Philip Giddings – the mood of the House is yet to settle

15 01 2013

I’m currently reading Nate Silver‘s book on predicting stuff. His broad conclusion is that you shouldn’t try to predict things unless you’re Nate Silver, because you probably won’t be right. Accordingly, I preface this post by saying that I am not a psephologist, and I wouldn’t recommend relying too much on the numbers in the post. The sentiment, however, I am rather more confident of.

One of the great joys of the General Synod is that it differs from the heavily disciplined party lines of Parliament. We have no system of whipping, and even the loose groupings of members are more comparable with party affiliations of the early Nineteenth Century than with the strict party membership system we see today. This means debates can be real debates, without the outcome guaranteed before we start; it enables the Holy Spirit to inform our deliberations through prayer and thoughtful reflection.

Unfortunately the consequence of this organic arrangement is that the Synod can be rather unpredictable and difficult to manage. Along with many others I was left agog that we went into the final vote on the recent Women in the Episcopate Measure without being fairly confident of the outcome. I would like to believe that the preceding debate had the potential to swing it, but to rely on that was a massive gamble for such an important piece of legislation. That is how the House of Laity has inadvertently managed to distort the will of the Church it is elected to represent.

On Friday afternoon, the House of Laity will hold an extraordinary sitting to debate a motion of No Confidence in its Chair, Philip Giddings. The debate has the potential to be deeply divisive, and put on display the most unchristian and unattractive qualities of vengefulness, animosity and contempt. I believe, however, that there is an opportunity to use the debate for constructive purposes – to lay the foundations of a dialogue which will lead to a solution of the wretched problem we face.Image

In an effort to help push the debate towards a productive and positive outcome, I have surveyed a number of Synod members, hoping to gauge the mood of the House of Laity.

Contrary to the fears of many, I predict a reasonably high turnout of between 75% and 79%. This is extremely positive because it means that the debate will not simply be between friends of Philip Giddings and those ‘out to depose’ him. Rather, we can reasonably say that we have come together as a whole house to discuss our future.

Understandably, many members are unwilling or unable to commit at this stage to which way they are likely to vote. However, of those prepared to indicate their ‘starting’ position, at most 46% are currently minded to support the motion. That means the proposers of the motion must think very carefully about how to achieve the support of a majority from the significant (but not very large) numbers currently undecided.

Perhaps most interesting are the comments of those who are keen to listen to the debate. There is a clear and strong distaste for recriminations or vengefulness. There is, however, a profound commitment to finding a way forward.

The current stated positions by those proposing and opposing the motion of No Confidence focus on the speech made by Philip Giddings in the November debate. Having surveyed opinion, I believe this is a mistake – it will only pull us down into squabbling over well-worn disagreements. This may well account for its failure so far to find a supporting majority.

However, that is not to say there is no value in holding the debate and, crucially, the vote. The House is keen to move forward, and to find a solution. The role of Chair will be vital in finding that solution – bringing people around the table, supplying the imagination to find a new way forward, and then galvanising the whole house to support whatever comes out.

The question now must be: “Does Philip Giddings have our confidence to do that job?”

Speaking to members of the House of Laity, there is a strong feeling that, rightly or wrongly, we are ‘standing in the way’ and that it is our responsibility to do something about it. There is no doubt that the strength of reaction in the dioceses against our vote in November has been powerful. We will not be able to fix everything on Friday, or indeed very much at all, but from what I have heard members are very keen to take the first steps towards making amends.