Wednesday, 21 November 2012

What now, then?

So. Time to put the head above the parapet again after a long silence. No particular need to rehearse what happened yesterday - there will be plenty of accounts of it in various places - but what is a liberal supposed to do now? I have said before that my understanding of that label is the realisation that although I have reached my own views (hopefully) by reason and coherent argument, nevertheless I might be wrong.

Of the various dissenting views that were aired yesterday, I have to admit that some make more sense to me than others. I no longer agree with it, but I do understand the basis for the traditional catholic objection that we alone do not have the competence to make this sort of move. I would add, nevertheless, the remark made to me many years ago by an old priest to the effect that it took Rome 400 years to put the Mass in the vernacular after we showed them the way, but they got there eventually. The conservative evangelical 'headship' argument, however, leaves me scratching my head. I have never been a literalist anyway, but I really do not understand the sort of selective literalism that elevates some parts of the Bible to be infallible while quietly ignoring others. Still, the fact that I do not understand it is not a good enough reason to say that it is invalid as a point of view. It is a belief deeply and sincerely held by a small but significant minority within the Church of England and it deserves respect. Most of the people who voted against the legislation yesterday did so because of one or other of those deeply held beliefs. I respect absolutely the fact that they did so, and I am glad that they did so. They remind the majority in the Church that theirs is not the only view.

But. (Had you guessed there was a 'but' coming?) But, not all those who voted against the legislation yesterday did so because of their own beliefs. Instead, they went against their own conviction in order to demonstrate a spirit of inclusivity and openness to those with whom they do not agree. No doubt they did so with the best possible motives, but the potential havoc they have wreaked by doing so is considerable.

Yes, the vote was on the legislation not the principle, and yes, the people for whom the provisions had been designed had said that they were not adequate, but to think that delay would do anything to change this is frankly naive. It had taken us seven years to get that far, and the compromises was as good as they were going to get. The upshot of rejecting the legislation is that nobody wins. The majority of the Church of England is unable to proceed as it wishes. We have lost at a stroke what credibility we might have had left with the political establishment and forfeited our right to speak out against inequality and injustice in society. How can we do so without being branded the most obvious of hypocrites? As to those who opposed the measure through genuine conviction, they might have just lost their last chance for proper provision. The change will come, and if Parliament enforce it - as they might - or the next few meetings of Synod see the rescinding of the Act of Synod or re-writing of the 1992 Measure - and they might - then that change will come in starker form than we have seen up to now. So much for good intentions.

Many of us have a lot of explaining to do, but the ones who have the most explaining to do are the ones who in the end were not true to their own convictions. I hope they think that their compromise was worth the damage they have done to us all.