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Sunday, 20 January 2013

There may be trouble ahead!




Reading Dr Philip Giddings’ speech in response to the Motion of No Confidence in him as Chair of the House of Laity, here, I was particularly struck by Bishop Justin Welby's response to the first charge. 

Dr Giddings: "Mr Barney’s paper that he circulated makes a number of charges. The one [charge] which has troubled me most is the first one: that by speaking directly after Bishop Justin and against the approval of the measure, I undermined what Bishop Justin had said. ... So I have actually offered Bishop Justin an apology for any offence my words may have caused him.  He has replied to me and I quote with his permission: that “It never crossed my mind that you were in the slightest bit offensive, discourteous, impolite, disrespectful or anything other than engaging very appropriately in discussion of a serious issue.  I did think you were wrong.  You thought I was.  But we really need to be able to disagree as I am sure you do agree.” 

"I did think you were wrong", said Archbishop elect Justin Welby. What had Dr Giddings said to warrant this response? Essentially: "Can we not find a better way of taking this historic step of allowing the consecration of women as bishops without unchurching those who cannot in conscience accept it?" Dr Giddings was encouraging Synod to honour a promise that had been made in order to allow women to be ordained priests. How can it be wrong to honour a promise, particularly in a religious context, or have our bishops simply become politicians in fancy dress, ignoring pledges for political ends? There should be no coalition between the House of Bishops and WATCH which appears to be the case.

Unfairly described in the Guardian as the 'controversial head' of the House of Laity, Dr Giddings has become a scapegoat in the wake of the fury expressed by supporters of women bishops because he dared to do what all Synod members should, care for all Anglicans. Some of the initial reactions to the November Synod vote were reported by the BBC hereThe attitude of supporters was probably best summed up in the comment by the Rev Janet Appleby, author of the 'respect' get-out used by the bishops when she said: "After 12 years of discussion and consultation, the proposal we had before us at General Synod on 20 November was the best possible, given the incompatibility between the beliefs of those on opposite sides of the debate - that women can be bishops or that they can't." The 'best possible' proposal was the best possible for the majority short of outright exclusion, now the aim of hard-liners. As Dr Giddings put it in his Synod speech: "Those who have worked for reconciliation in various areas of life 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".

From WikipediaIn 2002, Welby was appointed a canon residentiary of Coventry Cathedral and the co-director for International Ministry at the International Centre for Reconciliation. In 2005, he was appointed Sub-Dean and Canon for Reconciliation Ministry. What hope of reconciliation can there be if, before he becomes the next Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby has already made up his mind that Dr Giddings is wrong and Mrs Appleby was right in suggesting that the proposal before General Synod on 20 November was the best possible? His concluding remark "But we really need to be able to disagree as I am sure you do agree" looks ominous. 

Claims that women bishops would be second class bishops unless they have their own way are completely spurious. Such claims are more about power politics than the sacred ministry. Christ humbled himself. If that is not good enough for would-be bishops they have no claim to the role: Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others. The interests of others, in this case a significant minority in the church, are best served by providing an environment in which there is no conflict of interest or scope for women being able to claim that they are second class. Maintaining two integrities each owning their own provides the missing piece referred to by Dr Giddings in his Synod speech: "Those who have worked for reconciliation in various areas of life 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". That should be self-evident.

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