I admit that I have never been a huge fan of the General Synod, even when I was a member. But to see a representative body treated with such contempt ought to make everyone who gives up their time and money to support synodical government wonder why they bother.
In July 2008, the General Synod voted clearly that it wanted women bishops with no small print that made them into half-bishops, and no further institutionalisation of the sexism that keeps them out of the episcopate.
Some did not like this clarity, and sought to protect the consciences of those who are against women bishops by securing legal no-go areas where women in purple would not be welcome. After a comprehensive debate, where all shades of opinion were represented, the Synod said no.
Yet the revision committee of the legislation has decided that it knows best. The process of public argument by elected representatives, decided by a transparent system of voting, has been sat upon by a handful of (mostly) men in some hidden back office.
The Synod was clear. Women must be able to serve as bishops on the same basis as men. Anything less is a structural humiliation that will cause untold resentment in the Church. Anything less will damage the Church’s mission hugely.
What I do not understand is this. Apparently, the reason why many Catholics in the Church of England oppose women priests and bishops is that they believe such a change could be rightly made only by a Council of the whole Church — including the Roman Catholics. Yet the same constituency, in proposing no-go areas for women bishops, is prepared to disregard a fundamental Catholic principle, whereby a bishop is the focus of unity and chief pastor throughout the whole diocese, and here they do not ask for a Council of the whole Church. On this bit of catholic principle, a revision committee will do just fine.
Of course, the chances of the revision committee’s having its way are close to zero. Even if Synod accepts this humiliation, Parliament will not.
Will some people leave the Church when we have women bishops with a code of practice to appease dissenters? Perhaps, though often threats do not translate into reality. Will people be upset? Yes, of course; and that is a serious pastoral issue that must be dealt with pastorally.
But the idea that we allow a natural reluctance to upset friends and colleagues to determine the fundamental theology of the Church is sentimental nonsense. If this were a sermon, the text would have to be Matthew 5.37: “Simply let your ‘Yes’ be ‘Yes’, and your ‘No’ be ‘No’.”
The Revd Dr Giles Fraser is Canon Chancellor of St Paul’s Cathedral and Director of the St Paul’s Institute.