There can be no future without a free province, but how do we go about achieving it? How should ordinary folk think and talk about the prospect? David Nicholl tries to think about the possibilities

One of the more worrying aspects of traditionalist gatherings, when discussion turns inevitably to the question of women bishops, is the assumption (or should one say, presumption) that we need only ask for a free province and we shall be given it.

I can understand that many, lay or ordained, are tired of the arguments about women’s ordination and do not want to be involved in those old debates (we did all that back in the Eighties and early Nineties). I can accept that most of us want an end to the warfare and long for the freedom to evangelize that a new province promises. But I absolutely cannot accept the seeming complacency that because we want it, it will happen.

Asking and receiving

I would go further. Such smugness only antagonizes our opponents and increases their determination never to allow us this unmerited luxury. It is because we want it that so many are determined never to let us have it. The idea that the bad guys should be rewarded for their wickedness has them frothing at the mouth. I truly believe there are some ‘liberals’ who would rather vote against women bishops than allow us to have what we want.

The number one rule, therefore, when speaking to opponents, is never (and I do mean never) argue for a new province because we want it. That is a red rag to a bull. An alternative approach concentrates not on what we want, but more bluntly on what we demand. We demand a new province and will accept nothing less.

Sheer bloody-mindedness has a lot going for it. It is, as we often say, ‘the only language they understand.’ When it comes down to straightforward political battle, with clear winners and losers, hard-line intransigence is not without merit; but only if one has properly calculated the odds, and has a thorough grasp of the details.

How many hundreds of clergy and thousands of laity back in 1992, declared, hand on heart and eyes ablaze with righteous determination, that they would not budge; they would stand and fight; they would never surrender; only to discover a few years later that they have vanished away like the morning dew?

The value of bloody-mindedness

So, yes, we must be absolutely adamant that we will accept nothing less than a free province, that no other provision and no form of code of practice will ever be acceptable. But in doing that, we must also acknowledge that the liberal majority will not (and with good reason) believe us. We look at the core (our C parishes) and see growing strength and resolve; they look at the whole, and see a steady decline as parish after parish rescinds its resolutions A and B, or its nearly-resolutions.

Now I do not want to be unfair to FiF gatherings around the country, but how often do you hear people talking up our own strength? Because we share anecdotal evidence of ‘people,’ clerical and lay, up and down the country in non-C parishes who share our views, and who are ‘really’ on our side but cannot declare their hand for a whole variety of reasons, we come to believe that opposition to the proposed innovation is still significant. Do we really believe that those who have not stood up to be counted from 1992 to 2005 will (miraculously) do so in 2008?

It is a matter of politics. Most of us are not movers or shakers, but we do need to talk sense: you never know who might be listening. With regard to a new province, I would strongly advise not laying the stress on what-we-want: it only antagonizes the opposition, for they do not, understandably, want to give us (the bad guys) what we want.

Instead we must demand a new province, but this still does not mean our opponents will take us seriously, because in terms of numbers we have so far failed to deliver. Are there, perhaps, arguments that will persuade them it is what-they-want? I will tackle that one next month.