Understanding the Recent Women Bishops Vote (Church of England)

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If you’re into that sort of thing you will have noticed that the Church of England has begun another attempt to get the necessary legislation to allow for the consecration of women bishops through the General Synod after the failure last year to get 2/3 majorities in all three houses (bishops, clergy and laity).

At the recent meeting of General Synod there was discussion on a preliminary motion. As expected the overall vote was in favour but the voting numbers on various amendments and the final motion should give dissenters some small cause for optimism. Thinking Anglicans has details of those votes:

Item 39 (The Revd Paul Benfield amendment)

In paragraph (d) leave out all the words after “on the basis” and insert “that the provision made for those who cannot receive the ministry of female priest or bishops should be made by Measure or regulations made under Canon”.

The effect of this amendment would have been to make statutory provision for opponents. It was defeated in a vote by houses.

item 39 For Against abstain
Bishops 7 34 0
Clergy 48 137 4
Laity 75 115 4

Here we have the key request of conservatives – statutory provision (“made under Canon”) for protection of those who dissent. This was the breaking point last time. In the house of Laity 115 out of 194 voted against – only 59%. If those members voted the same way on the final legislation then it would not pass.

Item 42 (The Ven. Clive Mansell amendment)

In paragraph (d) leave out “79-88 of the annex to GS 1886 described as ‘option one’” and insert “89-95 of the annex to GS 1886 described as ‘option two’”.

The effect of this amendment would have been to include in the measure a requirement for an Act of Synod to be in place before final approval of the measure. It was defeated in a vote by houses.

item 42 For Against abstain
Bishops 10 28 1
Clergy 55 128 8
Laity 93 100 4

Another amendment along the same lines. This time requiring exact provision (if any) to be settled before the final vote. Again the House of Laity couldn’t get near the necessary majority voting only 51% against.


Item 46 (The Ven. Clive Mansell amendment)

At the end of paragraph (d) insert “together with provision to prevent legal challenge to patrons, bishops, PCC members and parish representatives acting properly in accordance with their duties in the appointment process for an incumbent or a priest -in-charge (such issues being identified within paragraphs 130-136 of GS 1886)”.

This amendment was defeated on a division of the whole Synod (200 in favour, 210 against and 15 recorded abstentions). But I have divided the voting list up by houses as follows.

item 46 For Against abstain
Bishops 15 23 2
Clergy 87 98 4
Laity 98 89 9

Once again the conservatives can look to solid figures, winning the House of Laity and getting much better votes amongst the Bishops and Clergy.

Then the vote on the final amended motion:

The final vote was on the substantive motionItem 16 (as amended by items 45 and 47). The two successful amendments were each carried on a show of hands. They added the references to a grievance procedure, and to the use of facilitated conversations.

That this Synod:
(a) reaffirm its commitment to admitting women to the episcopate as a matter of urgency;
(b) instruct the Appointments Committee to appoint this month a Steering Committee to be in charge of the draft legislation required to that end;
(c) instruct the Business Committee to arrange for the First Consideration stage for that draft legislation to be taken at the November 2013 group of sessions, so that the subsequent stages can follow the timetable set out in paragraph 141 of the annex to GS 1886;
(d) instruct the Steering Committee to prepare the draft legislation on the basis described in paragraphs 79-88 of the annex to GS 1886 as ‘option one’ with the addition of a mandatory grievance procedure for parishes in which diocesan bishops are required to participate and invite the House of Bishops to bring to the Synod for consideration at the February 2014 group of sessions a draft Act of Synod or draft declaration to be made by the House to accompany the draft legislation; and
(e) urge that the process of facilitated conversations continue to be used at significant points in the formulation and consideration of the draft legislation.

This was carried on a division of the whole Synod (319 in favour, 84 against and 22 recorded abstentions). Again I have divided the voting list up by houses as follows.

item 16 For Against abstain
Bishops 37 2 1
Clergy 154 27 8
Laity 128 55 13

Solid wins in both House of Bishops and Clergy but, fascinatingly, only a 65.3% vote of those there in the House of Laity with a number abstaining.

What do we learn from this? Well I think only one thing – supporters of legislation for Women Bishops ought not to assume that they will get their way when the final vote comes. On the critical issues of provision they could not gain the necessary 2/3 votes (albeit they were votes on amendments on a preliminary motion). Even on that final motion they are very close to the line and that was even with the revised “Broadbent Plan” of a steering committee with wider representation.

What will probably happen? My prediction is that the conservatives on the steering committee will make clear what will be required to get legislation passed. If their opponents still don’t take their concerns seriously and include them in the legislation then there’s every likelihood the “new” proposal will fail at the final hurdle just as the original move did.

And if that’s true, and I think it’s what will happen, then one final thought occurs. Bishop Pete Broadbent recently argued that

I would urge opponents to adopt realpolitik on this matter. It really is no good any more to argue for provision enshrined in law. The game is up.

Perhaps his comments were aimed in the wrong direction? Should he, instead, be turning to proponents of women bishops and say.

I would urge proponents to adopt realpolitik on this matter. It really is no good any more to argue for legislation without provision enshrined in law.

I’m not sure the game is up, but the ball is definitely very much still in the court.

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