Friday, 11 January 2013

House of Laity meeting

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.

Posted by Peter Owen on Friday, 11 January 2013 at 11:32am GMT | TrackBack
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Categorised as: Church of England | General Synod

Is the Chairman of the House of Laity going to chair this single item meeting in which the issue in question is a vote of No Confidence in his chairmanship?

Posted by: Father David on Friday, 11 January 2013 at 12:44pm GMT

It's already been announced that the meeting will be chaired by the Rt Worshipful Charles George QC, Dean of the Arches.

Posted by: Peter Owen on Friday, 11 January 2013 at 1:15pm GMT

Well, what with a "Right Worshipful" Q.C. chairing this gathering makes it all sound even more like a court of law but I'm still not sure what "crime" Dr. Giddings is being accused of?
I only hope that His "Right Worshipful" forgets his black cap on the 18th and doesn't have to make the solemn pronouncement that Dr. Giddings will be taken from this court to a place of execution where he will be hanged by the neck till dead and "May God have mercy on your soul"

Posted by: Father David on Saturday, 12 January 2013 at 4:18am GMT

He is having to answer not for any crime, but for his failures of leadership.

Posted by: Jeremy on Saturday, 12 January 2013 at 12:06pm GMT

Fr David - you forgot the middle bit about 'to a lawful prison'.....:-)

Posted by: david rowett on Saturday, 12 January 2013 at 12:45pm GMT

what does failure of leadership actually mean?
Is there any real sense that the vote would have gone a different way if he hadn't spoken against the measure?
Is there any reason to assume that 6 people who had already made up their minds would have voted the other way?

I still do not see this as anything other than scapegoating.

Posted by: Erika Baker on Saturday, 12 January 2013 at 1:04pm GMT

Jeremy, it seems to me that Dr. Giddings displayed admirable leadership skills in his contribution to the women bishops debate especially in the use of his trinitarian mantra - "there must be a better way". Indeed there must be and simply by seeking to get rid of the Chairman of the House of Laity is not a good beginning to seeking the "better way" which his sage leadership suggests.

Posted by: Father David on Saturday, 12 January 2013 at 3:22pm GMT

Father David, I can't put it better than the writer above, who says that the lay chair "wish[ed] for a better way but to ha[d] no idea (or no idea to be admitted) of what that might be."

Erika, anyone who mistakes this motion for scapegoating is truly missing the point, which is simple. The lay chair should represent the overwhelming view of the laity that women bishops should now be ordained.

Posted by: Jeremy on Saturday, 12 January 2013 at 5:50pm GMT

Erika, I'm glad that I don't have to attend and vote, as I respect Dr. Giddings, having worked for him. But there are, to me, credible arguments in favour of the motion posted here on TA. In the US, we don't always realise the lack of neutrality that chairs on an English model can exhibit. My own bishop (of CO) at the time was taken aback by Rowan Williams' speech on human sexuality at Lambeth '98. Chairs really can have an impact, and if they are in the minority, that can be at least un-, if not anti-, democratic.

Posted by: Scot Peterson on Saturday, 12 January 2013 at 7:00pm GMT

that's precisely my point. As far as I'm aware there is not requirement for neutrality. Certainly, the chairs of the other houses weren't neutral.

Posted by: Erika Baker on Saturday, 12 January 2013 at 11:13pm GMT

And the corollary to chair non-neutrality is that the chair who advocates for a minority view is taking a chance.

Such a chair is choosing to run the risk that the majority will then vote to remove the chair.

It's that simple.

Having chosen to take that risk, the chair cannot be heard to complain if the risk assumed indeed does come to pass.

Especially here--where the minority view that the lay chair advocated was that the church should continue to discriminate against women.

What a mast to which to nail one's standard!

Posted by: Jeremy on Sunday, 13 January 2013 at 12:33am GMT

Twenty years of talking and waiting. It feels like the meeting on the 18th will be more of the same. It's simple - think of men and women as people, then we can each use our time and talents in the service of God.
After twenty years men and women have to be given absolute equality, no fudges.
Let's put our energies into speaking out against domestic violence, poverty etc not into an outdated debate.

Posted by: Pamela Hutchison on Sunday, 13 January 2013 at 7:08pm GMT

Presumably the Church of England Laity have noted the endemic attitude of Dr.Giddings towards the unencumbered ordination of Women as Bishops; so that they may vote accordingly at the next election.

Posted by: Father Ron Smith on Monday, 14 January 2013 at 2:47am GMT


I presume that your comment about the next election includes all 33 female members of the House of Laity who opposed the Measure.

Many of them supported a provision for those opposed (that you might consider to be an encumbrance), rather than a single clause measure. Yet they do not oppose women bishops in principle. The prospect of electoral retribution against them would appear a tad self-defeating.

Posted by: David Shepherd on Monday, 14 January 2013 at 10:56am GMT

I'm not really clear what it means to say you don't oppose women bishops in principle when you have theological objections to them and you determinedly vote against every attempt to allow women to be ordained as bishops.

I'm starting to suspect 'in principle' here is being used as the opposite to 'in practice', ie 'I accept that the C of E has voted for the principle of women being bishops but I am going to fight the implementation of that principle as hard and as long as I can'.

Posted by: Pam Smith on Tuesday, 15 January 2013 at 10:33am GMT

David, Actually, some of the women concerned are definitely opposed in principle to Women Bishops and would quite happily argue those principles. They remain so opposed regardless of provision, or would want provision that fundamentally affect the anglican understanding of episcopal orders. Choosing not to re- elect people is not necessarily retribution, it is reconsidering one's choices and decisions in the light of past events. I think that might also be considered wisdom.

Posted by: Lindsay Southern on Tuesday, 15 January 2013 at 11:02am GMT

I see that the motion of no confidence in the Chairman was overwhelmingly rejected by the House of Laity today.

Perhaps if some folk prayed a little more and politicked a little less, the Church of England would have an impact on the vast number of non-Christians in this country.

It seems that many members of the Synod cannot get over the fact that the Synod prayed that the Holy Spirit would guide their vote on women bishops and then didn't like the outcome. So was God wrong?

Posted by: Andy (former Anglican) on Friday, 18 January 2013 at 4:32pm GMT
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