It’s not for me to pontificate on the Church of England’s woes. Nonetheless, I suspect Cranmer is right when he stated:
You know that church that’s seemingly in crisis and turmoil? Well, today it’ll carry on praying, worshipping, visiting the ill and bereaved, loving one another… (and re-stocking food-banks). And it’ll be doing it all very calmly. It was one vote on one report on a specific question of sexuality: anybody would think the Archbishop of Canterbury had just crossed the Tiber. Honestly, there is no crisis and no turmoil.
Whilst that is clearly underplaying it, it is fairly clear that today is not the day the CofE will fall apart. However, we may be in the beginning of the end for a church as broad as the CofE has become. Peter Saunders view puts it eloquently and convincingly here.
Nonetheless, Cranmer is right to note that certain activists trumpeting the vote as some sort of LGBT+ victory is a spin that does not stand up to scrutiny. He comments (probably correctly): ‘the report was simply a statement of where the Bishops are at on this matter: this report was the very means by which progress (however framed) could have been made. It was a step, a rung, a furtherance of the argument. The vote not to “take note” means that it dies: it cannot now be brought back to Synod, and so those who agitate for full inclusion and marriage equality will now have to wait (years?) for another report’.
Perhaps it is for this reason that the vote worked out this way:
The House of Bishops voted 43 in favour and 1 against (the one vote against was a mistake by the Bishop of Coventry) .
The House of Clergy voted 93 in favour and 100 against with 2 abstentions.
The House of Laity voted 106 in favour and 83 against with 4 abstentions.
The overall vote, were it taken on a One-Member-One-Vote basis, would have carried 242 to 184 to “take note” of the report. Due to the decision to vote by synodical houses – Bishops, Clergy, Laity – the motion had to be carried by a majority in each house. The figures bear out that the Bishops backed the report. This is hardly surprising as they wrote the thing. More surprisingly, the Laity also backed the report. This is significant on two counts: (1) the noise being made in LGBT+ affirming circles have insisted a majority within the church are on their side. Their vociferous denunciation of the Bishop’s report should have seen such overwhelming support borne out in a clear majority in the House of Laity against “taking note”. That such did not transpire rather undermines the claim. (2) A number of conservatives who are not in favour of affirming LGBT+ relationships within the church did not want to recognise the report because, in their view, it gave no indication on the actual direction the church was going to take on this issue. That the report was still noted by the Laity is, therefore, significant.
Whilst I’m sure others who have a more direct interest in Church of England ecclesial politics, and who understand these things far better than I, will draw attention to various implications and conclusion, there is one observation I find interesting. I am quite ready to hear the comment is stupid and foolish and fails to grasp Church of England ecclesiastical structures. If such is the case, then I shall let it stand as testament to my ignorance. But if it is a legitimate observation, it strikes me as an interesting one. And it is this:
The report by the Bishops was (rightly or wrongly) categorised as a rejection of the LGBT+ affirming wing’s stated desires and a broad, if not entirely unequivocal, defence of the traditional church doctrine on marriage supportive of the Conservative position. The Bishops voted to “take note” of the report, as they would, and the Laity voted the same way. Thus is was the House of Clergy who caused the report to be rejected (by a margin of 7 votes, no less). Therefore, can we conclude that it is, in fact, the clergy who are out of step both with their Bishops and the lay members?
Now, I recognise not every member of the clergy had a direct vote on the issue (ditto the laity). So we are rather dealing with representatives and whether they are directly reflecting the views of those they represent or not. And, of course, who is to say for certain? All will claim the majority agrees with them. Unless we have some sort of wider reaching poll (and they’ve been terribly accurate lately, haven’t they?), there’s no real way of proving what the majority think short of giving everybody a vote using an OMOV system, which is not without its issues in a parish-based system.
But, presuming we can tell anything from this vote about wider feelings in the church, it seems the clergy are the ones out of step with the laity. If the prevailing mood within the church is to clearly move away from the traditional doctrine of marriage, why is it only the clergy (by a scant margin) that reflect what is being presented as an overwhelming and unassailable majority?
Answers on a postcard.