Tony Delves examines some alarming statistics from Diocesan Synods and wonders how they can possibly reflect any real debate on women bishops
The results for us, so far, look dire, with a couple of exceptions. But look at the figures again. The improbably large majorities in favour set you thinking. There is, to say the least, a certain lack of credibility.
Now as regards the Synods I do not doubt for a moment that the figures are accurate, but what do they represent? The key issue is this: can you really say that anything worthy of the name ‘debate’ took place? In this sense the figures simply don’t add up. However badly our case may be presented we do still have one, and one shared by the greater part of the Church Catholic and Apostolic to which we belong! So what is going on?
It must be said immediately that if we cannot make our case carry in a Diocesan Synod we cannot expect to win votes. But were the arguments ever put? The reality of ‘debate’ can be seen on diocesan websites. Often our case was never really put. As bad, frequently the contributions were not on the legislation but on the general issue of making women bishops. As we know, a large majority are in favour of this, so allowing a debate to go over this ground again, although already decided, effectively swings the vote.
The simple truth is that where we have been able to put our case fairly and strongly we have drawn support. That is the lesson of Sheffield, where we all but won on the Main Motion, and passed a Following Motion comfortably, and of Guildford, where we did not win any vote but even in that most liberal of dioceses won considerable support.
Moreover, dioceses have varied widely in the degree of preparation for the Diocesan Synod vote. The best have resourced Deanery Synods to explain the arguments. Others have done very little at all. Significantly it is in dioceses which have been careful to explain the issues that we expect to do best – for example, Chichester, Exeter, Blackburn and Manchester. We should be very grateful to their bishops, not for agreeing with us but for taking us and the issues seriously. If this was the norm then the voting figures would look very different.
Many debates rehearse the same myths: that authority transferred to bishops by Statute, rather than delegated from bishops, female and male, would mean ‘a church within a church’; that it would make women ‘second class bishops’; that the Code of Practice is ‘a very generous compromise’; that no more can be given without altering the episcopate itself.
Sorry, but these are demonstrably untrue! All of these claims misconstrue complex issues to our detriment. We should be prepared to contest them when they surface again at Diocesan Synods.
One issue which regularly surfaces and which needs tackling head on is the matter of trust. We are urged to trust those with whom we disagree on the legislation. It is difficult to know how to interpret this exhortation. It comes from people who I’m sure are well intentioned but how can they be so unaware of the causes of the trust deficit? How can they fail to see that our concerns are simply not being addressed; that minorities deserve to be listened to; that if the fortunes of both parties were reversed they could never accept the sort of deal now being offered; that they would find the principles and practice of a Code of Practice offensive and patronising. And they would be right! ND