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Making sense of the Synod vote

Making sense of the Synod vote

The conventional wisdom a week ago was that the General Synod would authorize the ordination of women to the episcopate. Maybe not a slam dunk but after 42 of 44 diocesan synods said “yes,” it seemed like a sure thing. Since the vote failed by a mere six vote in the lay order, the implications are still being sorted out.

Thinking Anglicans have excellent round ups of reaction here and here and here. Still more opinion is rolling in here.

The Church Times says the legislation did not fail on Tuesday, but it failed in 2010 when both conservative Anglo-Catholic and conservative Evangelical groups managed to elect the 35% of the members who would reliably vote against any measure allowing women to become bishops.

THE women-bishops legislation did not fall on Tuesday, as has been widely reported. In effect, it fell in October 2010. This was when the new General Synod was elected, after strenuous efforts by the lobbying groups to get their people into the Houses of Clergy and Laity ( News, 22 October 2010). When the results were announced, the Catholic Group on the General Synod and the conservative Evangelical organisation Reform calculated that 77 members of the House of Laity (35.46 per cent) would vote against it unless amended. Their calculations were almost spot on. As the Archbishop of Canterbury predicted on Wednesday, the General Synod itself is “under scrutiny” for its inability to reflect the views of parishioners as expressed through their closest representative bodies, the diocesan synods; and also for the General Synod’s management of this issue: how did it come to walk into the chamber on Tuesday with such a vital matter balancing on a knife-edge?

Within ten minutes of the collapse of the legislation, the first expressions of dismay and shame were sent to this paper. The damage to the Church’s standing with a largely uncomprehending public is serious, and its message to women potentially disastrous. It will require a great effort of will to return to the debate, especially given the desire of all to move on to more pressing social, political, and evangelistic matters. But the nature of unfinished business is that it blocks the agenda. The Church’s work will be impaired until it finds a way to resolve this issue. The prospect of waiting until 2015 – and another contested election – is not to be borne, despite the evident danger of trotting round the same track.

The interest groups may have succeeded in blocking the vote but they may have awakened the general public and members of parliament that the church does not consist of the extremes but is mainly a “broad” church and that the vote was out of step with both the majority of the Church’s members and the society it claims to minister to.

Watch the BBC’s video of the discussion that took place in the House of Commons yesterday. Members on both sides of the aisle are very displeased with the outcome and show the political pressure on the Church of England to fix the situation.

But while there is pressure, (One MP called for no male bishops to be appointed until women are able to consecrated–“no ordination without feminization!” he proclaimed) there consensus is that parliament will not force a solution. The Guardian reports that Parliament will not force the issue by overriding the Synod vote.

The prime minister’s spokesman said David Cameron shared the disappointment of many at the vote on female bishops, but said the issue was a matter for the church to decide.

Sources close to the culture secretary, Maria Miller, who is also equalities minister, issued strongly worded criticism after the vote on Tuesday night to open up the episcopate to female clerics was lost by just six votes.

But it was stressed by No 10 that this displeasure would not extend to direct intervention in the internal workings of the Church of England.

Allies of Miller said: “Whilst this is a matter for the church, it is very disappointing … As we seek to help women fulfil their potential throughout society this ruling would suggest the church is at very least behind the times.”

Still, Synod need not wait two to five years to sort this out. The BBC reports:

In the Commons, Sir Tony told MPs that a fresh attempt to allow women to become bishops should take place “as soon as possible”.

He said the issue should not be “parked for the next couple of years” until after the next round of General Synod elections in 2015.

“It is perfectly possible for a different and amended measure to consecrate women bishops to be considered by General Synod,” he said.

Sir Tony, who represents the Church of England in the Commons, told MPs it was “impossible for me to explain” how the Synod opposed the measure.

The measure would have made it lawful for women to be consecrated to the office of bishop.

David Cameron has said he is “very sad” that the Church of England rejected the introduction of women bishops.

