Tuesday, July 08, 2008

CHURCH AS SPECTACLE

Times religion correspondent Ruth Gledhill has been maintaining an admirably informative 'live blog' from the Church of England's general Synod, as the decision on women bishops is taken. Dave Walker has been doing a good job, too.

Viewed from the outside, these proceedings can seem rather bizarre. This is something the C of E has partly brought upon itself by pompously setting up its central body as a quasi-parliament. That means living in the blinking headlines of a constant media culture, so that moments of decision and emotion which might previously have been conducted with public eyes averted are now available for all to stare at -- often uncomprehendingly, since mere sight does not necessarily equal understanding of what is viewed. The distinction between privacy and secrecy is also lost. I'm in favour of public scrutiny, especially when power which otherwise might be unaccountable is being deployed. But there are losses, too, in terms of human and spiritual process.

Last night, for example, Jeremy Paxman (on BBC2's Newsnight) heaped ridicule on the idea that Synod had passed a motion without full resolution of all the details - as if the notion of going through a dispute process was inherently absurd. The idea of trying to accommodate rather than crush dissent is thereby portrayed as weakness and vacillation. It can be, of course. But compromise based on principle rather than expediency, where this is possible, is not to be despised and can make a real difference. It's difficult to get at when every move is being politicised, however.

That said, I am nervous about the word "statutory" attached to the 'code of conduct' idea. The Church having decided, at long last, to consecrate women as bishops, the purpose of pastoral measures should be to aid reception with sensitivity, not to set up road blocks or assist those who wish to do so. That is a crucial distinction. In the long run, those who cannot recognise women in positions of authority cannot expect (or be expected) to live in permanent ecclesiastical "no fly zones", and it is cruel as well as unhelpful to pretend otherwise. That is not conflict transformation, it's the institutionalisation of incurable pain - to everyone's harm, as the disastrous Act of Synod preceding the ordination of women in 1994 has demonstrated.

3 comments:

Matt Wardman said...

>This is something the C of E has partly brought upon itself by pompously setting up its central
body as a quasi-parliament.

That's a bit rough in 2008, Simon - they are living with the baggage of a structure pretty much set up (now sure how much by the CofE or by Parliament?) in 1919. And it *is* a quasi-Parliament - essentially a specialist 3rd Chamber.

>That means living in the blinking headlines of a constant media culture, so that moments of decision and emotion which might previously have been conducted with public eyes averted are now available for all to stare at -- often uncomprehendingly, since mere sight does not necessarily equal understanding of what is viewed.

I think it has always been in public, no? So the differences would be:

a) The constant attention and effective involvement of the (interested) wider public in the debate. Interested = mainly people wanting them to "do this" or "do that".

b) The lack of understanding. Suspect that this has always been the case, just now not so obviously and they are indifferent or hostile non-understanders rather than largely a sympathetic version.

obadiahslope said...

If those who 'cannot cannot recognise women in positions of authority cannot expect (or be expected) to live in a permanent ecclesiastical "no fly zones"'
where should they be expected to live?

Simon Barrow said...

Not quite sure why it is wrong in 2008 to raise questions about something established in 1919 on the wrong assumptions, Matt. There is also a tendency for groups within the C of E to rush to the media to try to get one over opponents.

More effective internal mechanisms for developing understanding and discernment (as the Quakers have it), might help shift things in a different direction. But there is resistance to such 'soft' approaches - as I know from time within the institution in education and training.

The answer to your question, Obadiahslope, is either in a church which has women bishops or one that does not. And it's up to them, at the end of the day.