Thinking Anglicans

House of Laity meeting – Gavin Oldham letter

Archbishop Cranmer has written on his blog an article entitled The revenge of the liberal laity. In it he quotes the full text of a letter from Gavin Oldham, a lay General Synod member from the diocese of Oxford. In it Oldham explains why he will be voting for the vote of no confidence in the chair of the House of Laity at the meeting of the House next week.

Here is the letter.

Dear friends in Christ,

On 18 January the House will be debating a ‘No Confidence’ motion in its Chair, a motion which has arisen directly from the General Synod debate on women bishops in November. I have given my support to the motion being debated, and it is my intention to support the motion on the day unless by the grace of God there is clear evidence of change.

I owe it to my friends in the House who voted against the women bishops’ legislation to explain why I have given my support, and how my views have changed since that day in November. Let me first explain that I have been a member of the General Synod since 1995 representing Oxford diocese: as does Philip Giddings, who I have been fortunate to regard as a friend over these last 17 years. I am also a member of EGGS, as he is and, although I have been a consistent supporter of women bishops, I regard myself very much as an Evangelical, albeit one who places a high importance on the place of reason alongside scripture and tradition.

This is not in any respect a personal issue.

[continued below the fold]

Over the past years my position on women bishops has been to support the maximum provision for those who have found it difficult to accept the change, consistent with the solution being convergent for the Church as opposed to divergent. I explained this position in July 2012 at the meeting of the House which took place before General Synod. I have never been prepared to contemplate a solution which could evolve into a schism.

However my position has hardened considerably since the November debate, as I have come to realise that it is the destructive ideology of male headship which lies at the root of our problems.

Our deadlock over women bishops has, of course, resulted from a combination of Anglo-Catholic and conservative Evangelical opposition. The Anglo-Catholics naturally look to Rome for a lead, and while Rome might prefer to see a clear resolution of the matter within the Church of England, it is not about to give that lead.

However it is the concept of male headship, espoused by many of my Evangelical friends as theology, which presents the major problem: as was clear from speech after speech during our debate. For while valid questions may have been asked about the representative quality of the House of Laity in the General Synod, the Church should – and does – acknowledge the vibrancy and growth of Evangelical churches which have so much to offer. This vibrancy is not dependent on the adoption of male headship ideology by conservative Evangelicals, but on the working of the Holy Spirit through people of faith.

I have come to realise since the November debate that male headship is to be seen alongside a number of similar major historical issues where prejudice and discrimination have been justified by selected biblical references. These include slavery, national socialism, apartheid and ethnic cleansing. Male headship has its roots in the same soil of prejudice and discrimination. It is another elitist creed which, in my view, has no place in the Church of England, nor indeed in the Christian faith.

It may be helpful to consider these selected biblical references through the filter of the two great commandments from which hang all the law and the prophets. For example, how can a man who is a male headship advocate claim to ‘love his neighbour as himself’ if he is not prepared to accept that she can carry the same roles within the church? Obviously it can’t be ‘as himself’, or perhaps he is denying that women are his neighbours by virtue of their gender? I don’t think Jesus was making that distinction.

The Bishop of Liverpool spoke clearly in the debate setting out how he had come to understand St. Paul’s teaching, and why it should not be used as a prop for male headship ideology. The bishops are the seat of theology within the Church, and I do feel that conservative Evangelicals should listen carefully to, and be prepared to accept, what they say.

The ideology of male headship has come to have assumed the status of doctrine, but even doctrine is shown as capable of change from a biblical perspective. St Peter was clearly of the doctrinal view that the Gospel was meant only for the Jews, and yet his vision at Cornelius’ house (Acts 10) made clear that he must change. And thank God that he did, because otherwise we would not have the opportunity to receive Christ’s salvation today.

So I have come to realise that male headship ideology must be confronted and not appeased, just in the same way that St. Peter confronted his erstwhile interpretation that the Christian faith was reserved for the Jews. Male headship is simply the latest in a long line of elitist creeds, and it is time to consign it to history, as with the others.

