I only did a brief and rather disconnected speech in the debate on women bishops at the Church of England's General Synod last Tuesday. In it I reminded Synod that when we think of the ecumenical impact of our decision we needed to consider not only the Roman Catholic Church, but also the other churches (particularly) in Europe. I didn't have time to expand, but would like to have done.
However, I did ask the Synod to get real when making silly statements about the Church of England “not having the authority” to do what we were doing. (a) If the Synod and Church has no authority, what are they doing sitting on the Synod in the first place? (b) if I really believed this, I couldn't be an Anglican in the first place. Despite all the fantasy special pleading, our orders are not recognised by Rome and our 'church' is a mere 'ecclesial community'. That's the inescapable bottom line. (c) If those who say they truly believe in 'headship' actually do so, then why didn't they do what the male heads of the Church were leading them to do?
OK, not exactly knock-down arguments for the consecration of women as bishops, but they open up arguments that were not properly aired during the debate itself. Sometimes we are just too polite.
This morning, having spent yesterday doing what the Church of England does every day – in parishes, in local communities, in meetings that don't lose focus on what we are here for – I returned to a quick scan of the media.
Naturally, politicians are shouting loudly about how to sort the Church of England out. Apparently, we shouldn't be listened to any longer on moral issues because of this. And we should be disestablished.
Well, there are good arguments to be had about both those matters, but the sheer illogicality of some of the stuff would, in any other context, be screamingly funny. For a start, we have politicians elected (in some cases) by a fraction of the electorate indignantly telling the Church off for only managing to muster 90%+ of the bishops, nearly 80% of the clergy, 64% of the laity, and 42 out of 44 dioceses behind the cause of women bishops.
How about, before we listen to another politician, we couple – in any political discussion – potential disestablishment of the Church of England with a demand that every MP can only sit in Parliament if positively elected by 50% (I am feeling generous) of the electorate in his other constituency. Electoral legitimacy in a democracy also needs attention paid to it.
The point is basically this: the Church of England has not rejected women bishops – the House of Laity of the General Synod has. The Church of England has massively and overwhelmingly approved not only the principle, but the process. The only question now is how to find the right wording to make law that makes this a reality.
We failed this time, but I hope those who are bitterly disappointed and disillusioned will (a) aim at the right target, (b) turn disappointment (and, in some cases, exhaustion) into determination, and (c) be clear and boringly repetitive, especially with other politicians and journalists/commentators, that the Church has not rejected women bishops.
After all, it isn't just the Church that needs to get real.
(On the good news front, the General Synod looks positively coherent in comparison with Chelsea FC who yesterday hired a Liverpool reject as their latest messiah. Ahem…)