It was a bad day yesterday for the Church of England. There hasn’t quite been a Thomas a Beckett style murder in the Cathedral but it has been a disastrous own goal for the Church of England. Indeed it was an unforced error. No-one from outside made the Church do this.
I am totally in favour of the ordination of women and the ordination of women to be bishops (I might need to do a post on this but you can explore this website) . Indeed the Church of England overwhelmingly agrees to it and has already stated that it wishes it and wants it. 42 out of 44 diocesan synods voted in favour, over 90% of bishops, 75 % of clergy and 64% of laity (laity is the posh name for the person in the pew) in General Synod voted for it but because this was less than the 2/3 required in all houses it fell.
The issue has came in the implementation. There has been a desire to keep all parts of the church together, even those that are implacably opposed to women bishops. However, those who were against women bishops have refused the reasonable safeguards made to them (though of course they don’t believe that they were reasonable!).
There was a BBC radio programme that I was half listening to whilst driving back from doing an assembly yesterday called the Long view looking at how Archbishops of Canterbury over the centuries. The part I listened to was about the appointment of an Archbishop eight centuries ago under the reign of King John with lots of pretty nasty politics. The Church of England has always had this element in it but in recent years it has tried not to show that it can do it and I don’t think that Bishops and others have been great in working on those who might have their views changed. Politicians have long realised that you can’t just depend on speeches to change peoples views.
My fear is that we will be able to do nothing realistically until a new synod is elected in 2015. At that point I think that the church needs to take the politics of electing a new synod more seriously. There has been a general hands-off approach up until now with little major moves behind the scenes. I think that may change and needs to change. The politics of all of this needs to be debated more and not kept to “smoke-filled” corridors.
We now enter uncharted territory. There are already calls from some politicians to disestablish the Church of England and it does very much weaken the church’s ability to speak to the nation, especially when we wish to stand up for the poor and the marginalised. There is the possibility of bringing back this bill and debating it again but it would require more compromise with the opponents of women bishops.
One thing that I wouldn’t want to happen is the relaxing of the 2/3 rule. It is a good rule to ensure that a major change in the life of the church doesn’t just happen because it is the latest fad. What I would like to see happen is what happens in the clergy elections, all the laity in all the churches should be able to vote for the lay members of General Synod and not just activists who are on deanery synod.
I must admit that I haven’t taken the need to encourage people onto deanery or diocesan synod particularly seriously. The 34% in the house of laity who voted against women bishops do not represent the vast majority of the Church of England and those who realise this need to become more involved in the wider structures of the church. There is also an irony in the laity rejecting the male leadership of the synod (overwhelmingly in favour) which they say they want to keep!
The real danger will come with a new synod in 2015. Those who are opposing women bishops believe that they have won a great victory (Donna told me that one of her friends who opposed women’s ordination has written on his facebook page “praise be to God”). However, I believe that it could end with far fewer guarantees being offered – especially as I believe that the church will not elect so many opponents in 2015. This will end with some leaving the Church of England. That would be sad. But what the rest of us have been given is worse.