Failure of the "common good"

Believing in the common good put the Church of England into a mess over women bishops according to Linda Woodhead at Modern Church:

The historic churches have come to love the idea of the common good. It's there at the heart of Catholic Social Teaching, and it shapes the whole ethos of the Church of England. It seems to have been the guiding principle of Rowan William's leadership, and it shapes the way decisions are taken from parishes up to Synod. Unity at all costs.

It's been a disaster. It's a charter for minority views to hold everyone [hostage]. ...
...

You can see how it plays out in the way meetings are run. Taking a vote is seen as divisive, unfraternal. You have to come to a common mind. What this means in practice is that he or she who speaks up - or runs the meeting - often wins the day, regardless of whether anyone agrees. Protest is difficult, for it appears strident and 'selfish'.

You can see the same principle at work it in the way Rowan has considered maintenance of the unity of the Anglican communion a greater good than support for the cause of women and gay people in the church. Even the slow death of the church in Europe is considered a price worth paying for the ever-receding goal of the common good.

The very constitution of synod has been set up according to this principle. Not first past the post but a 2/3 majority in all houses. This is why 72.6% of synod members can vote for women bishops, all but two dioceses support it, and 6 lay votes can defeat the measure. Don't complain or celebrate though, because we should all maintain the image of one happy family.

But isn't 'oneness' Christian? Shouldn't the church be showing the world a higher way? Yes it should. But it's actually rather hard to find Biblical support for 'Christianity unity' or the common good. John 17:21 'they all may be one' is made to do an awful lot of work. There's rather a deal more in Jesus' teaching about hating father and mothers, and setting brother against brother. 'Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I came to bring not peace but a sword.'

Comments (5)

Very interesting opinion piece. I'm not sure the author really understands the notion of the "common good" in classic catholic social teaching, but I was very struck by this section in the full article.

"Taking a vote is seen as divisive, unfraternal. You have to come to a common mind. What this means in practice is that he or she who speaks up - or runs the meeting - often wins the day, regardless of whether anyone agrees. Protest is difficult, for it appears strident and 'selfish'."

It is a very apt description, for example, of what the General Synod of the Anglican Church of Canada, if recent experience is any indicator.

However, the problem in England is not synod. The problem is more the deference that must be paid, by social convention, to male privilege and old boys, no matter what the cost to genuine minorities, including women.

"However, the problem in England is not synod. The problem is more the deference that must be paid, by social convention, to male privilege and old boys, no matter what the cost to genuine minorities, including women."

Except that at least 32 lay women voted against the measure. Conservatism apparently isn't only for the old boys club.

I would also think that the vote among the bishops, who are the one group in the vote that could be characterized as both "old" and "boys", puts paid to the notion that they are trying to defend their own supposed privilege.

There are plenty of signs that indicate that at least part of the margin of defeat was provided by progressives who thought that the traditionalists were to be given a bum deal. I cannot see how the argument presented in this opinion piece is likely to persuade those dissenters of anything but that they were entirely right to dissent.

Don't know about anyone else, but I find the procedural details at the C of E somewhat tedious to sift, but I gather the its now looking like progressives are not the reason the vote failed. As for who and what is meant by "old boys", Dave provided me an opportunity to post a rejoinder under the more recent article.

@ C Wingate:

"OK so from a preliminary review of the No votes in the Laity [link here], it does not appear that the legislation failed due to No votes cast by people who support women bishops in principle." Simon Sarmiento, Moderator of Thinking Anglicans

JC Fisher

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