As every Sunday school pupil knows, greed is one of the seven deadly sins. When Rowan Williams was humiliated by Women and the Church (WATCH) in July I sensed that the tide was about to turn. Every concession had been a step too far for WATCH. From 'a divided church' to 'demeaning women' then 'second class bishops', any excuse has been used to squeeze the opposition further. Listening to yesterday's debate it was clear that those in favour of women bishops wanted more than just that. Those opposed to the measure had no place in the church despite so-called assurances and solemn promises. Had they not been so greedy WATCH could already have achieved their goal and Archbishop Rowan could have retired a happy man. As one speaker put it, he would have voted in favour at every previous compromise but what was now on offer was not good enough. That summed up the mood. Enough was enough, so they lost.
Contrary to the hysterical headlines in the press, it was NOT a vote against women bishops. It was a vote against a lack of charity towards a substantial minority whose faith means more to them than their bishops and clergy realise. Going back to 1992, there were jubilant scenes among supporters of the ordination of women priests. That was passed by just two votes. Yesterday's vote dwarfed that margin by 200% a substantial majority! One could well argue that if the Holy Spirit was in favour of women priests, a popular cry, then the Holy Spirit must be categorically opposed to women bishops. But as we know, there is no logic in the ordination of women campaign, just prejudice. There is an honest assessment of the vote by a female trainee chaplain here. Without retracing ground covered this comment was very interesting: 'One argument kept ringing true: the claim that the pro-women campaigners were too quick to try and make the church like the world. Uncomfortably, I had to agree. Too many of those in favour of women bishops just sounded too… well… worldly'.
Writing in the Telegraph, Tim Stanley made a similar point: 'In the 21st century, what is the purpose of the village church? For much of the establishment of the Church of England, the answer seems to be “relevance” – they must earn their status in society by reflecting society's diversity of background and opinion. The great irony is that they want to make relevant something that is actually devalued by the attempt to make it relevant. God doesn’t do “relevance.” He just is – and, for most religious consumers, that’s what makes him so appealing'. Precisely!
In what I thought was a disappointing contribution to the debate after all the previous hype, the Bishop of Durham, Justin Welby, said: “It is time to finish the job and vote for this measure...the Church of England needs to show how to develop the mission of the church in a way that demonstrates that we can manage diversity of view without division; diversity in amity, not diversity in enmity”. Nothing was offered beyond the same old devalued promises. So far as the mission of the church is concerned Bishop Welby should reflect on the figures here. The mission of the church has accelerated rapidly downhill since 1992 following the introduction of women priests, so what is his point?
How the world sees the vote is illustrated by this coverage by Channel 4 News. It shows such appalling ignorance that one would have thought bishops and clergy would be keen to correct the misrepresentation but unfortunately they are part of the same problem, secularism. The Ch4 reporter Kattie Razzall remarked that "the secular world will not understand the decision that looks so out of step with modern society". She went on to describe the debate as 'a straight forward case of discrimination'. Interviewed by Jon Snow who showed an abysmal level of ignorance and understanding, Tony Baldry MP was at a loss to know how he would explain the vote to Parliament. Obviously the wrong man for the job then. This is the response to the vote from Parliament, again showing a lamentable understanding of anything sacred.
Looking at today's reaction to the vote, the House of Bishops has learned nothing. Statements such as "it seems as if we are wilfully blind to some of the trends and priorities of wider society" imply a form of secular Christianity in which scripture is useful only for mis-quoting selected verses while tradition and reason are forgotten. Our bishops and clergy are no longer fully representative of the church which is the problem where proper provision is concerned. Advancement is denied to those not singing from the same sheet. Ordinands are deterred by blatant discrimination. It should have come as no surprise therefore that the fair minded would see this for what it is, a gradual elimination of clergy opposed to the ordination of women. So much for their majority which is achieved by manipulation.
To illustrate how these secular Christians are obsessed with their own agenda, the Church in Wales has been brought into the controversy by the former Bishop of Oxford, Lord Harries of Pentregarth. He has called for the Church in Wales to take the lead. He said: 'I think it would be very interesting and salutary if the Church in Wales over the next year or two had women bishops and the Church of England didn't' but what happened in England yesterday was a re-run of what happened in Wales in 2008 when their Governing Body rejected women bishops because proper provision for a significant minority was refused by their Archbishop. Dr Morgan maintains that position while advancing another cunning scheme he hopes will be approved in September 2013.
This goes to the heart of the problem. There is no negotiation; only a statement that 'this is as good as it gets'. There is more sympathy and support from Africa than we have from our own Archbishops. If they genuinely want to make progress this must change. There must be genuine negotiations to ensure that all may flourish in the church.