Yesterday I asked whether the language of ‘power/control’ and ‘victim’ in the context of ‘future foreshortening’ had anything useful to say to the Church in our various responses to the twists and turns of current debates. What I didn’t make clear was that I intended this question to apply across the board – not only to those who ‘lost’ the vote on the Archbishops’ amendment in the Women Bishops debate, but to those who might have lost it.
Put differently: had the vote gone with those who wished some accommodation under Measure for those opposed to women bishops (the majority of all voting members of the Synod), how would the ‘losers’ have responded?
I don’t think this is a question for one particular group, but for us all. The language of victimhood is to be found everywhere in the Church and it is this that needs to be addressed. Pious language can be used to dress up what is really about power and control. Hence the intriguing question that arose for me listening to Professor David Wilson on Saturday morning. This is not to equate responses to particularly deficient psychological behaviour, but to raise a question about whether or not there is a potential framework here for questioning dominant behaviours in the Church when contentious issues are being addressed.
I don’t know which way I would have voted, if I had been on the Synod. Clarity has to be better than muddle (so, go for the simple proposal and ensure generosity through an effective Code of Practice), but pastoral space is required for people who feel rejected (so, let’s be big enough to give way on a principle in the name of grace). But these two ‘rights’ inevitably lead to a ‘wrong’: the circle appears not to be squarable as both responses have clear inconsistencies and deficits.
In the event of the vote itself, I go along with Jeremy Fletcher and hope that grace can win out in the end – but, grace that empowers bishops to be generous and gracious in implementing the Code of Practice. In my own case, this would make no difference to the way I try to care for, support, encourage and respect my traditionalist clergy.
I remain puzzled, however, by a phenomenon I encountered during my ten-year period on the General Synod: why are bishops so resented or distrusted by clergy? If the bishops spoke of their clergy in the same terms as some clergy speak about bishops, all hell would break loose. The problem lies deeper than it appears – and that is why I asked the question about David Wilson’s language and if it offers us anything useful in thinking about what we are currently witnessing in the Church. If not, what would be helpful?