Finally, let me say again that the 18 January debate is not personal: it is about the integrity of the House of Laity. Nobody will be more delighted than me to see Philip being prepared to encourage Evangelicals to pursue their zeal for Christ unencumbered with elitist ideology. With best wishes

Gavin
Gavin Oldham
Oxford 370

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Steve
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Steve

I see what Mr Oldham is talking about but not why that leads him to a vote of no confidence in the chair of the house of laity. Surely such a vote is about how the chair is doing his / her job as chair, not about personal ideologies, or have I missed something here?

Rosie Bates
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Rosie Bates

‘However my position has hardened considerably since the November debate, as I have come to realise that it is the destructive ideology of male headship which lies at the root of our problems.’

Wonderful letter from Gavin, because he has set his face like flint and for this he will not be ashamed. His letter is a song of liberation in a reasoned, charitable and transparent outpouring of truth and wisdom. Thanks be to God.

JCF
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JCF

“So I have come to realise that male headship ideology must be confronted and not appeased”

Incredible, that in the Year of Our Lord 2013 this is still up for debate. I think I speak for the entire Episcopal Church when I say, “Duh!”

[Point-of-Order: I checked out that “Archbishop Cranmer” blog, and I did not see it immediately evident just *who* is this person claiming the appellation of the holy martyr. It may be well-known to UK readers, but for this Ignorant Yank here, could s/he please be identified?]

Charlotte
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Charlotte

“Archbishop Cranmer” writes well and with verve, but his arguments, when one can find them, are flimsy. Most of the column is given over to mere ad hominem. Who are they who back women bishops for the Church of England? They are the “utterly wicked” laity who unwittingly make the case that the laity should be removed altogether from Synod. They are “aggressive reformists who seek to fill old wineskins with Coca Cola, and … progressive extremists who view orthodox Christian teaching as a breath away from Nazism or apartheid.” He ends, as is the custom, by threatening schism. One… Read more »

Lionel Deimel
Guest

Like Steve, I am confused about how this letter relates to the business at hand. It is refreshing, however, for an Anglican to oppose a point of view simply because it is wrong. I am all for Anglican diversity, but some viewpoints are just hurtful, misguided, and destructive of the church’s witness.

Chris H.
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Chris H.

Steve, I wondered that too. Is the Chair required by law, written or unwritten, to push the majority agenda? What are the specific requirements for the post? What are the usual reasons, if any, that someone is removed from the position? Does one always get fired for having a minority view? I wonder what Oldham’s definition of “Evangelical” is, exactly? He claims to be one, but he doesn’t seem to think anyone who votes conservative should be allowed in church government. And why should the opinion of one bishop regarding headship undo centuries of tradition? Liberals certainly don’t just fall… Read more »

Gary Paul Gilbert
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Gary Paul Gilbert

Yes, JCF, which century is the C of E in?

Gary Paul Gilbert

Father Ron Smith
Guest

The whole notion of ‘Male Headship’ today is simply an excuse for continuance of the out-dated synodrome of discrimination – against women. Today’s world in not the world of the Old Testament. When Saint Paul – eventually – was able to say that “In Christ, there is neither male nor female”, he may not have completely understood what he was saying. However, Like Peter’s declaration of Jesus’ Son-ship of God; this was probably the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. After all, the Holy Spirit is still alive and active in the Body of Christ, and we ought to be ready… Read more »

Jean Mayland
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Jean Mayland

An excellent letter which I was delighted to read.

Jeremy
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Jeremy

Bravo to Mr. Oldham, who does not hesitate to denounce “male headship” as pernicious, sinful and unChristian. Indeed it is. That being so, a chair of the House of Laity should not adhere to male headship. (Would the Church of England be complacent if it elected someone to the post who, it turns out, had supported apartheid?) What Steve is missing is that, as a direct result of the women-bishops vote, both society and Parliament are holding the Church of England accountable for its discriminatory theology. The CofE wants to respond by saying that male headship is not the theology… Read more »

David Shepherd
Guest

The motion of no confidence purports to have its basis in five identified ‘failures’. 1. ‘His speech against the measure followed directly after Justin Welby’s and therefore I believe directly undermined what the Archbishop elect had said’ Really? So, what’s Justin Welby’s declared position on same-sex marriage? Well, let’s also ensure that we remove any chair who ‘undermines’ his stated position on that issue. 2. ‘Since it was against it did not support the views of the House of Bishops as a whole’. So, a chair’s position must support the HoB consensus. Is that for all issues: like those in… Read more »

