David Nichol is worried that the Bishops and Synod are placing far too much hope in a Code of Practice and do not understood how opposed many of us are
The 25th anniversary of the miners’ strike has been a fascinating reminder of how much has changed in the intervening years, and yet how much of that legacy remains. Whatever trade unionism is now, it is not what it was back then.
True, there are still strikes, there are still employment issues to be resolved, opposition to foreign workers, and protests over rights, but nothing like there was, for a whole decade of strife, in the three-day week of 1974, the winter of discontent of 1979, or the set piece climax and tragedy of the miners’ strike.
All this is history, but the legacy of the negotiation remains. Both sides make their ‘offer’ or ‘demand’, and then by negotiation, demonstration and ultimately the simple trial of strength, one or other loses, and some form of compromise is reached. The details are different, but the prism through which the demands are viewed and analysed remains essentially the same.
Forward in Faith’s demand for proper provision is understood as a negotiating position, a claim in the same manner as for a 25% pay increase. ‘A Code of Practice will not do’ is seen by the majority of General Synod and the Bishops as the opening gambit of a campaign. Try as we may, there seems little that we can do to alter that perception. This model of the trade union style of demand has firmly entered the psyche of the Church of England, two decades after its fall from grace in the secular world. We are still trapped in the patterns of thought of those earlier industrial disputes.
Speaking to the Synod representatives in my own diocese, I simply cannot get them to believe that we will not, in the end and with grumbling bad grace, accept some form of Code of Practice when women bishops are introduced.
How can I, or any of us, get across to them that a Code is the biggest evil in this whole complex situation? By explicitly accepting the rejection of a woman bishop (duly ordained in the Church of England) on grounds of gender and not of Order, it utterly rejects everything I believe in, and everything we have fought for these past fifteen years. The issue is about Order, not gender. By reversing this distinction, a Code would be the worst of all possible options. To make use of such a Code is, in effect, to sign up to be a card-carrying misogynist.
Maybe I am a misogynist, male sinner that I am. I certainly recognize that I have learned a great deal from the various feminist movements during my lifetime. I readily acknowledge that much of my earlier treatment of and many of my attitudes towards women, back in the 1970s, now make me ashamed to recall.
Would I pass muster with today’s feminists? Maybe not. But I will not sign up to this misogynist charter, even if it has the General Synod seal of approval and the support of the House of Bishops.
This is not a negotiating position.
It makes no difference if it will keep the peace in the Church of England, or even if it satisfies those women supporters of women bishops (who, one must suppose, cannot like it very much). I simply cannot and will not sign up to it. A Code of Practice will not do’? It is more than that; it is almost (and I wouldn’t say this too loudly, because I do accept that those who drew it up were seeking a solution in all good faith) an evil, even if unintended.
To institutionalize sexism, in order to gain a greater good for women, seems (and I dare to say it even though I am not a woman) a most dangerous precedent. I seem to remember a bishop issuing a decree some years back, that if anyone asked for a white minister to take a funeral, instead of the black incumbent, that request should be politely but unequivocally rejected. Surely, the same principle applies here?
Why should a mere Code, a legislative detail for local parochial arrangements, be of such importance? Because it encapsulates so much more than itself. Like an indulgence to the early Reformers, it is not simply a piece of paper, but a monstrous and unacceptable travesty.
How do I test my response on myself? How do I judge that I will not, when the crunch comes, make use of the Code of Practice? Like many others in our situation, I imagine where I might be in 2015; I daydream a number of different outcomes. When I attend a Roman Catholic service, I think to myself, ‘Could I be here, as a member of this congregation?’ For a mixture of spiritual and cultural reasons, and my own history, it seems unlikely, but it is undoubtedly possible, and not an unattractive option.
If my priest were simply to carry on, as he is now, then I would stay where I am. If it meant driving him to a Chrism Mass or a confirmation service, with a retired bishop 200 miles away, I would jump at the chance. In fact, I would love it – the sheer excitement of a bit of difficulty and persecution, of being a member of a pariah parish, of fighting for the truth.
Or, maybe, with other options closed, I would go to an ordinary Church of England church, under a woman bishop perhaps, and even a woman priest every week. I would continue to pray and to worship, though I would never receive communion again. As I grew older, and death approached, I would console myself with the knowledge that nothing in all creation can ever separate me from the love of God in Christ Jesus.
The one church and parish to which I would never go, of which I would never be a parishioner, and which in every musing I recoil from in disgust, would be one that had passed the proposed Code of Practice. As far as I can judge my own heart, I believe I would sooner never go to church again than go to one that used the Code.