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Wednesday, 11 February 2009

Women Bishops: Introduction to the Debate

Here we are then. Another Synod, another Women Bishops Debate. First question - how does this one differ from the last few? The big difference this time is that we are now talking specifically about legislation - about how we change the rules. The previous debate - in York last July - was all about first whether we wanted to be presented with draft legislation, and if we did then what form we wanted that legislation to take. Now we have a first look at the draft legislation and a chance to discuss it.

Second question - what are the possible outcomes of this debate? Let's start with what won't happen. If we pass this motion then we will not have decided that there will be women bishops in the C. of E.; we will simply have gone one step further towards that point. Secondly, we can't change the draft that we are discussing. We are deciding whether or not we want to send it for revision in Committee. Actual revision will be done by the Revision Committee (yet to be appointed) and in Synod at a later stage. The only outcomes possible is a yes or no decision about going on to the next stage.

So what is the point of the debate, and what might we learn from it? First, it's another check to see if we want to go ahead. The motion could be lost, and if it is then there will be no more progress on women bishops for at least the remaining two years of this Synod. Secondly, it is a chance for everyone to see what the current state of opinion is about the proposed legislation. Various people will no doubt stand up and say the same thing all over again, but others will show that their opinions have changed, or offer suggestions as to how the legislation can be revised. There will also be a certain amount of straightforward politics - many members of Synod would probably like to be on the Revision Committee, and what people say in this debate and how they say it may well make a difference as to who is eventually chosen.

There is a final thing we might learn, too. Although there will probably be procedural motions of one kind or another, the only real vote will be the one at then end of the debate. Always at the back of the mind is the fact that when it comes to final approval - if the process gets that far - a majority of 2/3 in each House of Synod will be required. The vote today will be electronically recorded, and almost certainly by Houses. Thanks to electronic voting that means not only will we know how close each House to a 2/3 majority, but also exactly who is voting which way.

(GS 373)

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