Monday, July 09, 2012

General Synod: When is a Decision Not a Decision?

'The perfect forum for those who want to avoid decisions'. That description of the Church of England General Synod was penned back in February by Andrew Brown of the Guardian. On first reading, it would seem ever closer to the mark today. A few thoughts:

 - Is the glacial decision making process of the CofE born out of a desire to get things right, a fear of getting things wrong, or a deadlock brought on by competing lobby groups taking up the ground normally occupied by leadership and vision? Is it another symptom of the weakness of the overall CofE leadership model?

 - This was supposed to be the day when the key vote was taken. Instead it's now delayed until November, and who knows what will happen then? It's better to take our time to make the best decision, and we should applaud synod for not sacrificing accuracy for speed, despite pressure from people like me to 'just get on with it'. But the longer this drags on the more sapping it becomes. A delay of 4 months isn't much in the 2000 year history of the church, but the delay itself is the result of an intervention by the Bishops which seemed to upset a lot of people. I think their motivations were right, but the result was a flurry of press releases disagreeing with them, and todays adjournment of the debate.
I'm not sure if it's fair to describe the governance of the CofE as dysfunctional, but something has gone seriously wrong here. Once this is done and dusted (as far as it can be) we need to ask some serious questions about CofE processes. We talk about ourselves as an episcopal church, we're looking to accept women into the episcopacy, but we don't seem that keen on episcopal leadership. I hate to say it, but we seem pretty confused about what bishops are for. To take a chess metaphor, we only seem to want bishops who will move sideways one space at a time, unless we agree with them, in which case we want them to move straight ahead as fast as possible.

 - The sad thing for me is that the desire for finely-tuned legislation is a symptom of a deeper problem. Normally, if a family has brought in the lawyers it's a sign that the relationship is struggling. We only resort to law to codify our relationships when love, trust and community have broken down, it's an external sanction on behaviour. It's apparent that many Anglicans don't trust each other sufficiently to live without safeguards. Whether that mistrust is well grounded, I don't know. But it doesn't look like people are willing to take the risk of finding out.

History may show that the delay has some wisdom to it. We may find a glorious way to please everyone. I just wonder how many other organisations could take this long, be this confused, and still survive. But maybe family rather than organisation is a better metaphor, and if the CofE is an organism, then in comparison with evolution we're going at lightening speed.

For a fascinating inside view of all this, have a look at Stephen Lynas' blog from synod.

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