In the light of the recent failure of the General Synod to pass the Draft Bishops and Priests (Consecration and Ordination of Women) measure at its sessions of November 2012, despite overwhelming support for this legislation by this and other diocesan synods of the Church of England, Bristol Diocesan Synod:
1. Reaffirms our strong conviction that it is God’s will that women be ordained as bishops in the Church of England.
2. Has no confidence in the General Synod’s ability to transact the clear will of the majority of the Church with the urgency required to further the mission and witness of the Church.
3. Calls on the House of Bishops to explore, as a matter of great urgency, every possible avenue to effect the will of the Church on this issue.
This motion is not aimed at the removal of this current Synod (which mine is) but does go part of the way along that route by making the points that:
- As one of the 42 out of 44 diocesan synods which affirmed the move to ordain women as bishops, its steer was effectively ignored by the action of the November synod
- It does not believe that this present synod is capable of passing a form of women bishops legislation which assigns the same authority to operate to women bishops as is held by men
However, if other diocesan synods pass similar motions, where does that leave us? Essentially, the message given to Synod is, ‘we don’t think you lot are capable of passing satisfactory legislation and we’re upset about this.’ But, it doesn’t take any further action which would amend this situation. Essentially, this will not do anything other than register a protest.
The stronger, original version of the motion goes further – by expressing a total lack of confidence in the Synod to act as the present General Synod of the Church of England, it’s essentially saying it needs to go, and go as soon as possible. So why is this necessary? I think it’s so, for the following reasons:
- Those who voted against the motion in the House of Laity have indicated that the main reason is that the present proposals give inadequate provision for traditionalist parishes. The only form of legislation that they are more likely to pass would have to give greater provision for independence of authority to traditionalist parishes to choose an alternative (male) bishop.
- This amended form of the current draft legislation will never get the support of the key proponents of women bishops, since it would lead to a situation of male bishops and female ‘bishops’, within the CofE. The female ‘bishops’ would find that their authority could be overturned by individual parishes, simply because they were women.
- Therefore, the Synod would find that any strengthening of the provision for traditionalists would lead to a collapse in support by the proponents of women bishops. Yet I fear that such strengthening of provision is exactly what is being contemplated by the Archbishops Council and the House of Bishop for the July 2013 Synod.
In short, this Synod is broken as regards women bishops legislation.
Some are looking to 2015 and a new synod with the hope that this will pass a ‘single-clause measure’. This amounts to ordaining women bishops with no ‘alternative provision’ for traditionalist parishes. It’s a high-stakes gamble, since my guess is that this, in turn, will not get a 2/3rds majority across the houses, because, in the last resort, Anglicans are mostly ‘nice’ and don’t want to pass something which would force anyone to leave. It would be entirely possible in future hustings for the House of Laity for a candidate to stand up and say something like the following:
I fully support the ordination of women to the episcopate and long for the day when that will be possible. I will support any form of legislation which will allow this, whilst giving fair provision to those whose consciences cannot accept women bishops.
The result will be a person who, if elected, will vote against a single-clause measure. Plenty others, who aren’t this clear about their intentions, will wobble in the last resort. The result would be a process which will take just as long as the present one has (nearly twelve years) and will result in exactly the kind of legislation which was rejected this month.
The real way forward is to cut out the time-wasting and get a Synod which accepts what was before us this month. That is the quickest route forward, but for it to happen will require another Synod. The quicker this happens, the better. Hence, the need for stronger motions than this one.