Few moments in General Synod’s stuttering move towards the introduction of women bishops can have been so shocking (in every sense of the word) as the voting down of the Archbishops’ amendment on the Saturday of the York meeting.
Put together at the last moment, to rescue the honour and integrity of the Church of England, to open some way through the impasse created by liberal intransigence, it offered the only possible means of holding together a warring church. It might not have worked, even had it been accepted, but it was clear to all that its rejection would end any hope for an inclusive future.
Or was it so clear? The manner in which Amendment 514 was presented beggared belief. It was so low-key as to be supine. Here was the last serious opportunity to rescue the church from the fire of its own destruction, and it was made to sound like an anorak’s discussion of legal syntax.
The spokesperson for the Steering Committee was not wrong to suggest that there might be difficulties in the future when disagreements arose, and that life would be easier if no provision were made for traditionalists. But is this what church life is ordered for? Even the Archbishop of York’s ingenious suggestion that co-ordinating jurisdiction was already in existence, and so would harm nobody, had no effect.
And so the world was offered the spectacle of this quasi-parliamentary body voting down not one but both the Archbishops of the Church of England, and all this in the context of a debate about episcopacy, and in the name of maintaining the authority of – you have guessed it – the bishop!
What a shameful and hypocritical disaster! What a total unmitigated mess. May God forgive us.
As every seasoned observer will tell you, the General Synod of the Church of England basks for the most part in a warm glow of self-approbation.
In its own view it is sage, serious, measured and tolerant – quite unlike the acrimonious assembly across the road (the House of Commons). So it was no surprise that the chairman of the debate on women bishops congratulated the Synod on the ‘tone’ of the debate. Such congratulations are ritual, but none the less telling for that.
The Synod has, over a number of debates, and in revision committee, systematically voted down every single amendment designed to help opponents of women bishops, from the robust proposals in Consecrated Women? to the limp-wristed appeal of Rowan Williams. That unremitting pursuit of a scorched-earth policy, fronted by the desiccated person of the Archdeacon of Lewisham and Greenwich, reached its apogee in the debate on the motion that ‘Clause 2 stand part of the Measure’.
The speeches in that debate were a triumph of synodical hypocrisy and double-speak. Not a solitary opponent of the Measure was called. One by one those who had voted down the amendments protested their openness, generosity and goodwill. Every auditor could sense the palpable insincerity of those claims – and yet the charade was allowed to go on, and continue long after it was clear that the motion would be carried by a considerable majority. The Soviet school of historiography was already re-writing history in favour of the victors.
We can expect much more of this. The anger of Christian Rees (see Ed Tomlinson on page 7) is a sure and certain indication of the mood among proponents. They are fresh out of the abattoir, protesting that they are life-long vegetarians.
It remains to be seen whether this improbable posture will survive the synodical elections. There is just a chance that issue-fatigue may set in. New voters and new candidates may not prove as committed as the scorched-earthers might hope. Indeed the statistics indicate a distinct possibility that the Measure, when returned from the dioceses, might not achieve final approval.
This would surely be a disaster for the Church of England. To have expended so much effort and treasure on a process which was finally abortive would be a tragedy of Greek proportions for both proponents and opponents. There must be women bishops in the end. It simply remains to be seen how much deceit and chicanery will be needed to bring them about. ND