by April Alexander, who served on General Synod (2000-2016) and was a Church Commissioner (2008-2018), an elected member of the Crown Nominations Commission (2013-2017) and Vice Chair of Church of England Pensions Board (2002-2008)
Like Jenny Humphreys I, too, had refrained from standing for election to General Synod this year. It is absolutely right that there should be a welcome for new and younger members (this is not difficult in my case) and I had been a member for longer than is good for Synod or for the Church.
The reason I stayed so long was that I hung on for the Measure for Women Bishops to be passed (November 2014) and to go through the Houses of Parliament (early 2015). By that time, I was serving on the Crown Nominations Commission with the express purpose of participating in the nomination of the first women as Diocesan Bishops. To serve out my term of five years I had to be a continuing member of General Synod.
Many people may not realise that the legislation allowing women as bishops has, within it, a massive caveat. Individuals and parishes are allowed to refuse to recognise the Episcopal Orders of women as they are allowed to refuse the recognise the Orders of ordained women. They may effectively opt out of the Diocesan structure and obedience and may seek the Ecclesiastical oversight of Bishops who hold similarly discriminatory views.
The Church has been found to discriminate against UKME candidates for ordination and for Consecration as well as against the disabled (given their low numbers amongst the ranks of priests and bishops), but in no case other than women is there provision in legislation to allow for this discrimination. The Church also discriminates against candidates in Civil Partnerships and does not allow its priests to enter into a same sex marriage, but none of these provisions are written into legislation. Synod is likely to be offered the opportunity to change this situation in the coming five years.
In 2015, Parliament was so incensed about a whole bench of exclusively male bishops in their midst that they, rather than Synod, legislated for the speedy introduction of women to the House of Lords by allowing them to leap frog over longer serving male bishops as vacancies occurred. The embarrassment for the Church now is that there have not been enough new women appointed to fill those vacancies and, meanwhile, men continue to be appointed by default. This leap frogging provision only lasts for ten years (until 2025) and the outlook for women in the House of Lords and for those women and men who are anxious that they should be there, looks bleak.
Since 2015, fifteen Diocesan Bishops have been appointed but only six were female, despite the fact that there was and remains a surplus of talent among the pioneering group as one might expect. There are fewer female than male candidates partly because there are fewer females in senior positions from which to draw them from, but there are still far more than enough outstanding women than the figures would suggest.
As mentioned above Diocesan Bishops are nominated by the Crown Nominations Commission and I was a member of it from 2013 – 2018. It is a silent and very secretive body. A major factor mitigating against female appointments is the make-up of that body which includes those who, quite legally, hold this discriminatory view about women. Commonly they will number between four and six of the fourteen members. The successful nominee needs to get a vote of support from two thirds of those fourteen members (ie 10 out of 14); it follows that women candidates are at a disadvantage from the very start and usually need to get 100% of the votes of those who are equally disposed to male and female candidates and sometimes even this is not enough. There are women who put themselves through this gruelling process when it is clear to the Commission and sometimes to themselves, that they have no chance at all of achieving the necessary ten votes.
As a result of all this, it is vital that all electors for General Synod know the answers to three questions which should be put to each candidate
- “Are you unequivocally supportive of women as bishops and priests?”
- “Are you unequivocally supportive of people in civil partnerships as bishops or priests?”
- “If you are successful in this election, would you unfailingly vote in favour of these two groups whenever there is an opportunity to do so during your time on Synod?”
Please note that those who are not in favour of those propositions are advised by their groups and associations NOT to make this clear and they are told how to duck the questions.
If you look up this link and open the docs referred to at the bottom of it, you will see how Conservative Evangelical candidates are advised to duck the question when asked about these things and how to obfuscate.
They offer evasive model answers for hustings.
Their website “explains how orthodox Anglican Evangelicals can work together to elect a General Synod that safeguards the doctrine and teaching of the Church of England.”
That “doctrine and teaching” is vehemently opposed to both women and gay people as priests and bishops.
It is because of this that every elector needs to know what is meant by their obfuscatory and anodyne declarations. To this end, there is nothing to stop an elector contacting the candidates in her/his Diocese to ask the three questions above.
Candidates, who are in possession of the email addresses of all electors, could email them all to tell them who are the candidates who reply positively to such questions.
Finally, Inclusive Church has a list of those, Diocese by Diocese, who assent to their Statement which includes the following
“We will continue to challenge the church where it continues to discriminate against people on grounds of disability, economic power, ethnicity, gender, gender identity, learning disability, mental health, neurodiversity, or sexuality.”
Here is the list of those candidates in each Diocese who assent to the above:
- People on that list may well help you with asking the questions and with the canvassing exercise set out above
2. You are certainly encouraged to vote for these candidates and you may find that there are enough of them in your Diocese to make up your voting list. Remember that the STV system of voting does not require that you use up all your votes and you are well advised not to vote for anyone about whom you are uncertain on these matters.
Thank you and good luck!