Philip Giddings – the mood of the House is yet to settle
I’m currently reading Nate Silver‘s book on predicting stuff. His broad conclusion is that you shouldn’t try to predict things unless you’re Nate Silver, because you probably won’t be right. Accordingly, I preface this post by saying that I am not a psephologist, and I wouldn’t recommend relying too much on the numbers in the post. The sentiment, however, I am rather more confident of.
One of the great joys of the General Synod is that it differs from the heavily disciplined party lines of Parliament. We have no system of whipping, and even the loose groupingsof members are more comparable with party affiliations of the early Nineteenth Century than with the strict party membership system we see today. This means debates can be real debates, without the outcome guaranteed before we start; it enables the Holy Spirit to inform our deliberations through prayer and thoughtful reflection.
Unfortunately the consequence of this organic arrangement is that the Synod can be rather unpredictable and difficult to manage. Along with many others I was left agog that we went into the final vote on the recent Women in the Episcopate Measure without being fairly confident of the outcome. I would like to believe that the preceding debate had the potential to swing it, but to rely on that was a massive gamble for such an important piece of legislation. That is how the House of Laity has inadvertently managed to distort the will of the Church it is elected to represent.
On Friday afternoon, the House of Laity will hold an extraordinary sitting to debate a motion of No Confidence in its Chair, Philip Giddings. The debate has the potential to be deeply divisive, and put on display the most unchristian and unattractive qualities of vengefulness, animosity and contempt. I believe, however, that there is an opportunity to use the debate for constructive purposes – to lay the foundations of a dialogue which will lead to a solution of the wretched problem we face.
In an effort to help push the debate towards a productive and positive outcome, I have surveyed a number of Synod members, hoping to gauge the mood of the House of Laity.
Contrary to the fears of many, I predict a reasonably high turnout of between 75% and 79%. This is extremely positive because it means that the debate will not simply be between friends of Philip Giddings and those ‘out to depose’ him. Rather, we can reasonably say that we have come together as a whole house to discuss our future.
Understandably, many members are unwilling or unable to commit at this stage to which way they are likely to vote. However, of those prepared to indicate their ‘starting’ position, at most 46% are currently minded to support the motion. That means the proposers of the motion must think very carefully about how to achieve the support of a majority from the significant (but not very large) numbers currently undecided.
Perhaps most interesting are the comments of those who are keen to listen to the debate. There is a clear and strong distaste for recriminations or vengefulness. There is, however, a profound commitment to finding a way forward.
The current stated positions by those proposing and opposing the motion of No Confidence focus on the speech made by Philip Giddings in the November debate. Having surveyed opinion, I believe this is a mistake – it will only pull us down into squabbling over well-worn disagreements. This may well account for its failure so far to find a supporting majority.
However, that is not to say there is no value in holding the debate and, crucially, the vote. The House is keen to move forward, and to find a solution. The role of Chair will be vital in finding that solution – bringing people around the table, supplying the imagination to find a new way forward, and then galvanising the whole house to support whatever comes out.
The question now must be: “Does Philip Giddings have our confidence to do that job?”
Speaking to members of the House of Laity, there is a strong feeling that, rightly or wrongly, we are ‘standing in the way’ and that it is our responsibility to do something about it. There is no doubt that the strength of reaction in the dioceses against our vote in November has been powerful. We will not be able to fix everything on Friday, or indeed very much at all, but from what I have heard members are very keen to take the first steps towards making amends.
The Debate on Friday (UK Time) in the Church of England General Synod’s House of Laity, on a vote of “No Confidence” in the Chair (Philip Giddings), may well prove to be a watershed event in the arguments about whether Women should be ordained as Bishops in the Church of England. There can be little doubt that Mr Giddings, having previously addressed his doubts about the process in a newspaper, under his signature as Chair of the House of Laity in G.S., would have annoyed those – the majority in the Church of England, and in the Houses of Clergy and Bishops in General Synod – who wanted the Ordinations to proceed.
The arguments are likely to be centred around the propriety of the Chair of the House of Laity using his position to try to influence the Vote of the H.o.L. against the Motion to allow the Ordination of Women Bishops to proceed at the last General Synod Meeting.
It is believed that, although, notionally, Mr Giddings is not against Women being made Bishops, he was adamantly opposed to the process suggested in the G.S. Debate, which would not have allowed special conditions to be made for those in the Church who objected to have Women Bishops with authority over them, personally.
With the dioceses of the Church of England having already rejected – by a large majority – any proposal to make ‘special provision’ for the anti-Women Bishops party- in order to preserve the integrity of the Church’s attitude towards Women in the Episcopate; it should have been clear that the dissenters were not going to get their way, which would have been a divisive strategy, anding up with a two-tier episcopate in the Church of England.
Father Ron Smith, Christchurch, New Zealand