Sarah Coakley writes:

As was again proven by the dismal decision of the General Synod, what our Church now requires is not some sort of palliative or merely pragmatic compromise, but a fresh and uncompromising focus on the underlying theological and philosophical issues which cannot credibly be gainsaid, and without which no lasting solution to the issue of female bishops can be achieved.

Such a coherent “theology of women bishops,” if there is to be such, must be therefore be a renewed and distinctly Anglican theology of the episcopate in toto, and not a capitulation to a second-order “female” form of the office, or to any other political compromise which hides an actual theological contradiction, or – again – to some negotiated pragmatic stand-off which continues to distract our gaze from the already-undermined position of women clergy in our church.

Twenty years ago our Church voted to ordain women. We have arrived at the point when all the indications are that the current theological anomaly of priests who cannot by definition be bishops has become an unacceptable skandalon to the Church’s life. This is not because of a capitulation to secular feminism; it is, as I’ve tried to demonstrate, because of a commitment to the historic nature of Christian ordained ministry and in particular to the distinctive theological principles of Anglicanism.

While I am fully committed to the attempt to find courteously-ordered arrangements for those who currently disagree, I am completely opposed to the introduction of new incoherences into the theological picture. It is truth that is at stake. And while truth can be two-eyed, it cannot be two-faced.

Reuters reports that Bishop Welby expects to ordain a woman to the episcopate as Archbishop of Canterbury.

The General Synod need not wait another two or three years to take another shot on this:

“There have been some suggestions in the press that it is impossible for the Church of England or General Synod to return to this issue until after a new General Synod has been elected in 2015. That is not correct: the rules prevent the same Measure from being reconsidered by the General Synod without a special procedure. It is perfectly possible for a different and amended Measure to consecrate women bishops to be considered by the General Synod. Although this is for the Church of England to resolve, as the Prime Minister made clear yesterday, I suspect that there will also be those in the Church of England who will wish to consider whether the election process to the General Synod is sufficiently representative, particularly of the laity of the Church of England, as Tuesday’s vote clearly did not reflect the overall and clear consensus of dioceses across England in support of women bishops.

It is my earnest hope that during the time I serve the Queen—whose appointment I am—this House and the Church of England as Second Church Estates Commissioner it will prove possible for me to bring before this House a Measure that will enable women to be consecrated bishops in the Church of England.”

Coakley does not answer the question of how better theology could have moved people who have made the same theological arguments over the past two decades to vote differently.

Bishop Welby will meet with members of Parliament and the House of Lords to see how the issue can be fast-tracked.

The next archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, is being invited to meet MPs and Lords to discuss ways of speeding up a fresh attempt for the Church of England to vote for the ordination of women bishops.

The announcement by Tony Baldry, the second church estates commissioner, the official link between the church and parliament, was made as MPs called for more drastic measures to force the Church of England to change its mind after it narrowly failed to back the move in a vote earlier this week.

Baldry resisted calls from MPs from all main parties for an immediate bill to force the church to accept women bishops, for a moratorium on new male bishops until the change was made, or for disestablishment of the Church of England.

However he warned that the government was not prepared to wait more than two to three years until a new General Synod of the church is appointed, as had been speculated after Tuesday’s vote.

How can the House of Laity turn down women bishops when 74% of the laity who voted in the dioceses were in favor? Andrew Brown looks at how special interests can hijack members of General Synod.

It is the deanery synods of a diocese that choose its lay representatives to the General Synod, by formal election using the single transferable vote. Two features of the system make it vulnerable to capture by interest groups. The first is the general apathy, and the second the fact that representation of deanery synods is weighted towards the larger congregations.

The conservative evangelical churches are few, but often large. They can place lay representatives on deanery synods with quite as much enthusiasm as they withhold funds from the rest of the Church of England. This is clearly what happened at the last deanery synod elections. The next ones are not until 2014; only after that could the composition of the house of laity in the General Synod change. Until then it seems probable that the present angry stalemate must continue.

