Church House Friday 18 January – transcribed by AM website
Mr Chairman, I regret that we are having this meeting this afternoon but I understand why and I have no difficulty with the right of members who feel they do not have confidence in an officer to bring such a motion. I well understand that many members of this House like many outside the House were distressed and angered by the failure of the measure to obtain the required majority in November. I regret the damage that was caused by all that occurred then.
I continue to believe that, whatever the outcome this afternoon, we need to find a better way of achieving what most of us want, that is to have women bishops without losing those who have conscientious objections to that development. In my speech I did not argue the grounds. I actually cited as my principal illustration a conservative anglo-catholic, not a conservative evangelical. The point is not whether or not I agree with those objections. The point is that it is our calling as an Anglican church to seek to be comprehensive. It is precisely because they are the minority that we should seek to find a way of encompassing them.
Then, it is clear, it was clear, it has been clear since this Synod was elected in 2010, that we had not yet succeeded in finding that way of accommodating them. I do not deny that it is going to be very difficult to find such a way and I said that I did not deny that in my speech. I continue to believe that we, me, everyone in this synod should continue to work to that end.
Mr Barney’s paper that he circulated makes a number of charges. The one 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. As has been indicated, I had no choice about when to speak. The Archbishop of York told the officers, not just me, at the beginning of the day I think it was, it might have been the night before, that he was going to call us immediately before lunch before he reduced the speech limit that it would be Bishop Justin, then one of us then the other in order to maintain the balance – and you will be aware that the vice-chair of the House spoke in an opposite direction from me. The Archbishop knew the direction in which I would be speaking.
I have read and re-read the words that I used following what I said about welcoming Bishop Justin. Could they reasonably be construed as undermining or personally criticizing him? I thought then and I think now that they cannot. But I am aware that words written and spoken are not always heard as intended. 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.” End of quote.
Mr Barney’s second point was about whether the chair of the House of Laity should speak in accord with the view of the House of Bishops. That has been well dealt with, as has the point about whether or not my speech was instrumental in convincing some undecided members of the House to vote against. We simply do not know whether that was the case. But I thought the point of speaking at times was to enable people to consider and make up their minds.
And this goes to the most significant point which I think has been well aired this afternoon about the distinction between the role of the chair of the House when chairing the House - I don’t think there have been any complaints about the way I chaired the meeting of the House when we had a meeting about the Measure in July – and when one is contributing to a debate in the Synod as a whole. The House of Laity is not a government in which collective responsibility applies. It is not a political party which has discipline. You do not have to follow the lead if it is given by the chair or the vice-chair of the House of Laity. We are all to make up our own minds.
The point about reputational damage to the church has been well made. I may have spoken quite effectively but I don’t think I can be held entirely responsible for that.
At the beginning of my speech and I think this goes to the heart of the judgement this afternoon, I made very clear that a substantial majority of this House and of lay people generally are in favour of women bishops and of the measure which we rejected in November. I also tried to make clear why nevertheless I was focusing on a minority opposed to it – not because of their arguments but because of the number of that minority. And the fact that the Church of England has a long and honourable tradition of seeking to accommodate within it those who hold minority positions. My point was, and is and will continue to be, that whether we agree with them or not, we should make every effort to accommodate them within our church and within its leadership. Accommodating disagreements to the fullest extent possible has been the classical Anglican way since the time of Elizabeth the First. And I am sorry if this upsets people, but I do not believe that advocating that course of accommodating minorities is in any way disloyal or disreputable nor a ground for censuring the chair of the House.
There is one other matter which I think I need to respond to from the debate. There have been a number of references to my role as Convenor of Anglican Mainstream. I am Convenor of Anglican Mainstream. What does not seem to be appreciated by some is that Anglican Mainstream does not have a position on the ordination of women, whether to the priesthood or to the episcopate. It includes on its Steering Committee those who are in favour and those who are against. And I take it as my personal responsibility to ensure that that position is held. We do have a position – about accommodating minorities on that question.
Irrespective of that, in my election address to the electors of the Diocese of Oxford which was circulated to members of this House when we had the chair elections at the beginning of this quinquennium, I made clear that that was my role, as I made clear, as Mr Capon indicated, a very similar position to his, my view in respect of the women bishops’ measure. I was elected – I imagine you all and those not here cast your votes in the knowledge of what the various candidates have said. So I do not think it can be said that I have in any way disguised my personal views or seek to obscure them.
So the question the House has to decide this afternoon is “what is the appropriate role for a lay chair or a lay vice-chair?” Is it simply to follow the views of a majority of the House when those views are known and at other times to be silent? Or is it, as I believe, to articulate views of laity to ensure that the views of the whole of laity are heard, to do so responsibly, reasonably, eirenically, in order to help the Synod as a whole to find a way in which the Church as a whole can unite behind positions of policy or legislation?
It is for the House to decide this afternoon whether it considers that I have exercised that responsibility on this and other issues, fairly and responsibly. ENDS
After the vote, Dr Giddings told the House: "Mr Chairman I am grateful for that vote of confidence but I need to, in a sense, take my medicine. There are clearly a substantial minority of the House who do not have confidence in me. I intend to continue in office but I shall take careful advice from colleagues about how we proceed from here. And in particular I think we need to have some kind of debate about what are the expectations of chair and vice chair in matters of this kind. I hope and pray that we can now put this behind us and the temperature can be lowered and that we can seek to work together for the sake of God's mission to this country."
Audio of the debate here
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