Chair of House of Laity Philip Giddings' Speech to General Synod
November 22nd, 2012
Your Grace, as Chair of the House of Laity my role is to ensure that the views of the whole House are heard, particularly on final approval business. Synod already knows a substantial majority of the House - and of lay people generally - are in favour of women bishops and of this draft Measure. Many speeches today are making that point, so I intend to focus on the significant minority of lay people who are opposed in principle to women bishops or to the content of this draft Measure. I wish to point up the unwisdom of going ahead with a Measure dealing with fundamental matters of ministry and doctrine with a significant minority of our church unable to accept its provisions.
On 7 February this year at Westminster Abbey representatives of the Church of England and the URC took part in a service of penitence and reconciliation to mark the 350th Anniversary of the Great Ejection of non-conforming (significant word..) ministers in 1662. In November 2003 this Synod endorsed the Covenant for unity with the Methodist Church in (I quote) 'a spirit of penitence for . . . our past divisions, believing that we have been impoverished through our separation and that our witness to the gospel has been weakened accordingly.' Surely we should not now make the same mistakes again. Can we not find a better way of taking the historic step of allowing the consecration of women as bishops without unchurching those who cannot in conscience accept it?
Last week I received a letter from a former distinguished lay member of this Synod who cannot in conscience accept the sacramental ministrations of women bishops. He says, (I quote) ' All I ask for is a place in that one CofE where I can continue and flourish with integrity and mutual respect. But it is precisely that which the proposed legislation denies me' (end of quote). I do not agree with his views on sacramental ministry but I do not see why our disagreement requires that one or other of us has no future in the Church of England.
In 1992 I voted in favour of ordaining women to the priesthood knowing it was unacceptable to some of my fellow Evangelicals because of their understanding of the Bible's teaching on headship. I was able to vote for it because it was designed to ensure that those who could not in conscience accept it could remain with us. Today's legislative package rescinds those arrangements. Are we asked to believe that such diversity of opinion no longer exists?
Legislation will not remove diversity of opinion. The diversity reflects not prejudice or simple refusal to change but solidly based theological judgement - as was recognised in the Rochester Report. We may disagree with the dissenting minority, but does that mean we have to exclude them from the future of this church? Those who have experience of working for reconciliation know that you cannot achieve a solution unless all parties agree to and own it. That is the missing piece in this legislative package. Those for whom the provision is intended do not own it.
We have been told that we have debated these matters long enough. Long enough, perhaps, for those who are in the majority and can impose their will; but not long enough to gain the consent of those who are opposed - and whose consent is necessary if we are to remain a united and growing church.
The sadness is that we need not be in this position. If we had learnt the lessons of forgiveness and reconciliation we recommend to others, we would ourselves be continuing to listen to, talk and pray with one another until we found the better way around which we could unite. Can we do better? Yes, we can. I shall vote 'no' and for that better way.
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