Thursday, 13 December 2012

Yesterday's parliamentary debate

The House of Commons debate on the Church of England's recent synodical vote on women bishops is now available here
The tone of the debate was certainly less hysterical than was the case in the immediate aftermath of the November vote, in fact there are some helpful contributions *, yet overall there is nothing less edifying than a group of elected politicians, with perhaps a necessary eye constantly on the next election, trying to talk intelligibly on matters of eternal significance, and, of course, missing the point entirely - the same could be said, of course, about the synodical process itself...

* this is a part of the speech given by Geoffrey Cox QC, Member of Parliament for Torridge and West Devon

"... First, it is important that I set out the background to the remarks I intend to make, because I am approaching this, a matter relating to the Church, as beyond political propaganda and the crudity of political discourse; the things we are dealing with are precious to us all. They are part of our common bond of spiritual inheritance. For those who believe in the Church as I believe in the Church—an essential part of the fabric of our constitution that I cannot envisage ever being without—the fate of the Anglican Church is a crucial issue. We need to approach it in a spirit that tries to unite people, not divide them. The rules by which the decision of the Synod was reached the other day were created for a reason. Constitutionally weighted majorities are invariably introduced around the world, not only in the Church, but in countries, to protect minority opinions. That is why the Synod introduced the rule. People may argue with it now. They may say, “It is too high. It is unrealistically high. It puts into the hands of those who do not seek agreement too powerful a weapon”, but two-thirds majorities—weighted majorities—are there for a reason.
So fundamental a change after 2,000 years of tradition should receive a weighted majority. We cannot complain. We should not point the finger of accusation at the Church because those who conscientiously could not agree exercised their right not to do so. The rules were put in place by the Church so that decisions of this magnitude and gravity should be taken only with the overwhelming support of the Church; just because it failed to reach that threshold and the bar was not passed according to that majority, we should not complain. We should not say to the Church, “You have failed to do your duty.” The constitutional threshold was there for a reason: to ensure that when this change or any similar change on so fundamental a matter was introduced, it carried the overwhelming weight of the Church..."
"To come to my hon. Friend’s question, first, the code that is supposed to exist was never written. How on earth can we vote something through, expecting protective measures to be written in future? Why did the Church not create the code, in draft at least, so that members such as me would be able to read it? It was not written. Secondly, there is an existing protection for Church councils to be consulted, including councils that have taken the view that they ought to be excluded from the jurisdiction in which women priests celebrate the Eucharist. The priest must consult the Church council before an invitation is extended to a woman to celebrate the Eucharist. That protection is to be removed under the current provision. How can we expect those on the other side, already feeling bruised as a minority and feeling that the Church does not necessarily want them—that may be the case, but it is certainly not the publicly professed view of the Church—to have confidence in Measures that are not written and which remove existing protections?
My hon. Friend asked for another example. As I understand it, if a Church council writes a letter of request asking to be excluded from the dominion of a particular bishop, a priest is able to veto that request. That does not give confidence to those parishes where a majority feel that they do not wish to be ministered to by a woman bishop. It cannot give confidence that they will be able to live according to their consciences.
I have given my hon. Friend the Member for Banbury three examples, and I hope that he will deal with them. First, the code was never written, so one is asked to accept a series of protective measures that have not even been given proper detail. Secondly, an existing protection is removed—these are only examples—and thirdly, the priest in charge can veto the Church council’s view on the dominion of the female bishop. .."


  1. Apart from Geoffrey Cox QC MP who spoke wonderfully

  2. Yes, indeed, despite repeated interruptions from other members: there is a clear cost to be paid for being on the wrong side of the zeitgeist.
    I'll add some of his comments to the original post - thank you.

  3. I had some correspondence with my MP, who remained unmoved despite my letting him know that three of the seven parishes in his consituency have resolutions in place (one AB and two ABC), and afourth is in the invidious situation of having the laity against and a "respect the tradition" priest in favour. He would vote for what he thought was right rather than what would be popular. Fair enough, but the question of how an MP who is not a religious believer can decide what is "right" in a matter of sacramental validity is one for moral philosophers rather than me.

  4. "Fair enough, but the question of how an MP who is not a religious believer can decide what is "right" in a matter of sacramental validity is one for moral philosophers rather than me."

    Or, for that matter, if your MP is a Hindu.

    Or if your MP is Roman Catholic and reasonably (being RC) takes the view that Anglican sacraments are invalid anyway.

    Or if your MP is Baptist or Methodist, and has a fundamentally different understanding of the nature of sacraments.

    I speak as an external observer only somewhat interested, but to me the whole thing seems potty. It might have made slightly more sense when all MPs were perforce members of the Established Church, but even then, given the plurality of theological views within the Established Church, one cannot escape the absurdity of the situation.

  5. Today we celebrate the Memorial of St. Lucy, Virgin and Martyr. She, along with, many Christians of her day suffered under terrible persecution for maintaining the faith. Today, we are called to maintain the Catholic faith of the Apostles, and we should not be surprised when the secular authorities want to put the boot in and tell us how they want us to organise the faith, to suit their secular and liberal views. Our Bishop wants a Day of Prayer in January to pray that the matter can be resolved presumably to his and the women's priests satisfaction. I for one won't be there; for me there is a world of difference between waiting on the guidance of the Holy Spirit and telling the Holy Spirit what to do.

  6. The Church of England did come about because of politics and throughout its history has had political interference. It is after all the State Church and its legislation is state approved. So why all this fuss because Parliament is once again discussing church matters - what are people thinking when they have a go at politicians as it is their constitutional right to "interfere". Can you imagine the discussion about reunion with the Holy See. if I read what is said by our representatives there is no way it would be approved - and that's even assuming it would get through Synod. So you have a choice stay with it (CoE) and all that it stands for or find a better safer home


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