Monday, 26 November 2012

Unrepresentative Synod

I’d much prefer to be typing about our annual visit to the seal breeding colony on the Lincolnshire coast on Friday , but there it is. The bottom picture is a turnstone feeding on seal placenta.

The General Synod vote was a train crash waiting to happen, and it doesn’t give me any pleasure to say this was set out in my post of 14th July 2008.

Among the informed lay people who have been involved in discussing this issue there are some who take the position that the Church of England is not in a position to develop its tradition in this way at least without the consensus of the major Catholic and Orthodox churches; our continuity with the pre-Reformation church has never been fundamentally fractured. But they are in a small minority; the rest see careful weighing of our own place in a developing tradition as what happened at the Reformation and what continues to happen today.

Among them there are some who take the position that the Church of England is not in a position to diverge from a biblical interpretation which forbids women from taking leadership authority in the church; we are not free to make moves which a literal interpretation of any New Testament text would forbid. But they are also a small minority; the rest see careful weighing of the bible in our present context as what has happened at every stage of Christian history.

We know the size of these minority positions for two reasons. One is that only 7% of the parishes in the Church of England have taken advantage of the provision made at the time of the first ordinations of women as priests to ring fence themselves against their ministry. The other is that over the last year between them over three quarters of the members of the Houses of Laity in each Diocesan Synod have voted in favour of legislation to allow the consecration of women as Bishops.

So for 36% of the House of Laity of the General Synod to vote against this legislation was both entirely predictable and fundamentally misrepresentative of the mind of the church.

A hundred years ago England still refused women the vote and resisted their place in professions such as medicine. For the hundred years since, in the same way that those who found the Holy Spirit given to Gentiles as much as to Jews and brought their recommendation that such people could not be excluded from the church to the central authorities of the early church in Jerusalem, people have been bringing again and again to state and church irrefutable testimony that women’s voting, working, ministering and leading are as grace-filled as those of men. We can be respectful of those who take specific minority views on how we handle tradition and scripture, but there is no way of avoiding this truth self evident both to society and to the growing consensus in our church.

There are two ways forward from here. One is that, after behind the scenes negotiations, the six senior members of the General Synod will exercise their right to have the legislation re-presented, with safeguards for conscientious objectors more explicit, and passed next year. The other more tortuous and tedious path is that the next round of elections to the General Synod will be conducted with a sharp awareness that the militant tendencies of the church should never be over represented again.

This parish has produced as ordinands or has had serve in it as licensed clergy twelve priests who are women (Anne now Chaplain of our local Hospital, the late Bridget, the late Christine, George still working with us, Jan, Jenny, Judy still living in the parish and now a Canon of our Cathedral, Julie, Linda, Pauline, Sue and Terrie) and any implication that they are not real priests or that their fellow women priests are somehow incapable of being bishops would be laughable if it were not so sad.

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