How the no-vote might just be good news for the Church of England
I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised by the fallout from the narrow defeat in the House of laity. All of those, myself included, who have waited long enough to see women in the episcopate have every right to be frustrated and feel let down. Indeed, there is a great deal of shouting, whinging, and crying going on. I do wonder, though, whether this frustration is as much directed at those who are against women’s ordination, as it is at those who are for it.
I do not accept that this vote reveals the Church to be a bigoted institution, or an out-of-touch institution, or even one with faulty democratic structures. For me, this vote reveals something that is blatantly obvious to anyone who has anything to do with its common life: the Church of England is full of well-meaning, decent people who simply assume that because their views are well-meaning and decent, they will be supported by ‘those people’ on Synod, and so all will be well. There is a structural apathy that runs throughout the majority of the Church of England where it is assumed that it is somebody else’s responsibility to ensure their views are represented and enacted. We have assumed that by not standing for any Synods, nor voting for anyone who is standing, that all will be well because reason will surely win out.
This vote put paid to that. And I hope that it is a wake-up call to the vast majority of those baptised into the Church of England to realise that in order for the structures to represent their views, they must participate in them.
It is no use decrying ‘conservatives’ (whatever that means) for ‘loading’ the Synod; they understood what the majority did not: that this was worth fighting for. And they have proven their point through the narrowest of margins.
Synods may not be everybody’s idea of a good night out, but they are the pathways through which Church of England organises its common life. If synods are seen as a minority interest, then the majority should not be surprised when these synods express minority views.
A time for the National Church to be national. For once.
This is something, quite rightly, that the whole nation wants to discuss. So let’s have those discussions at parish and national levels, and encourage parishioners to participate in their Church. This should be a good opportunity for our Churches to engage, and ask all those who are rightly outraged at this decision to help us in the building project which is the Church of England.
On this point, however, the Church of England should not allow itself to become the nation’s scapegoat for ubiquitous inequality. The ground on which our politicians stand to berate the Church is not as solid as they would like us to think: only one of the large political parties has ever had a woman in charge, and there are far more men involved in the whole of parliament, than there are women. The same can be said of the business world, the journalistic world, and so on. Whilst these institutions certainly agree in principle with the concept of women in leadership, very few of them are acting on that principle. You can be assured, however, that when the Church of England legislates for women bishops (which it will), that it will act swiftly in seeing the right people – women and men – in the leadership of the Church.
With all of this pressure on the bishops, there is every chance they will panic and rush through a second-class piece of work that attempts to inappropriately appease those against women’s ordination. Personally, I hope they take their time. I would rather wait another five years, or more, and have the right structures in place, rather than rush something through that will cause enormous problems in the future. Certainly this time will allow the Church in the nation to express more carefully the genuine theological foundation that underpins the importance of seeing women as equally called and gifted as men. Just as important, however, this time will also enable reflection on the general disinterest in synodical processes that pervades both pew and pulpit, and how to encourage deeper participation of all the baptised in the common life of the Church of England.
As utterly frustrating as the current position certainly is, it might just be the kick the Church of England needed.