Friday, 11 July 2008
Here's my take on what happened in the debate on women bishops.
The debate got off to a bad start when the bishop proposing the motion explained that the wording was agreed by the House of Bishops, but the question of who would propose it was harder, and eventually he had been dumped on. Therefore during the debate he would merely try to clarify what the various amendments said rather than speak against them. I immediately wondered why there wasn't a bishop who was prepared to stand up, say that the House had definitely made the right choice, and persuade us all to follow its leadership?
Fortunately we were rescued from floundering by the chairman's wise decision, on each of the amendments, to invite two people to speak in favour and two against, rather than simply calling people and taking pot luck about which way they would speak. If he hadn't done this it would have been terrible, with there being no clear lead from the platform.
The motion said the Synod agrees with women bishops, and that we should have a code of practice which everyone should "have regard to", to make provision for those who can't accept women bishops. It asked the Drafting Group to prepare the legislation and code, so Synod could consider them in detail, consult the dioceses, and finally approve them.
The dissenters had already said they would not be satisfied with a mere code of practice: for in saying that a woman bishop should/must delegate powers, it would implicitly admit that a woman bishop has powers to delegate and therefore that she is a bishop. And 900 women priests had already said they
would rather not have women bishops than have anything more than a code of practice. So both sides had already declared there would be no compromise. Which there wasn't.
In successive amendments, we then voted:
- not to abandon the statement that we are in favour of women bishops,
- but to modify it so as to say "a majority of us are in favour" instead of "this synod is in favour",
- not to ask for all options in the Manchester Report to be kept open,
- not to ditch the code and rely on local provision only,
- not to allow separate dioceses,
- not to allow any other form of separate arrangements in the law, and
- not to explore Transferred Episcopal Arrangements in parallel with the draft law and code.
This last amendment was the closest vote: by a simple majority it would have passed by 3 votes, but because it was only passed in one house (the clergy) and lost in the other two, it was lost overall. But I voted against it, because it basically just postpones the pain.
Then we broke for dinner, and afterwards the hurt emerged. A proposal to create "flying women bishops by the back door" was defeated. A "rescue package" for the objectors, to bolster the code with legal provisions so that it couldn't be changed except by a two-thirds majority, was defeated.
A proposal to reduce the content of the code was defeated. A proposal to make the code statutory was accepted. And a proposal to make the code mandatory (instead of just the "have regard to" line) was defeated.
And the result was a proposal to make women bishops with a statutory code of practice for dealing with those who dissent. It won't satisfy those who dissent. It probably won't satisfy the 900 women priests either, since the code is now to be written into the law and will have the same kind of weight
as the resolutions A and B and the Act of Synod did.
So finally, there was a move to adjourn the whole debate, which would give time for reflection - and I was in favour of that. But it was defeated, and we voted for the main motion. It passed in the House of Bishops, but not clearly enough to show that two-thirds of them will vote for it at final approval. It passed in the laity but by definitely less than the two-thirds figure. The only house it passed comfortably in was the clergy - where I voted against.
I'm a supporter of women bishops, and I basically agree with the 900 women clergy. So why did I vote against? For two reasons: first, I don't want the code to be statutory, because I don't want the discrimination enshrined in law the way the present anti-women-priests regulations are. And second,
I have no gift of prophecy, but I think these proposals are doomed to an unhappy end.
Here's what I think might happen: the proposals will come back as draft law plus code in February, where they may fail to be accepted. But if they are accepted, then they'll then go through the revision committee stage, and out to the dioceses. In the mean time the 2010 General Election will turn into a single-issue matter. Unless the make-up of the Houses of Bishops and Laity changes significantly by 2011, the law and code will fail to get its two-thirds majority and will be lost. And then we won't be able to restart the process until 2016. And if that's the choice, then I'd rather lose the whole thing now and have a chance of restarting it all again in 2011.
To me it is very sad that the debate had little in it about trying to persuade thinking people that they might have got their theology wrong. As an evangelical I have still not given up hope of helping my evangelical opponents to see that 1 Tim 2:12 does not say "I do not permit a woman to teach a man", but rather that it says "I do not permit a woman to teach at all". Because all evangelicals agree that some women nowadays do have teaching ministries - and therefore none of us live by the stricture of what it actually says - that women should keep silent. Instead the verse is a statement of one particular person's take ("I do not permit" - not "It should never be permitted") in a particular place - which that same person did not take in other places (e.g. 1 Cor 11:5 which permits a woman to prophesy). That same person had already admitted that there is a difference between his advice and the Lord's word (1 Cor 7:10 & 12). I don't understand the Anglo-Catholic people so well, but presumably others have not yet given up hope of persuading them that their ecclesiology is wrong?
Anyhow, that's my take on what happened. I'm sorry it's taken me a little while to get my thoughts onto paper, and I'd welcome readers taking the trouble to explain the way of God to me more adequately (Acts 18:26).
Yours in Christ - JOHN HARTLEY. GS76 posted by Alastair Cutting, GS101