamu sent out a message that we were going to try again, and get it right this time.

We learned that the Church of England is not as divided as some think. My opinions about the Synod system do not detract from my respect for the many individual members who supported this legislation in a spirit of reconciliation, including several who voted against their own views to do so. Many people have been confidently predicting for some time that this, and other controversial issues, are going to split the church down the middle. This seems a perfectly reasonable assumption, given all the evidence. And yet, contrary to all expectations, once again the Church has demonstrated its peculiar genius for sticking together without agreeing on anything.  The Church has a long tradition of holding together different streams which, at one level, seem to have nothing at all in common. The agreement over women as bishops is the latest example of unity being plucked from the jaws of division, and it was done, by the majority at least, in a spirit of humility and mutual respect.  Maybe there's more to this than meets the eye. Maybe the explanation is something along these lines:

Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus. 
There really is hope, after all.



1 comment:

UKViewer said...

I think that it's good time to review General Synod. On the democratic basis of one person, one vote.

Individuals needing the support of a majority from each parish in the diocesan synod, rather than the hustings business.

Get rid of voting by houses, just one vote and a simple majority for each piece of legislation.

It has to be an apolitical on God's business and those with agenda's and hobby horses need to be deterred or prevented from speaking for more than five minutes.

Have Synod chaired by a different Bishop for each session, probably those who don't have a seat in the Lords, giving them valuable exposure to democracy at work in the church.

and the code to post this is 666 :(