Yesterday evening I attended an open meeting of Devizes Deanery Synod where the ordination of women to the episcopate was being debated. The meeting began with speakers (both men) for and against following which it was open to the floor. I rose to speak after seven contributions had been made by men, mostly against the resolution, to say I was shocked that no women had contributed to the debate so far. That spurred a women priest, member of General Synod, to speak passionately in favour, but she said that until I had pointed out the absence of women’s voices, she hadn’t intended to speak. Only two other women spoke, one against, one for. The final vote was 70% in favour in both Houses.
Speakers focussed on the absence of a Code of Practice – how could they vote in favour, not knowing what the Code will contain. The Anglo-catholic priest speaking first against women in the episcopate focussed on scripture, tradition and reason. No-one had a vision for the Church and for our Christian life and witness that extended beyond the need of the church to defend and protect a minority who live in the past.
The layman chairing the meeting made a point of describing himself unapologetically as the ‘chairman’ in his concluding remarks. I took him to task about this after the meeting. He claimed that the women in senior positions in Salisbury Diocese are happy to be called chairman – it includes women, he said.
The language we use defines our thought and ideas. The language of the church enshrines sexism, attitudes to human sexuality, images of God and creation which no longer work for people, and theological ideas which encourage dualistic, judgmental thinking. The vision of the faithful in the Church of England is so small, narrow, sectarian and defensive.
Reflecting on the meeting, I thought how isolated and out of touch those present were, living within the culture of the Church of England without the tools of self-examination or reflection which might shed light on the distance between the Church and the God who, ever present and ever self-revealing, is doing a new thing in creation.
A number of women approached me afterwards to thank me for intervening in the way I did. All said they felt too intimidated to speak and unsure of what they could contribute. This is what the Church of England does to women, which allows men with big egos and arrogant views to dominate it’s deliberations about the place of women and LGBT people in the Church. Colin Slee’s memorandum reveals the shocking dynamics in the CNC meetings and these are repeated in the House of Bishops.
The revelations about the House of Bishops deliberations about gay priests becoming bishops (or not) have incensed those around me, and a number of Changing Attitude trustees have written to express their disgust. One writes:
“I am so disgusted that I don’t know how to begin to say what I feel. It coincides with an invitation to supper at the bishop’s which is only addressed to me and totally ignores the fact that I have a partner. I am SO pissed off with them all I don’t know what to do. I am so close to giving up on the Church of England.”
There is a huge gulf between the community of God’s folk who meet in our parishes across the land who seek to live out their discipleship by loving God and neighbour. I too live a real daily tension … should I stay or should I go? The male leadership of our church are looking increasingly ridiculous and on the back foot. Thus yesterday’s flurry of activity is good for the cause of inclusion even if we do nothing, as it shows what a mean vindictive and hugely hypocritical spirit pervades their deliberations. Stay or leave? … so hard a question, and so painful.”
And a third:
“Yesterday’s brouhaha is objectively good news for our struggle and is a cause for celebration. It has made our opponents look contemptible. It has made the hierarchy look simultaneously weak and cruel. The main gay victim, Jeffrey John, has been made to look almost Christlike in his dignified silence in the face of such barbarous prejudice and persecution. The bishops and the archbishops will be despised by the passengers on the Clapham omnibus. The authorities are on the back foot.
“Whilst personal disaffection and alienation are totally understandable, and in the end anyone can reach the limit of what can be tolerated, it is nevertheless possible that this may be a key moment in the campaign we are fighting. Yesterday’s news was dynamite. The campaign needs good troopers to take advantage of the collateral damage which that dynamite has brought about.”