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Bristol Bishops Synod Address 1 Dec 2012 on Women Bishops Bill

Bristol Bishops Synod Address 1 Dec 2012 on Women Bishops Bill

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12/04/2012

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1
Introduction
There have been no ten days in my ministry quite like the last ten days.The nausea I felt in the pit of my stomach when the final voting numbers regarding WomenBishops were announced in the General Synod chamber; the abject hurt and pain in theeyes of most women in General Synod and their supporters, of whom I am very proudly one;the fury some bishops were subjected to in the House of Lords at a lunchtime meeting inParliament the day after; the letters, conversations and emails I have received fromheartbroken men and women. To make a masterful understatement, this does not feelgood.I want to stress that what I am about to say is the form of a personal statement. I cannotspeak for the wider Church or even other bishops. I want to tell you what I feel and raisesome of the questions that this vote has raised in my mindIt does not feel good, because it does not feel right. It does not feel right because thedominant feeling we have is that a terrible injustice has been done; that real democracy hasbeen violated: 42 dioceses out of 44 voting in favour; the vast majority of people in theSynod voting for women bishops; and yet because this vote required a two thirds majority inall three Houses, the vote failed by six votes in one of the Houses of the General Synod.On the door of the Presidential Palace in El Salvador, it was reported after one of the many
elections of the 1970’s, the supporters of the outgoing President wrote on the gates
,
‘You
won the election, we won the
vote’ This vote has a similar feel to it! As Premiership footballplayers might put it, ‘we was robbed’!
 * * * * * * * * * * * *Two immediate questions arise.
What message does this send to our women, and their supporters?
What message does this send to the wider world?To our women, I want to say that I am truly sorry and ashamed by where we are. I reflect onthe riches that all women have brought to the Church, and in particular my ordained womencolleagues. I hold them in the forefront of my thoughts and prayers at this bewildering time.I think about the women in training in our colleges and on our training schemes who must bewondering what on earth is going on. I think about my male colleagues who have supportedthem.The issue is what next? This morning we have some motions before us. Some of youw
ould like something stronger. “Tell the government to dissolve this Synod and we’ll haveelections and this time we’ll get it
 
through.” I understand this.
In many ways, I wish this wasa wise
course of action, but I don’t think it is.
 
Diocese of Bristol
|
 
Diocesan Synod
Bishop’s Address, 1 December 2012
 
 
2We need to remember that asking the Government to interfere with the life of the Churchwould be a slippery slope. For it would move us closer to being something we are not. Weare an established Church but we are not a State Church. To put it in more user-friendlylanguage, we are the conscience of the nation, not the mouthpiece of the Government.Though many of us would be very happy for the Government to boss us on this issue, thereare obviously other issues about which we might be less happy for the Government tointerfere in the life of the Church. To ask the Government to get involved would run the risk,in the longer term,
of surrendering something we didn’t ought to surrender, which is theChurch’s
prophetic voice.Though I may speak later when we debate the motions relating to this issue before us, Iwant to say that we must not let our anger, however righteous we feel it to be, get in the wayof clear thinking and realistic action.I blogged recently on the theme of excessive language in our culture. I said we must becareful about this. I said that I recognize very well within myself the desire to express myself volubly and excessively. As a person who has strayed into this territory, my experience hasbeen that it is rarely helpful. I think we should not sacrifice clarity on the altar of fiercerhetoric.Yesterday, I was at Lambeth Palace. I cannot give any detail about this, not because I am asecretive person, but because I have no idea what this means, but I was led to believe thatsince last week some new and positive thinking had begun to emerge. The hope is that weshall get a new Measure to vote on at the July Synod. The House of Bishops has a meetingin mid-December and has given virtually the whole of its agenda to this matter. Pray for usas we try again to effect a way through this.
I think I can say that I don’t think a Measure without some provision for those who cannot
accept the ministry of a woman bishop is likely to get through this Synod and maybe noteven a Synod of the near future.
My own position is very clear. I don’t want anyone to feel pushed out of the Church of England. I certainly do want women bishops, but I don’t want women bishops whose
ministry and jurisdiction is undermined from day one by provision that I judge to be overlyrobust. The role of the Diocesan as Ordinary must not be undermined in any way.Throughout all this sorry business, I have been dismayed that it seems we cannot goforward on the basis of trust. That said when we look across the Atlantic, it seems that trust
is sadly something that seems in short supply in the western church. But if the Church can’t
exhibit trust in its matters, I fear for what we are modeling in a mistrusting and litigiousculture.
The second question is also a very serious question What message does last week’s vote
send to the wider world? The past days have taken me into a variety of different contexts inwhich I have met people from that wider world. I have met nothing but incredulity andhostility to the outcome of the Synod vote.Our credibility it seems has been sorely tested. It is hard to believe that this will not have aknock-on impact upon our attempts at mission and evangelism. People simply j
ust don’t
understand it. They see it primarily as an equality issue and they are angered by theapparent message that this vote sends - not just to women in the Church, but to women in
the wider world. The phrase, ‘beggars belief’ comes readily to mind.
 
