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Tuesday, 10 February 2009

Anatomy of a Debate: Part 1

This afternoon, the following Motion is appearing before Synod:


Ms Vasantha Gnanadoss (Southwark) to move:

11. ‘That this Synod, noting that in 2004 the Association of Chief Police Officers
adopted a policy whereby

“no member of the Police Service, whether police officer or police
staff, may be a member of an organization whose constitution, aims,
objectives or pronouncements contradict the general duty to promote
race equality” and “this specifically includes the British National

request the House of Bishops to formulate and implement a comparable policy
for the Church of England, to apply to clergy, ordinands, and such employed
lay persons as have duties that require them to represent or speak on behalf of
the Church.’

As part of the process of preparation for Synod, members received two briefing papers. One was from Ms Gnanandos explaining the background to the motion and its purpose, the other was from the Secretary General outlining some responses to the motion. It is interesting, first of all, to put the two of them next to each other and do a little reading between the lines - especially with the second paper. William Fittall is a bit of a Sir Humphrey, and there is very little of what he says that is not in some form of code.

What happens next does so along two different paths. The first of these is outside Synod - the court of public opinion, if you like. In a case such as this there is usually some media interest. Some of it is actively sought by Synod Members - it is interesting how the same people seem to appear so regularly on the radio at this time of year, for example - some of it comes from the media themselves looking for a story. In this case it is almost certainly a bit of both. The fact that Sir Ian Blair is so publically involved suggests that some of the media attention has been specifically sought through press releases, and the usual suspects have been out and about on the airwaves this morning. It is also the case, though, that racism is always of interest to the Media, so no doubt some of the coverage is also generated by them. Obviously, the Synod does not exist in a bubble apart from the outside world (even if we behave that way sometimes) so this sort of media attention will feed back into the debate.

The second path for further developments is an internal one. What can you do with a motion before Synod? Well, obviously you can pass it or not, but the other thing you can do with it is amend it - or try to. Why might you want to amend a motion? A variety of reasons, I suppose. There are plenty of technical amendments - indeed these are a vital part of what Synod does. If you spot a mistake, or an unintended consequence in a piece of legislation then it needs amending. But what do you do if you really don't like a motion as it stands but you don't want to have to vote against it? Answer - you try to amend it so that it says something you can agree with. At the moment we have three amendments proposed to themotion above. This is what they look like.

First is Tim Hind's. Tim is an old hand on Synod, and his amendment is a very light touch change to the last part of the motion. Under his amendment the last paragraph of the motion would read " request the House of Bishops to formulate and implement a comparable policy for the Church of England, to apply to PERSONS WHOSE DUTIES require them to represent or speak on behalf of the Church." The effect of this seems to be to point out just how general any proposed code of conduct would have to be, and consequently how unlikely it would be to succeed in doing so.

Second is Ven. Norman Russell's. Norman is another experienced member of Synod. He is Chairman of the House of Clergy for Canterbury (or Prolocutor in Synod terms) and a member of Archbishops Council. Norman's amendment is rather more extensive. The effect of it would be a motion which read as follows:

'That this Synod, recognising that every human being is made in the image of God, request the House of Bishops to formulate and implement a policy
for the Church of England, to apply to clergy, ordinands, and such employed
lay persons as have duties that require them to represent or speak on behalf of
the Church which makes it clear that racism has no place in the life of the Church.’

As you can see, this is a very different animal to Ms Gnanadoss' original. There is no mention of the Met., and the bishops are given a very definite steer as to what their policy is supposed to show. It remains within the scope of the initial motion, but it has very different potential effects.

Thirdly, there is mine. This removes the wording of the original motion entirely and replaces it as follows: 'That this Synod affirm that membership of any organisation whose constitution, aims, objectives or pronouncements contradict the promotion of race equality is incompatible with the Apostolic Christian faith.' Of the three it is the most radical in terms of changes to the original motion - although Norman's is perhaps more forthright in terms of language. I have put it forward for two reasons. The first is that the original motion does not actually say anywhere explicitly that racism is wrong. The second is that I have understood Mr Fittall's carefully coded briefing to be saying that rules as proposed in the motion would be pretty much impossible to apply to Church members or enforce in any meaningful fashion. They will sound good, but have no useful function. And that, really, is my concern. Either racism is a grievous affront to the loving God who created all of us in his own image, or it isn't. If it is such a thing, then what are the guidelines from the House of Bishops for? I fear that the answer to this is so that we can avoid our own responsibilities in this matter and hide behind the rules. Racism is sinful, and those who promote it promote evil. As individual Christians and as a Church we need to shout this from the rooftops, not put it in a policy.

So - there you are. What I will try to do later today is describe how the debate itself goes. I realise that this has been rather a long post, but hopefully it gives you some insight into what actually happes behind the scenes before a debate - and also a glimpse of potentially how much difference a few members of synod acting in concert can make to a debate. Don't forget, we are your representatives. We will always act according to our own consciences (or try to, at least) but we are here to act on your behalf too!

(GS 373)


dmk said...

Fascinating. One of several problems with the original motion is that, if the British National Party changes its policies and attitudes, then being a member will become ok. Racism is the root of the problem, not the BNP. And, like you say, if it's the CofE's stated official position, then it doesn't need enshrining in a policy.

Mima said...

I am coming at this from a point of extreme ignorance of Synod and of politics, I am picking up some of the differences between the motions, and fully support the concept. I am slightly surprised that something like this does not already exist! Having not followed any of this until now I am going to have to do some more reading to see if I can find out how it all turned out!