Synod Thoughts: The Northern Churchman

The Northern Churchman

Synod Thoughts

Tedious but important. That is my verdict on Synod proceedings during the debate on Living in Love and Faith. 

Especially tedious was the continuous call for votes by Houses as a way of scuppering virtually every amendment. By his use of this mechanism, one cleric effectively controlled the synod for almost twenty-four hours. He did so good-heartedly and half-awkwardly, but he did so knowingly; the Bishops were unlikely to vote en-masse against their own proposals. Conservatives should learn from this. There may be times in the future when evangelical members need to be equally brazen in stymieing unwelcome proposals.

Eventually one amendment was passed. This amendment, adding paragraph (g) to the text, was seen as strengthening support for the motion by giving reassurance to the orthodox. Indeed one Bishop argued this way. The Bishops voted accordingly, perhaps seeing it as a way of getting the entire motion across the line.

Then before the final vote, Bishop Sarah Mullally of London announced that the amended paragraph would not apply to any future deliberations of the bishops anyway. The amendment that synod managed to vote through was effectively made null and void. In the end, the entire amendment process was a waste of time.

Bishop Mullally responded to many members’ concerns by repeating, “I hear what is being said.” But hearing is not listening, and these words were not reassuring; the resistance to so many amendments had given the impression that Synod was, in fact, not being heard. Her repeated phrase had all the charm and grace of an NHS phone-line intoning that the next available GP appointment would be in April.

However, some of the motions from the conservative side were noticeably repetitive also. Does this not indicate that more co-ordination is necessary, and surely with a bit of work, this can be achieved?

The limited knowledge of procedure evident in some of the amendments was concerning. It is a glaring own goal when an amendment cannot be carried because of wrong terminology or wrong instructions, eg. asking an office holder to do something outside their remit. The Bishop of London was able to swat these away without breaking sweat. Why make it so easy? Evangelicals need to learn how to craft synodical legislation and have access to good technical advice to avoid unintended (or indeed unwelcome) consequences.

The Archbishop of Canterbury’s contribution to the debate was particularly puzzling. His tears for Christians in other countries who might well face violence, injury and death due to Synod’s decision did not influence him to oppose the motion in the end. Surely he didn’t mean to give the impression that the hurt feelings of Western liberals outweighed the blood of Africans?

Throughout the debate evangelicals quoted Bible texts, while progressives alluded to them, presenting a Jesus closer to their imagination than to the apostolic witness. The detail was with the evangelicals but the liberals had the emotional pull. Experience seems to be the final authority as far as this synod is concerned. True Anglicans will recognise that this can happen with Church Councils and assembly, including synod. After all, as they are gatherings “whereof all be not governed with the Spirit and Word of God, they may err, and sometimes have erred, even in things pertaining unto God.” (Article XX). Even Athanasius was exiled despite his effective work at the Council of Nicaea.

It must be noted that a significant number of celibate gay members spoke in favour of the church’s existing doctrine. Alas, they were the wrong sort of gay, so their voices were not listened to.

A “Well done” must be said to all the faithful servants of God’s truth who clearly and courageously represented the biblical witness to the Gospel and to the good and full life God calls us to in Christ. The good news was presented with grace and truth. As JC Ryle once reminded his readers, the best theologian is the textuary.