Laurence Cunnington
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Laurence Cunnington

Much as I despise Giddings’ views on a range of issues, I really can’t see a problem with his being allowed to express them unless, as another commentator wondered, the Chair is obliged, by convention or otherwise, not to. Are we really saying that Synod members’ consciences are so easily buffeted about that they have no choice but to vote in accordance with the last thing they heard? And on the subject of voting, why doesn’t Synod introduce secret balloting? At least then we would know members’ real opinions rather than the opinions they want to be seen to have.

David Bieler
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David Bieler

Over here in the USA, if Philip Giddings spoke for or against a motion as chair, a significant procedural question would arise and the no confidence resolution would have to stem from knowingly overlooking proper procedure. Here the operative rules of order would have required him to cede his authority as chair temporarily to next highest ranking officer at which point he could then speak from the floor as a member of the deliberative body. This provides an illusion that he is simply arguing rather than making what might otherwise seem to be an official pronouncement. I am correct in… Read more »

Benedict
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Benedict

Nothing but a witch hunt. Is this really about a motion of no confidence? I think not. It is about spoilt children throwing their rattles out of the pram, because they failed to get their way. It is to be hoped they fail to get their way in the eventual vote as well, which I suspect will be the case.

Jeremy
Guest
Jeremy

“So, routing out dissent before another vote will regain credibility ? For what?” Yes, it will. It will disassociate the majority of the House of Laity, and by extension the CofE as a whole, from Mr. Giddings’s pernicious and unChristian views. Such a public and symbolic disassociation is badly needed, given the damage done to the CofE by the women-bishops vote, and by the continuing adherence of some opponents of women bishops, including Mr. Giddings, to the notion of “male headship.” There is a surprising amount of whinging about this no-confidence vote. Back in November, I predicted that if the… Read more »

Simon Sarmiento
Guest

It might help some American readers in particular to explain that in the General Synod the actual task of chairing debates is undertaken by a panel of members, which includes representatives of all three houses but which in practice never includes the chair or the vice-chair of the House of Laity, or any of the Prolocutors, or their deputies, from the House of Clergy. It does include both the archbishops though and this particular debate was conducted under the chairmanship of the Archbishop of York.

Susan Cooper
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Susan Cooper

David Bieler: Philip Giddings was not chairing the women bishops’ debate, which was chaired by the Archbishop of York. Philip Giddings is Chair of the House of Laity and, as such, has a seat on the platform from which he made his speech. This was where he was expected to speak from, but the positioning meant that his speech came over in an exceptionally powerful and, in my eyes, a menacing way. Bishop Justin Welby as Bishop of Durham, and not yet Archbishop of Canterbury, spoke from the floor and not the platform. The timing of the speeches was also… Read more »

Flora Alexander
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Flora Alexander

I am happy that Mr Oldham has come to recognise the weakness of the idea of male headship. But, while I disagree very strongly with Dr Giddings’s views, I have still not seen an adequate explanation for the motion of no confidence in him. I can’t understand the idea that members of the House of Laity could have come to the meeting of the General Synod so undecided that his speech could have changed the way in which they voted, in spite of the arguments presented by the outgoing and incoming Archbishops of Canterbury.

David Shepherd
Guest

Philip Giddings is now described as coming over in a menacing way. Members of the House of Laity must have been cowering beneath their chairs, as he inveighed the worst atrocities upon his audience. Perhaps, it was a more subtle insinuation of mortal fear in anyone who dared to differ.

Yes, we can all do hyperbole!

Erasmus
Guest
Erasmus

I’m not sure that Philip Giddings is either opposed to women bishops or committed to the idea of male headship.
It’s reported that in his Synod speech he said,
“In 1992 I voted in favour of ordaining women to the priesthood but knowing it was unacceptable to many of my fellow Evangelicals because of their understanding of the biblical teaching on headship.”

