Today in Comparative Ecclesial Polities, we look at the General Synod of the Church of England, which is now in session, but spent most of today just warming up. Riazat Butt, soon to be late of the Guardian, kept this live blog on the day's events.
Required reading for today's installment comes from Butt's colleague at the Guardian, Andrew Brown. It begins:
Returning from a General Synod meeting in York with a story to write, I once typed "The Church of England yesterday decided", and fell immediately into a profound sleep over my laptop. I was entirely sober at the time. It's just the effect that synod has; and I'm beginning to wonder whether this isn't part of its real purpose.
The General Synod now meets only twice a year. This week it's in Church House, in Westminster. In theory it is there to make the decisions that parliament can no longer be bothered with about the Church of England; but in fact it's a device to make decision-making more or less impossible.
Some Christian churches can't make decisions because they don't have decision-making bodies. The Baptists are the best example of this. Some can't make big decisions because they think that all the interesting ones were made by about 787 AD. That would be the Orthodox – although they do in fact meet in synods to discuss other matters. The Roman Catholics don't believe in democracy as a form of church government, but the bishops gather every century or so to make decisions too large even for a pope.
But the Church of England can't even decide whether it wants to make decisions. The arguments about women bishops that will take up much of this week illustrate the point very well, because what the opponents deny is that the synod should ever be capable of deciding who is or isn't a bishop. For that matter, they don't believe that the synod should decide who is or isn't a priest. So what appear to be wrangles about what decision to make are in fact disputes about whether to make a decision at all.
Is there something about unicameral legislatures that include bishops, clergy and laypeople that bring on this kind of paralysis, or are the problems Brown sees with the synod particular to the Church of England?