 
3
The world simply doesn’t understand how our form of democracy works. 42 out of 44Dioceses voted in favour. How then could the Synod ignore this? I think that’s a fair 
question.Of course, within our system the rules of our voting system require a two thirds majority.Members of General Synod are elected as representatives. They are free to vote, after listening to debate, in whatever way they want. That is true. However in Synod-speak, thiswas Article 8 business. It required referral to the Dioceses. It required a two thirds majorityin all three Houses. In theory the same rules apply
 –
delegates are free to vote in whatever way they want after hearing the debate. However, I have wondered (nothing more) as to inthe case of Article 8 business, though there is no legal pressure for Synod reps to follow theDiocese in exercising their vote, if there is not a moral pressure for them to vote to supportthe Diocesan view?Of course, some will tell me that the Diocesan Synod only had the Measure unamendedbefore them. They will equally point out that in the Dioceses, only a simple majority isrequired to pass the Measure. That said, our Diocese recorded precisely no votes againstthe Measure and barely a handful of abstentions. I may have this wrong, but that seemspretty decisive to me!
I don’t judge myself to proclaim with any confidence what the Will of God might be, but
certainly it feels as though the will of the Church was inhibited by this vote.I see no value in witch hunts at this stage.
‘Let’s find out who did this and let them have it.’
No, in terms of our system they did what that system permitted them to do.
Of course, though I say this, I don’t think we should always be concerned about what the
world thinks. St Paul discovered tha
t the message of the Cross was ‘foolishness to theGreeks and a stumbling block to the Jews’, but it didn’t stop him preaching it. For instance,
the world may be equally out of kilter with our view on life and death issues. However, if wesimply allow the world to set our agenda, we may live to regret it. We are not accountable tothe world, but on the eve of Advent let us recall that in the end we are accountable to God.
However, I am concerned that there are some who stood in front of the media’s came
ras
and proudly proclaimed, in the light of the vote that ‘the Bible won the day’. Those of you
who know me, I hope, know that I would only support the ordained ministry of women aspriests and bishops if I was convinced that it had theological and Biblical integrity.
I don’t believe as some traditionalist Catholics believe that the Church of England is not
competent to make such decisions on our own. Some of us met a bunch of Roman Catholicclergy earlier in the week. Certainly some of them were dismayed by the failure of theChurch of England to proceed to women bishops. Their Bishop actually said to me with a
twinkle in his eye, ‘we might get there before you…’
 
I don’t believe, as some believe, that the headship argument as interpreted by some
conservative evangelicals is the only way or even the legitimate way of reading of Scripture. As was pointed out at General Synod partly flippantly, partly not, that the Supreme Governor of the Church of England is a woman!In short, I do not myself see that the competency of the Church of England to make suchdecisions is in question and neither do I believe that the Bible need be an obstacle to womenbishops. We are a legitimate expression of the Catholic Church, but we are reformed!
Let’s be honest. Our 
mission has not been made easier by this outcome. That much is clear to me.

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