Women Bishops – After the Adjournment
July 10, 2012 § 9 Comments
So…we adjourned. I voted to do so, because the antis would vote against final approval anyway, and many of those for women bishops would have done so as well. There were some powerful speeches about how the Bishops’ amendment was perceived, and about its unintended consequences.
I’ve said before that I don’t think the amendment in itself deserved all the opprobrium it received (because the ‘theological convictions’ it speaks of are referred to elsewhere in the measure – Paras 2 (4) and 3 (1) and (3), and are there on the ground – that’s why there’s a second clause at all); but the wording, and the manner of its communication (remember the press release?) unleashed all sorts of pent up anger. Best then to release the steam, and, after it’s gone, see how the landscape has changed.
So, what now? The House of Bishops will meet again in September. Anyone with an interest will be letting their Bishop know what they think. Some Bishops will be convening groups to get their views. The key players in the process should be the Steering Committee – the General Synod appointed group who have been doing the ‘hard yards’ with the detail of the legislation. All the way along the Steering Committee has subjected the wording of the legislation to a kind of ‘destruction testing’ – like those machines in IKEA which mimic someone sitting on a chair 50,000 times. If a wording was not tested successfully it didn’t get in.
This is crucial. The things which have caused bother are those proposals which haven’t been properly tested. ‘Coordinate Jurisdiction’ was suggested by the Archbishops, and (just) failed. I’m glad it did – if the ‘theological objections’ clause caused such a bother, what would people have done with a law which allowed a women bishop to be by-passed all together? The Steering Committee could not recommend it, and that convinced me to vote against in 2010. Similarly the ‘theological convictions’ wording came at a late stage (four days before the House of Bishops Meeting, I think), without time for it to be tested out. The Steering Committee could not recommend it, but the House (we gather narrowly) passed it.
[The same was true, of course, about the other amendment made by the Bishops, the one about ‘delegation’. But this had been aired pretty well in February, and was not found wanting. There is a view that if the Bishops had voted on this one before the amendment about ‘theological conviction’ then many would have felt that enough had been done to help opponents. But ‘delegation’ was in Clause 8, and ‘theological conviction’ in clause 5. Numeracy is our enemy.]
Lots of people will now be suggesting wordings which might work. Simple withdrawal probably won’t do. The antis saw the wording as a help to them, and would regard its complete removal as a snub. Those who hated the inclusion of ‘theological objections’ were gracious in saying that they could see what the Bishops were trying to do, and will presumably want to help the Bishops to offer enough to the antis without enshrining what is perceived as a kind of theological misogyny in the law of the land.
There is no statutory process for how to do this. The Archbishop of York referred to ‘the usual channels’. I’m not one for prescribing – but here goes. The Steering Committee must be allowed to be proactive in seeking and generating forms of words for a revised Clause 5 (1) (c). The Steering Committee must then be allowed to test these out with properly representative groupings. I, for one, was affected by the letter from ‘Senior Women’, and the views of this group, as well as the Catholic Group, FiF, WATCH and the others must be sought before the Bishops meet, not after. The Steering Committee will be there when the Bishops meet. With the widest range of evidence at its disposal it should be a key resource as the Bishops deliberate. We have had one experience of an unexpected reaction to a well meant form of words. There is no time for another.
PS: the ‘variable’ in all this is how the antis will vote at Final Approval. If you cannot accept women bishops then even adequate provision for you to remain in the C of E could not enable you to vote for the Measure. But, with adequate provision generously offered, could you abstain?