Mia Smith posted this poem on Fulcrum:

When I am Ordained, I shall wear Purple

When I am ordained, I shall wear purple

with killer heels and bright red lipstick

And I shall go round preaching from the Bible

…The liberating truth that Jesus calls women

and tell those who say otherwise that it is they,

not I, who are bad theologians.

I shall sit down with fellow clergy

when we are tired of fighting for equality

and going the extra mile with grace when we are put down,

And we will make up for it:

by encouraging one another as Scripture says,

and praying for those who abuse us,

and rejoicing that we are suffering

(but just a little bit) for Jesus,

And we might even eat some chocolate.

I will adopt the ordination name “Junia”,

and remind those who object,

that there may be a boy named Sue somewhere in the world,

but there probably isn’t.

But now we must face the world,

Who think we are traitors to our sex

For working for the Church

And face our brothers and sisters who think

We are being unbiblical

And face those in our Churches

who have failed to notice the pain this week has brought.

And we will go in the strength of Christ.

We will not turn our backs on our calling

Because God is not finished with the Church,

And He is faithful.

But maybe I ought to practice a little now?

So people who know me are not too shocked and surprised

When suddenly I am ordained, and start to wear purple.

Katielou, a techie who became a vicar reflects on the need for Christians who want to go on with the work of ministry to take seriously the need to be involved politically.

It hurts, not because I want to be a bishop. It hurts because to some this whole thing was not about bishops, not about the quality of the legislation. This is about the validity of women’s orders in of themselves. This is about if I am a fraud when I get up and put my collar on, rather than being truly in holy orders and sent out to work for the kingdom. It hurts because while some people think differently to me, and I try my hardest to respect that they feel differently, they don’t all pay that respect back. Even if I struggle to respect how your reading of scripture and tradition differs from mine, I don’t ever question your fundamental personhood in your vocation. By doubting my capacity for priesthood, you are denying my integrity before God, denying my very identity. Is that really your right to judge? Did the church not spend a load of time in church history lectures worrying about the validity/efficacy of the sacraments regardless of the person of the minister?

I’m not a very good feminist, and I don’t think we should be arguing on grounds of equality. If we can’t put our point on theological grounds, then we’re barely worthy of ‘winning’. (I feel the same way about gay relationships, for the record, which I’ve actually spent more time studying to be sure of what I think theologically – and I also hurt because I don’t think we’re going to ‘deal’ with ‘the gay issue’ until we’ve ‘dealt’ with ‘the women issue’ and a delay at the beginning of this chain sees us taking longer before we can clear the decks to seriously concentrate on what else there is to do).

Because I’m not a very good feminist, I am possibly guilty with a lot of the liberal church who just think that love and respect and getting on with it somehow doesn’t need fighting for. In the same way that I won’t vote for any political candidate/party who spends their literature slagging off the others without giving me anything to base a vote on (or prints on glossy not recyclable paper), I struggled with a sense of ‘sides’ and perhaps that was a mistake. A wise old priest I know saw this coming, and tried to persuade my mum to stand for synod – that would have been one vote more…


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the last deanery synod elections. The next ones are not until 2014; only after that could the composition of the house of laity in the General Synod change. Until then it seems probable that the present angry stalemate must continue.

Time for “peasants w/ [virtual!] pitchforks”?

Surely, there must be some kind of impeachment process, for lay representatives who so treasonously subverted the will of the people!

Yes, yes: “business as usual”, and the CofE is STUCK for *years* (w/ the PR *and* Gospel DISASTER that entails).

But what if the CofE did NOT settle for business as usual? What if they followed Gospel equality, damn the process??? {Cough *Philadelphia 11* Cough}

JC Fisher

John B. Chilton

In TEC we make a clear distinction that our deputies are, um, deputies not delegates. We deputize them to do what they think right; they are not delegated to vote some way.

