One of the opinions being voiced subsequent to the defeat on Tuesday of the women bishop’s Measure is that the House of Laity is ‘unrepresentative’. It is therefore ‘their fault’ that the vote was lost, and there are subtle — and not so subtle — hints going around that ‘something must be done’.
To a limited extent, I sympathize. Clearly the House of Laity represents a different point of view from that to be found in the House of Bishops. But if accusations of bias are to be made regarding the former, they are surely even more justified regarding the latter, which contains no — count them — representatives of the Conservative Evangelical Complementarian position.
Indeed, no one of that persuasion has been appointed as a bishop for years — an outcome which invites the accusation not so much of bias as Gerrymandering. (The latter was a mythical Irish bird, named after the shape of a constituency so redrawn on the map as to make the election of their own candidate by a Roman Catholic majority an impossibility.)
Let us return, though, to the House of Laity. This certainly contains a significant number of Traditionalists on the issue of women’s ordination — perhaps not enough to have swung the vote on their own, but certainly enough to help.
But why were people of such persuasions on the General Synod in the first place?
Part of the answer is because it became clear back in 2008 that ‘proper provision’ was going to be highly unlikely. It is worth re-reading this Daily Telegraph piece on the voting then, which reports not only the tears of the Bishop of Dover, but the depressing litany of the voting:
By yesterday’s debate 13 amendments had been put forward, many of which called for much tougher safeguards such as the creation of entirely new “men only” dioceses to look after those across the country who did not want to be led by a woman bishop, or a new class of “super bishop” to minister to traditionalists in their existing dioceses.
But one by one these proposals were voted out by the Synod despite their support from many senior bishops and both Archbishops.
It is because of such things that I find it hard to accept the suggestion that the provisions finally put in place were, as some people described them, ‘generous’.
But this is also why the composition of the House of Laity today became what it is.
With the 2010 elections to General Synod looming, there were many people who offered, or who were encouraged, to stand for election precisely because they feared the lack of proper provision. And although I have absolutely no way of knowing whether all of them made that clear in their election addresses, all of them were certainly elected in the proper manner by the legal electorate of Deanery Synod representatives.
Thus, though the composition of the House of Laity was partly the consequence of deliberately political action by opponents of the proposed legislation, the motivation for this was equally in part the previous actions of the General Synod itself.
In short, it was the actions and decisions being taken before 2010 that, ironically, contributed to the Traditionalist make-up of the House of Laity and the eventual defeat of the Measure.
It is illegitimate to blame these lay representatives as if somehow they were at fault for seeing what was happening, being concerned and getting involved in the political process. Is this not what we would normally encourage?
By contrast, the composition of the House of Bishops is impossible to influence by the ordinary process of voting, and in the House of Clergy it is difficult, for obvious reasons, even to get elected if you are an express opponent of women’s ordination or consecration. Hence there is a bias the other way in both these houses, just as there is probably some bias (how much is hard to say) amongst the laity.
Those who have least to complain about, though, are those who are suggesting that ‘next time it will be different because we will get our act together’. That is what they are entitled to do, but they ought not to complain on principle at others doing the same.Please give a full name and location when posting. Comments without this information may be deleted. Recommend: