Madeleine Davies in the Church Times looks ahead to next week’s meeting of the General Synod’s House of Laity with Lay rebel explains his Giddings challenge.
Another letter to members of the House of Laity about next week’s meeting has reached us; this time from Tony Berry, a lay member from Chester diocese.
Dear Fellow member of Synod;
We are to debate a motion of no confidence in the chair of the House of Laity at our meeting on the 18th of January.
There appear to be three areas of concern; Leadership, Representation and Accountability. The debate on the Women Bishops measure provides a kind of critical incident through which these may be viewed. The comments below follow the three issues.
It may be that the chair of the House of Laity is not expected to be a leader or to exhibit leadership. In the debate the chair (having as I understand it) voted in July 2010 for the clause defining the principle of provision by delegation (itself carried by 393 to14) and voted to send the measure to the dioceses, then chose to be led by the minority in speaking and voting against the measure. This after the measure had had a ringing endorsement from the dioceses and the support of more than 2/3 of lay people.
In his speech he (three times) used the phrase “there must be a better way” without giving any indication of what he might have had in mind. It would have been an act of leadership (given the lay votes in the dioceses to at least given some indication of what a better way might be. Instead there was emptiness, an emptiness that was widely shared.
[continued below the fold]
However the opponents of the WB measure appeared to have had a common rubric for the debate; “This is not about women Bishops, it is about the provision, there must be a better way”. So far from the lay chair speaking as an individual he was it appears party to an organised process to wish for a better way but to have no idea (or no idea to be admitted) of what that might be. Note that the provision only exists because of the objections to women bishops so the provision has everything to do with women bishops. In this respect the lay chair ignored the other Bishops’ amendment which distinguished between delegation of institutional authority (surely the church has this authority) and the derivation of orders. This amendment did underscore the provision in the measure by making it clear that the Episcopal orders are not delegated.
It may be the case that the lay chair and others thought that by using their blocking minority in the house that they could persuade the new archbishop to change the measure for them. The lay chair appears to be seeking “provision” that would see other lay people in parishes being denied the Episcopal and priestly ministry of women when in parishes that joyfully accept women’s ordained ministry all male orders are welcome; doubtless you will have your own views on the fairness of this.
The lay chair spoke of the “unchurching” of some objectors if the measure was passed. This is an old ploy, to threaten, to choose to be a victim and to then blame others for the self imposed condition. So he was prepared to lay down 3,500 serving women priests for the sake of his friends. And incidentally just because Paul lived in a sexist culture we do not and there is no reason why we should and certainly no reason to subject women to male dominance.
The lay chair appeared to accept the argument that as men may be or are the head of a household so men should exercise headship in the church. This weak argument by analogy rests upon socially constructed gendered roles. There is a stronger argument by analogy which is; to participate in God’s creation of human beings is the most wonderful thing we humans can do. To create humans requires the product of the male testes and the female ovaries to be brought together in an act of mutuality (the woman is not a mere receptacle). This mutuality, the wonderful jointness of creation, provides a splendid analogy for the mutuality and sharing in family, social and church life where we could celebrate mutual dependence and not use trivial ideas of male dominated complementarity. Again in our culture most marriages are partnerships of equals and the idea of male headship in marriage is rather quaint. And it is not surprising that the decision caused by the blocking minority of our house produced such widespread consternation in the dioceses and parishes together with incredulity bordering upon contempt in the country in which our church is supposed to be the national church.
The lay chair did not comment upon the odd and questionable role of lay evangelical women in the debate and in the vote. Here we had examples of such synod members exercising headship in the church (when they argue that women should not do so) and exercising that headship in order to deny that women should exercise headship. The lay chair might have noted this anomaly and asked such women not to vote at all as even to register an abstention was to exercise headship. At the time of the suffragette movement there was a general view that significant numbers of women did not want the vote, it seemed odd to them then to have the vote, it does not now. Very few women do not exercise their right to vote now as a matter of principal.
The lay chair asked that no decision be taken without consensus. Well if he believed that he would not have been party to any contested election in the church. But after twenty years of women priests and nearing ten years of debate on women bishops it was clear enough that his statement regarding consensus was just a kind of resistance tactic, a desperate seeking of avoidance of decision; an abdication of leadership. And let us remember that in July 2010 General Synod had not accepted the third province (a non runner), had rejected separate dioceses and automatic transfer by almost 2/3 majorities, had (just) rejected co jurisdiction but to the extent that it would never have attained a 2/3 support. Also note please that co jurisdiction would have had a women bishop in co jurisdiction with a male who did not accept that she had any jurisdiction; just how many insults do women have to bear?
The lay chair knew as did we all of Tom Sutcliffe’s letter in which Tom wrote that those who claim that the “measure makes provision” were lying. Note that Tom did not qualify the word provision. Any lay chair in a role of leadership must have taken up this issue in the debate for to let it go by was to accept unacceptable behaviour in the house of laity. Before the November meeting of Synod I took the matter up with the clerk to the synod and he referred it to the lawyers, but unlike parliament we have no rules about accusing others of lying so nothing could be done.
It could be said that in going against the expressed wishes of the lay people in the dioceses the lay chair was being brave; well maybe. But it was the act of following the objectors and not leading on behalf of the laity that was the failure of leadership. He noted that he had voted for women priests’ measure as there was the parallel Act of Synod to be brought forward at a later date.
So the whole church now knows that far from representing the house of laity the current lay chair represents only a small section of it. Now by virtue of office the lay chair sits on various bodies including the Group of Six which decided whether the revised measure brought to Synod would have to be referred to the dioceses. It would be useful to know how the lay chair and the lay vice chair voted on this matter as it would clarify their positions; surely it is not enough to hide behind a cloak of confidentiality on such a crucial issue. However in all of these other roles and settings every other person will now know, if they did not know previously, that the current lay chair is not their point of reference for the views of the house of laity. In this critical incident of the debate on the WB measure the current lay chair has lost credibility in role with the great majority of the laity in the church and has lost credibility in other roles as well. He is in office but not in authority. As this becomes clearer the current lay chair whatever the vote on the 18th may well need to consider his position.
The lay chair spoke of the need to have diversity and difference acknowledged and respected; that is true enough for us all. However when slavery was abolished there were no special provisions for those who wished it to continue because to continue slavery would be to legitimise a continuing domination of the enslaved, even where deep acculturation had so accustomed some to slave hood that they wished it to continue. It would also permit the cruelty and corruption of the slave owners to continue. There is a sense in which no provisions should be made for those who wish for whatever reasons they might advance wish to continue in the church the domination of women by men with or without the connivance of other women. A university teacher can hardly claim innocence in the history of female emancipation.
You may agree, as do I, that the lay chair has a right to his opinions. But in most other walks of life to stand so determinedly against the prevailing well argued and agreed position of the great majority of lay people would mean a speech from the back benches following a resignation. That would have been a very honourable position to take. It would have underlined that idea that the lay chair is accountable to the electorate for his actions.
Now you may see the meeting on the 18th as unnecessary, unfortunate, and expensive. Some members have reported that they will not attend. There are two ways to avoid the expense, a withdrawal of the motion of no confidence or the resignation of the current lay chair.
Clearly this motion of no confidence raises significant considerations in respect of Leadership, Representation and of Accountability. These are serious matters, not to be dismissed lightly, not to be laughed off as the action of the winners of the great and long standing church debate about women bishops, surely not to be ignored as bad manners or decided upon “party” lines. So let us have a proper debate about these issues.