Is this democratic? Whatever it is, there’s no expectation that they are representatives. So why the howl when the General Synod produces a result that doesn’t reflect the will of the people? Why does that mean the system is broken?

If the majority can’t their act together to elect representatives that reflect their views whose fault is that? The majority that did? The minority that was organized?

It’s not an autocratic process. It’s a conservative process, no doubt. But a super majority of lay delegates/deputies/representatives could have been been elected and it wasn’t. This sounds to me like a minority that cared intensely about an outcome, and a majority where not enough cared intently enough and/or thought it would carried because they could free ride on the organizational effort of someone else.

The silver lining is that people will now wake up and elect folks to the lay house who will be more liberal. The minority could end up being its own worst enemy.

John B. Chilton

From the Rev. Mal Rogers, vicar in Liverpool:

Dear Parishioners,

You will all be very aware that I am in favour of women being ordained and consecrated as Bishops in our church. In my role as Chair of the Diocese of Liverpool’s International Partnerships and now a member of Bishop’s Council I have encouraged, welcomed and celebrated the ministry of people like Bishop Cathy Roskam (New York) and Bishop Susan Goff (Virginia) and it has been a very great privilege to get to know them well and serve alongside them in different ways. Since my own ordination, in the year women were first ordained as priests, I have campaigned for women to be bishops in the church.

Whilst I am sympathetic to the different conclusions you can draw from specific and now famous passages of scripture, I consider the Bible as a whole to be a message of Good News, Invitation and Hope to all God’s people and beyond. God created us ‘in his image.. male and female he created them’ says the Book of Genesis, Galatians 3 reminds us that this creation is without preference or seniority, and the Books of Acts makes it clear that God’s Holy Spirit was bestowed on ALL people for the purposes of building up the church of Jesus Christ. Bishop James reminded us today that the role of the Bishop is to feed to the Body of Christ. The first person to do that was a woman, his mother. The Good News of the Resurrection was first told by women.

Like many I have wrestled with the news which breaks my heart for our Church of England. How will this be perceived? How will this advance the cause of Christ in our generation, or even the next? I have been an Anglican all my life and ordained 16 years. Yesterday was the first day I was ashamed to be a member.

I want you to know that today, I have proposed a vote of no confidence in the General Synod of the Church of England. At a gathering of deanery clergy this was voted upon, and was carried (all but one member of the chapter voted in favour, 1 abstained). The proposal will now be heard at Diocesan Synod at which I will ask for the Diocese itself to condemn the processes which allowed 42 of our 44 dioceses to vote overwhelmingly in favour of the Ordination of Women as Bishops, whilst delivering a no vote yesterday.

As much as my heart is breaking, I know this news has also shocked and bewildered many of you. Let us pray for each other. The synod members themselves are also very much in my prayers. The people who I am chiefly praying for are those women whom God has called and is calling.

Your Friend In Christ


Norris Battin

Is “vote counting” an unknown practice in the Synod? It seems this outcome was — forgive me — preordained yet it went generally unacknowledged by the media in the run up.

Rod Gillis

One of the ways of “making sense” of the no vote, is by analysing the political and socialundercurrents.How could there not be anger given the long standing misogynist rhetoric that supporters of patriarchy continue levy at women? The fact that it is delivered with sanctimonious piety makes it all the more galling.

Churches have great difficulty finding appropriate ways to deal with legitimate anger, harnessing it for meaningful social change. Just as in the wider society anger has been acknowledged in order to find effective ways to fight bullying, so in the church anger must be faced in order to effectively end gender discrimination.

Religious institutions are sitting ducks for sexism. The supporters of a male only presbyters and bishops have political clout. The are embedded in the church. They are a kind of stored unpleasant energy and this scares reasonable and accommodating people.

Perhaps the light is dawning. Attempting to appease radical conservatives is part of the problem, not part of the solution. Its a lesson we’re still learning here in North America.

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