Leader: Extra time, or game over?

15 July 2010

A FOOTBALL tournament is perhaps the least apposite analogy to a Synod debate on women bishops. So why is it that at York we saw two sides, one rejoicing, the other red-eyed and “gutted”? This does not seem a proper outcome to a Christian debate, how­ever convinced people might be of the rightness of what was con­cluded. Dr Williams correctly referred to a spirit of generosity present at York. Many spoke, and even voted, against their pre­ferred solution in the hope that all sides might reach agreement. This was most evident in the voting on the Archbishops’ amend­ment to introduce co-ordinate bishops for the traditionalists, which won over the majority of the Synod, though it was lost by five votes in one House. But the net result was that the tradi­tionalist segment of the Church was left with the knowledge that none of this supposed generosity had been translated into action.

The problem was that Synod members, even the most experi­enced, did not take account of just how intractable the debate has become. When the Synod met, every square centimetre of the middle ground — an essential feature of Anglican geo­graphy — had been swallowed up by the disputants. The result was that even the compromises offered were deemed to have been appropriated by one side or the other. Even the pros­pect of delay — a reasonable response to such a logjam in other circumstances — was politically charged. Under such circumstances, every solution offered was felt to be too great a concession.

What now? The process is by no means over: the majority of dioceses have to pass the draft legislation, an election will change the make-up of the General Synod, and the Measure must gain a two-thirds majority in each House when it returns for final approval. Traditionalists with exceptional reserves of stamina will take comfort from the fact that the fight continues. But they now feel that they are on their own. That the legislation can no longer be amended to any significant degree means that those supporters of women bishops sympathetic to the traditionalist cause have no further opportunity to express this sympathy formally. They are hardly likely to vote against the draft Measure, nor to vote for opponents in the forthcoming Synod elections.

None the less, the Synod did not pass a single-clause Measure. There are provisions in the legislation for traditionalists. Also, the history of the past 16 years has shown that the different integrities can work respectfully together, despite notable examples to the contrary. The task now is to compose the code of practice to see what, if any, assurance it can give. In the mean time, dioceses can signal to traditionalists that they still have a place in the Church of England. Even where a diocesan vote is for the Measure, and the majority are likely to be, a statement of support for its opponents will have to be noted by the General Synod when the legislation returns.

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