Changing Attitude is, of course, following with intense interest the continuing fall-out over the House of Laity’s failure to gain the required two-thirds majority in Synod.
We follow with interest for three key reasons. The first and most important is that Changing Attitude is committed 100% to the full inclusion of women in the Church at every level of ministry.
The second reason is that this is a Kingdom issue (and this should perhaps properly be the first reason). The Kingdom of God is impoverished so long as any group of people is not fully included in the Kingdom, and that includes Churches, the institutions which are God’s instrument for building the Kingdom.
The third reason is that the failure of the legislation has in our opinion provoked a crisis for the Church of revolutionary proportions akin to the Arab Spring. It has demonstrated for those with eyes to see and ears to hear that British society and the UK Government have grasped something about the nature of the full inclusion of the whole of humanity in God’s Kingdom that the Church has been unable to grasp (or failed to articulate with confidence) because it has spent 20 years trying to provide a place for those who think the Kingdom of God excludes certain categories of people.
Changing Attitude’s interest in the Synod debacle is that Parliament and society are asking more insistently, why does the Church tolerate prejudice against women and why prejudice against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people? Society is no longer prepared to tolerate such prejudice and is insistently demanding to know what the Church is going to do about it, and in a short space of time.
Those who have been demanding an honorable place in the Church of England despite being unable to accept the full inclusion of women have sabotaged every attempt to provide for them, and STILL DON’T GET IT. They think the protections enshrined in the legislation didn’t go far enough and they think they can negotiate a better deal in the coming months. They are totally failing to read the signs of God’s time.
Yesterday, Sir Tony Baldry, the Second Church Estates Commissioner answered questions on women bishops and the constitution of General Synod in the House of Commons. He hopes that fresh legislation will be presented to the Synod in July and the matter resolved by the finish of this Synod in 2015. He said the clear message from Parliament and the country as a whole to the Church was that this issue cannot be parked. It has to be resolved as speedily as possible and he knows, he said, that the next Archbishop of Canterbury fully and wholly endorses that approach. Justin Welby is meeting members of both Houses next Thursday and Tony Baldy said he is sure the Archbishop-elect will make this very clear. Are the members of Forward in Faith and Reform reading this and understanding this?
David Winnick, MP for Walsall North, said it is absolutely essential that there should be the utmost sustained parliamentary pressure to change a situation in which women are discriminated against in such a blatant manner in the Church.
Tony Baldry agreed, saying everyone in the Church of England needs to understand that, so far as Parliament and the wider community are concerned, this issue is increasingly seen as the Church of England discriminating against women. That is fundamentally wrong and fundamentally bad for the image and work of the Church. Diana Johnson was among those who think the issue is an emergency for the Church of England.
Synod electoral system
Tony Baldry informed the House that in July 2011 the Synod decided to ask for alternatives to the present electoral system to be further explored. The review group’s report is due to come to the General Synod this coming year. He was sure that the Archbishop of Canterbury-designate will able to reassure colleagues at next week’s meeting that the Church is getting on with reform. Tony Baldry’s personal hope is that in due course we will be able to move to a system in which every member of the Church who is on an electoral roll has a vote for those who go to General Synod.
Ben Bradshaw, whom we met yesterday, a worshipping Anglican, noted that the complete failure of the House of Laity in the General Synod to reflect the overwhelming support in the diocesan synods for women bishops shows that there is something deeply wrong with the system. It must be resolved in months, not years, he said, and if that means a single clause Measure and facing down the conservative evangelicals, so be it.
Growth in the Church
Opponents of the full inclusion of LGB&T people think Changing Attitude is fighting a secular campaign for equality. We are not. Our vision is of the Kingdom of God, a Kingdom in which all are welcome irrespective of difference whether of gender, race or sexuality. We are campaigning that God’s outpoured love and passion for truth and justice will take root in the Church of England.
Tony Baldy told the House of Commons that the next Archbishop of Canterbury will want to focus on growth in the Church – and if one wants to focus on growth, one needs to make sure that everyone feels involved. At the start of his ministry the Archbishop of Canterbury-designate will be very conscious that it will not be possible for the Church of England to get on to other matters such as growth and mission until we have resolved the issue of consecrating women to the episcopate. We have, he said, a once in a generation opportunity to start to grow the Church again. One in three parishes is growing. We need to work out how they are growing, and try to ensure that other parishes can grow similarly, if we are to have a Church of England which is truly a national Church speaking for the whole nation.
The voice of women
Finally, a voice from inside the Church, from a woman priest, whose blog Thinking Anglicans has linked to. The Revd Claire Maxim she has reached the point where her anger has overtaken her capacity to be gracious. She has listened really hard to others and all she can hear is the shouting of old arguments. She’s heard them about women bishops, about how women clergy dress and about who can and can’t teach others under particular conditions. She’s heard them, and she’s had enough. She has gone to the dark side and joined those who shout.
During twenty years in the energy industry the only bar on her career was that imposed by her own imagination, and by the limitations of her abilities. The Church isn’t trying to limit her based on ability or imagination or her discerned calling. It is limiting her with a huge part of her fundamental identity. The same is true for LGB&T Anglicans worldwide.