Women Bishops – to adjourn?
July 8, 2012 § 6 Comments
I’m away from Synod until Monday morning, so can’t indicate an intention to speak. Here’s a thought or two.
My first reaction to the House of Bishops’ amendments was that they seemed to have listened carefully to what was said in February. Those who are protesting that they made amendments at all forget that we spent three hours at the last Synod telling them that they could and might. We didn’t vote to tell them to leave absolutely alone, but invited some changes, as long as they weren’t ‘substantial’.
I didn’t respond badly to the inclusion of the phrase ‘theological convictions’ in the Measure, and didn’t think this was a ‘substantial’ change. Since 2009 we’ve been working on the second of the clauses in the Measure, which is there precisely because of these ‘convictions’. It seemed to me to be helpful to make it clear that the Code of Practice in each diocese would have to deal with this. After all, for eighteen years parishes have been asking, and for eighteen years Diocesan Bishops have had to make arrangements for them. I didn’t think that this amendment changed anything.
I still think the same. Some of the reaction seemed to imply that the Bishops had invented a whole new way for people to object, as if they had put in the whole of the two clause measure at the last minute. I think they made explicit what we all knew it was about anyway. Why else would parishes want to request a different bishop if not because of this difference of theological and ecclesiological view?
It’s not enough to say that 42 of 44 dioceses approved the measure ‘as it was’. Yes, they did, but the vote in the dioceses was really a simple ‘yes’ or ‘no’ to women Bishops, and it’s hard to extrapolate from that a clear view that every diocese was happy with every aspect of the measure – indeed, the fact that there were ‘following’ motions from a good number would indicate that a good number of people believed that some changes could still be made.
However, I understand that the unintended consequence was that by putting ‘theological convictions’ in the Measure, rather than leaving them to the Code of Practice a degree of legitimacy and possible permanency would be given to views which are held by a (diminishing?) minority of members of the Church of England. I understand the view that keeping such language out of the ‘law’ and reserving it for conversations about the application of the law in local cases might enable the majority view to prevail all the more quickly.
I dislike and disagree with the belief held by some that women are not priests. I dislike the fact that some people can agree that women are priests but would still rather not receive their ministry. I am offended beyond belief by crudely (and even nuanced) assertions about ‘taint’ and ‘sacramental assurance’. I have three licensed clergy colleagues, all of whom are women. I long for the day when their gender is not an issue.
Nevertheless, we are not there yet, and I don’t think that we will be there in five years time either. We will be living with differences of theological conviction for longer than that. I don’t think the inclusion of ‘theological convictions’ in the measure will change things unduly. It will be the experience of grace which will change things in the longer term.
So I think we have all we need to vote now. But…the clear objections voiced by people in recent weeks, not least some very senior and wise women, have completely changed the tone of the debate. I might think that it will be worth living with the two clauses, and worth living with ‘theological convictions’ being part of the Measure, but lots of people I care about do not think it’s worth it. They think there’s a serious principle at stake here, and I understand where that comes from and what it means. Janet henderson has put it brilliantly in a comment to my previous post.
The consequence is that, if we do not adjourn to ask the House of Bishops to look again at their wording, and we do vote about the whole thing, people against Women Bishops will vote against, and people who are for Women Bishops will also vote against, and it will fail. This will not be good. So…tomorrow I hope to hear what the Bishops think about the reaction to their amendment. I hope to hear whether those who have made the most serious objections to the amendments have changed their view, and whether they have spoken to the Bishops about it, and whether they can live with the Measure as it is. In the event that an adjournment looks the most likely option I hope to hear whether there is a steer as to an amendment to the Measure that all ‘sides’ can live with.
In the end I’ll vote for something which hastens the day when women can exercise Episcopal ministry, and will listen carefully to those who have pronounced a well-meant amendment as a step too far. But Bishops will be living in a divided world for years to come, and we’ll all have to cope with that somehow, and work out what we can live with and what we can’t.
My hope: that minds have been changed so that we can vote on the Measure on Monday. My nightmare: a vote to adjourn is just lost, no assurances are given or received, and the whole thing is lost. My best guess: adjournment, as long as there is a clear steer from the debate as to what might succeed in November. The atmosphere will be fizzing tomorrow.