It’s a dark evening for the Church of England. The Measure to allow the ordination of women as bishops failed at the General Synod by six votes in the house of laity. The Church remains a place where discrimination on the grounds of gender is permitted. How can we seriously proclaim a God who loves all people, when we qualify how different groups of people are to be treated? How can we expect people to take seriously the discussion tomorrow about the Living Wage when we institutionalize treating some people as less than others. This is a night of sorrow, of grief and of anger.
Earlier this evening, leading evening prayer at the Cathedral I prayed for the Synod (then in the last throws of the debate) that the Holy Spirit would guide them. I can’t honestly say that I believe that the result was the will of God. But that doesn’t mean that there aren’t things to learn.
First of all, buried in the agony there is in fact something to celebrate. 42 of the 44 dioceses voted in favour of the Measure. In the dioceses, 86% of the Bishops, 76% of the clergy and 77% of the laity voted for the measure. In the General Synod today the House of Bishops was 94% in favour, 77% of the house of clergy voted for it and 64% of the House of Laity voted for the Measure. Across the Synod over 76% of the members voted in favour. Surely it is now time for us end the idiotic notion of a “period of reception” and fully endorse the ordination of women as the normative practice of the Church of England.
Second, the structure of the General Synod, and especially the House of Laity, needs some close examination. When the will of the Church of England is expressed as clearly as it was by the Dioceses, it is clear that the House of Laity does not represent the Church of England, nor even the laity of the Church of England. It is disproportionately conservative, and the manner of its election needs scrutiny. It is also made up of those with the time and resources to travel to London mid-week for a three or four day meeting. That hardly leads to a Synod representing the majority of the Church of England. There are hard questions to ask, but they need to be asked because at the minute the General Synod looks like it is an unrepresentative body that is bringing the Church into disrepute.
Third, and finally for tonight, there is already talk of making the legislation better. I may be alone, but I actually thought the legislation was excellent. It provided for bishops on equal terms without watering down their nature. It provided for those opposed to women bishops by assuring them of a validly ordained male bishop and priest. One of its real strengths was that it provided for women clergy in a diocese governed by those opposed to the ordination (and this was too often overlooked). It dismantled the parallel church built up by Forward in Faith, and gave us a framework for living together. None of this should be lost in the coming weeks. The proposal was just on the right side of coherence. We must not lose that coherence in the name of getting women on the bench.