A way forward?

Peter Westfield on the outrage that greeted the decision reached by the House of Laity

Perhaps I was naïve. I knew that there would be a backlash against a ‘no’ vote in General Synod, but I had not anticipated the scale and the hysteria with which the backlash would be employed. Bishop after bishop has lined up to impress the media with his [sic] outrage at the temerity of the House of Laity in coming to a mind of its own.

Calls for reform

My personal favourites are those who call for reform of the way Synod members are elected, since they are so obviously undemocratic and out of touch with modern society. Never mind the fact that the rules of this synodical process were clear from the outset (as they were in 1992, when the legislation allowing the ordination of women to the presbyterate was passed by an even smaller margin than this result); never mind the fact that the legislation and its forbears failed consistently to achieve the two-thirds majority in each house which was necessary at the final stage as it made its process through the legislative system; never mind the fact that Synod prayed in silence that God’s will be done before the final vote was taken: the final result was clearly wrong, and so something must be done!

The obsession with the cultural norms of the society in which we live is a curious one, too: I write this on the day when the Gospel reading at Mass was Luke’s account of the cleansing of the Temple. Jesus was not too obviously concerned with the cultural norms of his society on that particular occasion. When even as profound a theologian as Rowan Williams implies that our main focus should be conforming to the ‘trends and priorities of…wider society’, then we know that we are indeed in the grip of collective hysteria.

Legitimate and fair

What this saga has also demonstrated is that not only are the hard-line proponents of women’s ordination completely scornful of the ecclesiology and governance of the Church Universal – we have known that for a long time – they are also utterly scornful of the structures of government of the very Church to which they belong, and in which some of them aspire to be bishops. How else can the utter outrage at the decision reached – legally, legitimately, and fairly – by the House of Laity be explained?

It seems that synodical governance is fine, until the synod in question reaches the wrong decision! Then the wisdom and leadership of the bishops is called upon. And yet it was precisely this leadership that was ignored and rejected when the Archbishops’ amendment was rejected – by a small majority – in the House of Clergy. Perhaps episcopal leadership, along with synodical governance, is a pick-and-choose affair?

Whatever the strange consequences of Synod’s vote – and they are worthy of serious analysis at some time in the future, even if only by historians – they must not stop us from looking to the future, with faith and with hope. Catholics and Evangelicals together must adopt a constructive and united approach to ensure that this scenario is not repeated. Perhaps a way forward might be something similar to that adopted by the Church in Wales: two pieces of legislation, separate but inextricably linked, one which creates women bishops and another which gives provision for those who are opposed. If such an approach were to be adopted here, the future might indeed be brighter than the recent past, and we could move Forward in Faith together.

Confirmations and Baptisms at All Saints Small Heath