Brian
Guest
Brian

I am a bit confused. Perhaps someone could enlighten me? Those arguing against the “No Confidence” vote are saying that it is alright to vote matters such as allowing women bishops come what may but it is not alright to vote whether or not one has confidence in the statements and actions of an elected Chair of the House of Laity? Is that right? One can vote to eliminate the possibility of women becoming bishops and that is well and good and, because victorious, clearly God’s will. If one votes to eliminate the Chair, however, it is a liberal plot,… Read more »

Iain Baxter
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Iain Baxter

“No Confidence” I think much of the disagreement over this vote arises from the lack of understanding of the position of Chair of the House of Laity. If the chair’s job is to impartially organise and oversee debate – like the Speaker of the House of Commons – then nobody should be excluded because of their views if they are doing a good job. On the other hand, if the Chair is more like the American House Speaker – the leader of the most powerful group, then his or her views are central to the job. It seems to me… Read more »

Jeremy
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Jeremy

Well said, Brian.

Those who engaged in hardball politics around the issue of women bishops cannot now complain that others are doing the same.

Pam Smith
Guest

As I understand it, the Chair of the House of Laity does represent the House of of Laity on the Standing Committee and probably on other committees as well. So the Chair’s views do matter if members of the House of Laity believe these are influencing the issues over which he is consulted on their behalf.

Re ‘Bishop Cranmer’, he has been identified by Daily Telegraph journalist Damian Thompson as Adrian Hilton, a former Conservative parliamentary candidate.

http://blogs.telegraph.co.uk/news/damianthompson/8716603/Cranmer_on_Jade_Goody_the_creepiest_blog_post_of_the_year/

Erika Baker
Guest
Erika Baker

I don’t understand any of this. Everyone knew before the vote that Philip Giddings is not a strong supporter of women’s ordination. But no-one seemed to think then that this was so shocking and inappropriate that he should not be chair of the House of Laity, in particular as the actual meeting wasn’t chaired by him at all. Then the vote was lost and now it’s all suddenly the fault of that very same person who has to be removed? I accept the argument that the chair of a House should ideally represent the views of the whole church. But… Read more »

Father Ron Smith
Guest

I suppose the real problem here is that the House of Laity may have hoped that their Chair-person might have reflected something of their general feeling on any issue. For Mr Giddings to have written a letter to the Press, purporting to represent the House of Laity on this issue could have been unhelpful in the circumstances – especially as it certainly did not represent their majority opinion.

Jeremy
Guest
Jeremy

Erika, all you are saying is that there has been a sea change in Synod politics and in CofE attitudes since the measure was rejected. This change shouldn’t surprise or puzzle anyone. To the contrary, it is both right and necessary. Of course there was a degree of willingness to tolerate the anti-WO crowd before they blocked the measure. The proponents of women bishops were trying to extend the hand of friendship to the opponents. (Perhaps that was why Giddings was elected in the first place.) Of course the loss of the vote makes a huge difference in whether proponents… Read more »

Erika Baker
Guest
Erika Baker

Jeremy, Doesn’t a motion of no confidence have to be based on something that someone did that he shouldn’t have done? 2 minutes before the vote this chair was not doubted by anyone, there was no thought that he should be dismissed. And if the vote had gone the other way, there would still not be any thought that he should be dismissed. Although he would probably not be elected again but that’s a different matter. That strikes me as a very flimsy pretext for a vote of no confidence and it’s really saying “we thought we could win this,… Read more »

Jeremy
Guest
Jeremy

Politics in a legislature? The horror! “Distaste” for politics is what enabled the anti-WB crowd to outhustle WB proponents at the last Synod elections. And thus to defeat the measure. No wonder most proponents of women bishops are dropping any pretense at distaste and rolling up their sleeves and politicking. They are starting to whip this issue, and high time that they did. “Doesn’t a motion of no confidence have to be based on something that someone did that he shouldn’t have done?” He gave a speech and he cast his vote. Both against the majority position. Is that not… Read more »

Erika Baker
Guest
Erika Baker

Of course every living together involves politics, but I don’t really want the church to follow the appalling adversarial system of the British Parliament. Where it does it should be seen as a weakness not as a strength. I’m not talking about allowing all views to have equal validity or of not dealing with ridiculous demands etc. Nothing wrong with rolling up sleeves here! But his views and the way he would vote were known before GS met and they did not seem to be a problem. It’s only because the vote was lost that they are now seen to… Read more »

