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Majority backs Dr Giddings in no-confidence vote

25 January 2013


In action: Dr Philip Giddings, Chair of the House of Laity, addresses the General Synod

In action: Dr Philip Giddings, Chair of the House of Laity, addresses the General Synod

DESCRIBED variously as "unchristian", "punitive", and a blow against a "culture of niceness" that led to "falseness and dishonesty", a motion of no confidence in the chairman of the House of Laity, Dr Philip Giddings, was voted down in the House on Friday of last week.

Proposed by Stephen Barney after Dr Giddings spoke against the draft women-bishops Measure in November ( News, 7 December, 23 November), the motion was lost by 80 votes to 47. There were 13 recorded abstentions.

Speaking to the House of Laity after the vote, Dr Giddings said: "I am grateful for the vote of confidence, but need in a sense to take my own medicine. Clearly there is a substantial minority of the House who do not have confidence. I intend to continue in office, but will take careful advice from colleagues about how we proceed from here."

Dr Giddings said that there needed to be "some kind of debate" about what the expectations were of the chair and the vice-chair of the Synod "on matters of this kind".

On Tuesday, Tom Sutcliffe (Southwark) said that he was "extremely gratified that the figures were as conclusive as they were". It was "possible" that the debate had "reduced, at least to some extent, some of the poison circulating as a result of the misunderstandings and misrepresentations associated with the debate and vote in November", the response to which had been "wildly over-emotional".

Mr Sutcliffe suggested that the tide had begun to turn during Friday's debate when supporters of the motion had begun to complain about Dr Giddings's membership of certain groups.

During the debate, Tim Allen (St Edmundsbury & Ipswich) said that there was a "major conflict of interest" between Dr Giddings's positions as chair of the House of Laity and convener of Anglican Mainstream, which Mr Allan described as "a pressure group which represents a small minority in the C of E who subscribe to extreme views on gender and sexuality issues". The Church's ability to move forward on gender and sexuality issues would be "delayed" with Dr Giddings as chair of the House of Laity.

In her speech, Christina Rees, a member of the Archbishops' Council, also expressed concerns about Dr Giddings's involvement with groups that "actively undermine the Anglican ethos of being a truly broad Church, and which specifically undermine and subvert the episcopal leadership of the Church of England". She questioned whether he would have been elected to the chair "if some of us had known the full extent of his concerns about providing protection for those against having women as bishops". Mrs Rees also suggested that a "culture of niceness" in the Church could "lead to a type of falseness and dishonesty if we don't feel we can ever challenge or confront one another".

On Tuesday, Mrs Rees said that the debate was "the type of event that none of us would have wanted to have happen" and that Dr Giddings had been "gracious" in his response. Looking ahead to the next elections to Synod, Mrs Rees said that she hoped that candidates for the chair would be "absolutely transparent about their affiliations", and that the electorate would "ask specific questions".

The House of Laity debated the motion for about two hours. Moving the motion, Mr Barney said that Dr Giddings's speech against the draft women-bishops Measure had been "partisan and narrow when it should have been strategic and statesmanlike". It had "killed the momentum Justin Welby's speech [in favour of the Measure] had just created". Mr Barney also took issue with Dr Giddings for failing to support the views of the House of Bishops and both Archbishops.

Philip French (Rochester) referred to a "prominent theology that all too often seems to regard women as inconsequential and necessarily subservient", which was "well-represented and perhaps overly so in the House" by those who were "well-organised and media-savvy". Dr Giddings's decision to speak on their behalf was a "grievous misjudgement".

Many members of the House of Laity spoke strongly in defence of Dr Giddings. The First Church Estates Commissioner, Andreas Whittam Smith, said that the motion misunderstood the role of the chair of the House of Laity in debates held by the Synod as a whole. In meetings of the House of Laity, Dr Giddings was obliged to be even-handed; in meetings of the Synod as a whole, he was permitted to say whatever he wished, just like any other member of the Synod.

Mr Whittam Smith said that the motion was "punitive", and that it seemed prepared to humiliate Dr Giddings, who had devoted much time to serving the Church.

Joanna Monckton (Lichfield) expressed "disbelief at the unchristian behaviour . . . in calling this meeting . . . - a most cruel way of treating anyone, let alone a sincere Christian who has every legal right to vote in the way he did".

Deborah McIsaac (Salisbury) said that passing the Motion would not undo the "reputational damage" suffered by the General Synod in November, but deepen it. It would also "destroy any vestige of trust" the minority felt towards those who voted in favour of the Measure in November.

Responding to the debate, Dr Giddings said that he had "no choice" about when he spoke in the women-bishops debate. His words had not been intended to undermine or criticise Bishop Welby personally, but, in any case, he had offered "an apology for any offence my words may have caused him".

Bishop Welby's reply was quoted to the House, with permission: "It never crossed my mind that you were in the slightest being offensive, discourteous, impolite, [or disrespectful]. . . I did think you were wrong! You thought I was, but we really need to be able to disagree, as I am sure you do agree."

After the vote, Dr Giddings said: "I hope we can now put this behind us, and the temperature can be lowered, and we seek to work together for the sake of God's mission to this country."

On Tuesday, Mrs Rees said that she hoped "very much that we can now get on as the House of Laity and carry on our business", but that, with regard to the fall of the Measure in November, "the temperature is still quite high. . . it still remains a very upsetting day and time."


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