David Shepherd
Guest

Erika/Jeremy, As you both know, parliament provides amply for each member to speak against or in favour of a legislative measure before voting proceeds. Although each party may remove the whip from members who vote against their key policies, it only means that they will face the *next* election without party support. They are always free to express a divergent opinion on certain matters. In any case, General Synod is not built around party system with elected members who have campaigned on a certain platform of policies. Whereas the Speaker of the House of Parliament severs all political ties in… Read more »

Pam Smith
Guest

The adversarial system arises from the party system and whipped voting. It’s arguable that both of these have been covertly introduced into General Synod by those opposed to women bishops.

Jeremy
Guest
Jeremy

David Shepherd said: “The political parallel to censuring Giddings in this way would be expelling an MP from office.” That statement is complete nonsense. No one is saying that Mr. Giddings should no longer be a member of Synod. The question raised by the no-confidence motion is whether he should continue to be the chair of the House of Laity–and by virtue of that position, to be the representative of the House of Laity in other contexts. The political parallel would be to a minister being asked to resign his or her post, and resume a back-bench position, when the… Read more »

David Shepherd
Guest

The House of Laity is not some sort of cabinet tasked with implementing policy! That’s the real nonsense.

Erika Baker
Guest
Erika Baker

Jeremy,
is there a formal requirement for the Chair of the House to hold the view of the majority? And on what? Only critical matters or matters that might become critical during his term of office? Or on everything? And how would one know what the majority view on all those potentially critical matters is, before a vote?

Otherwise, “We’ve discovered that he doesn’t agree with us and we don’t like it” seems to be a very poor and arbitrary reason for a vote of no confidence.

Jeremy
Guest
Jeremy

Erika, surely you realize that it is hard to predict or provide for every case, before the event occurs? Surely you realize that this is the task of leaders–to find a way forward in uncertain situations, where nothing is written down to guide them? In this unprecedented situation, and as you know perfectly well, the policy preference of the vast majority of English dioceses–42 out of 44–to ordain women bishops was what Mr. Giddings spoke and voted against. Did he really think he could do that without consequences for his leadership? Did Mr. Giddings really think that in so speaking… Read more »

Pam Smith
Guest

Erika When I first heard of this no confidence motion I felt very uneasy about it – I think for similar reasons to those that you are expressing. However, I don’t think this is simply about someone’s personal views. The Chair of the House of Laity has influence, not just in how s/he chairs meetings – which does in itself offer a considerable opportunity to bias things one way or another to a Chair who is not able to be impartial – but also in being asked to represent the House of Laity on other groups, including the Group of… Read more »

Jeremy
Guest
Jeremy

David Shepherd said, “The House of Laity is not some sort of cabinet tasked with implementing policy!”

True as to the House as a whole.

But can the same credibly be said about the person who chairs the House? I think not.

Erika Baker
Guest
Erika Baker

Jeremy and Pam,

but then the real vote of no confidence should be reserved for those who put him in the position of Chair, well knowing how important the vote would be and that he would speak against it.

It has been well known for a long time that he would not support this vote, how can something that we all knew before become a major issue afterwards?

David Shepherd
Guest

Jeremy, The policy was not decided yet, but you expect anyone in an authoritative role in Synod to converge on the majority support for the Measure before the debate and voting was concluded. So, in future, if added scrutiny at the hustings has not killed off the minority stance on ‘critical issues’, the threat of a ‘no confidence’ motion will dissuade those synod members who hold them from accepting the more visible positions of leadership. Well done. A one-party church with regular purges of ‘undesirables’ who contradict the party line. General Synod is guaranteed unanimity before voting ensues. Should save… Read more »

Erika Baker
Guest
Erika Baker

Pam,
none of the Chairs of the houses has acted impartially, the other two firmly supported the Measure.
Is impartiality really a requirement for a Chair? Is he not expected to give a steer?

Jeremy
Guest
Jeremy

Erika, it seems that a lot of Synod members did not foresee that the measure would fail; further did not foresee the public hue and cry, and the damage to the CofE, that would follow; and further did not foresee that they themselves would be questioned, by their own constituents, as to why the House of Laity is chaired by someone who opposes women bishops. Elected representatives can change their minds, rue a vote they cast, and wish to reconsider it–or to go on record that if they had to vote today, they would vote differently. This motion gives them… Read more »

Erika Baker
Guest
Erika Baker

Jeremy
“it seems that a lot of Synod members did not foresee that the measure would fail; further did not foresee the public hue and cry, and the damage to the CofE, that would follow; and further did not foresee that they themselves would be questioned, by their own constituents, as to why the House of Laity is chaired by someone who opposes women bishops.”

Exactly.
So none of this can be laid at the door of the chair whose views were well known.

Pam Smith
Guest

Erika I think that the issues you are raising are important, but belong more to the debate of the motion of no confidence rather than to a discussion about whether there SHOULD be a motion of no confidence. The mechanism exists for a motion to be brought and debated, so I don’t think it can really be argued that the bringing of a motion and debating it is improper. Yes, in human terms I feel sympathy for anyone who is challenged in this way – but it does seem that Mr Giddings is suspected of using his position to push… Read more »

Jeremy
Guest
Jeremy

Erika, your conclusion–“none of this” can be laid at the lay chair’s door–is highly questionable. I do not know what effect his speech had on those who heard it in person. But he spoke against the measure, and he voted against it. Indeed, his was one of 6 votes by which it failed. To that extent, almost everything that has followed can legitimately be laid at his door. And at the door of the others who voted against–but their turn will come in 2015. Again I ask why you are concerned about fairness for one lay chair, when he was… Read more »

David Shepherd
Guest

‘But he spoke against the measure, and he voted against it. Indeed, his was one of 6 votes by which it failed. To that extent, almost everything that has followed can legitimately be laid at his door.’

Everything? This is a complete non sequitur. It may have been a six-vote margin, but every vote against the measure had an impact on the final result. Responsibility for failure lies with the inadequate drafting of provision for those who differ from the majority view.

It’s just a scapegoating exercise aimed at placating Parliament and heading off its potential intervention. Jeremy has said as much.

Jeremy
Guest
Jeremy

David Shepherd, is your theology as bad as your argumentation? Do not quote me out of context. In the very next sentence, I wrote ‘And at the door of the others who voted against–but their turn will come in 2015.’ As for supposedly inadequate provision, in a few years’ time opponents of women bishops will wonder why they didn’t take what was offered in November. They are about to get much, much less. For this, they can blame only their own recalcitrance–and their leaders, such as the lay chair, who have failed them so abjectly. A vote of no confidence… Read more »

Erika Baker
Guest
Erika Baker

Jeremy “Again I ask why you are concerned about fairness for one lay chair, when he was insufficiently concerned about fairness for 3,500 women clergy. In my view, a career-blocking vote can fairly have career-changing consequences.” Fairness is either a valuable good or it isn’t. How can I complain about unfairness against 3500 women clergy if I myself am not bothered about unfairness against someone else? Pam, thank you, what you say makes more sense to me than most other explanations have done. I suppose it is not necessary to justify the motion as long as enough people want it… Read more »

David Shepherd
Guest

Jeremy, Unless you’re writing hymns (‘And can it be’), however powerful the rhetoric may appear, try not to begin a sentence with a conjunction. Besides being poor English, it exposes your hope for electoral retribution upon opponents as a mere after-thought. While you may hold onto a vague hope that Deanery Synods will punish the other laity who voted against the Measure, the target of your ire is clearly the speaker. You should also realise that your own level of argumentation has failed to convince an avowed liberal, like Erika. Projectile research in a glass house comes to mind. The… Read more »

johnny may
Guest
johnny may

I have only just seen this thread. Is it being said that amongst all the differing views that the CofE tolerates the one that is intolerable for any person to hold is that of “male headship”? As I watched the fallout of the November vote it seemed to me that a number of godly women voted in accordance with such a view. They didn’t appear to regard it as “pernicious” but liberating nor did they, as intelligent women regard it as “discrimination” in any negative sense but instead welcomed it. Is it being said that there is no place for… Read more »