[Episcopal News Service] A majority of members of the Church of England’s House of Laity rejected a resolution that would have registered a vote of “no confidence” in their chair, Dr. Philip Giddings of the Diocese of Oxford.
An emergency meeting of the House of Laity had been scheduled for Jan. 18 at Church House in Westminster after several members had raised concerns about a speech Giddings delivered at the November 2012 General Synod in which he opposed the legislation for women bishops as “unwise” given that a “significant minority” of the church are unable to accept its provisions.
Giddings’ speech had immediately followed one from archbishop of Canterbury-elect and Bishop of Durham Justin Welby, who spoke in favor of the legislation.
The mover of the motion, Stephen Barney of Leicester, had argued that the speech “directly undermined” what Welby had said. Barney also said in a written explanation that Giddings’ speech had been “instrumental in convincing some of the undecided members of the house to vote against,” and was a “significant contributor to the reputational damage the Church of England is already suffering.”
Although 81 members of the House of Laity had requested to speak during the Jan. 18 emergency meeting, time restraints partly caused by heavy snowfall in London meant that fewer than half were called to the podium.
A procedural motion to postpone the debate failed. The main motion, “That this House have no confidence in Dr. Philip Giddings as Chair of this House,” was lost with 47 voting in favor, 80 against, and 13 recorded abstentions.
Following the vote, Giddings, 66, said that he would now take careful advice from colleagues about how to proceed. “We do need to have a debate about what are the expectation of the chair and vice chair,” he said. “I hope and pray that we can now put this behind us and the temperature can be lowered and we can seek to work together for the sake of God’s mission to this country.”
The legislation had required a two-thirds majority in all three houses of laity, clergy and bishops at General Synod, the church’s main governing body. The measure passed the houses of bishops and clergy, but failed in the House of Laity by 6 votes.
Barney told the House of Laity on Jan. 18 that “national figures from the prime minister and down are saying that we must fix this. Rowan Williams has repeatedly highlighted the damage that this has done to the church.”
“It is about what is appropriate conduct for someone who has so much influence,” he said. “He knew the will of the majority for which he was chair was contrary to his own opinion and it was inappropriate for him” to opine “in the corridors of power as he did on the women bishop’s debate.”
Ahead of the two-hour debate, Giddings said, “I understand that many members of this house and outside were distressed by the decisions made in November, [but] it is our calling as an Anglican church to seek to be comprehensive. It is precisely because they are the minority that we should seek to find a way to encompass them.”
Giddings also said that he could not have chosen when he would be called on to speak during the November debate and that Archbishop of York John Sentamu was chairing the meeting and made those decisions. Although Giddings said that he could not see how his comments could reasonably be construed as undermining or criticizing Welby, he nevertheless offered the bishop an apology for any offence he may have caused him.
Giddings told the laity Jan. 18 that Welby replied, saying it had “never crossed my mind that you were in the slightest bit discourteous…I did think you were wrong, but we really need to be able to disagree as I’m sure you do agree.”
Among those who were called to speak were Fay Wilson-Rudd of Bath and Wells who said she thinks “we are kidding ourselves if we think we will ever find a chair who will represent all of our views. What I believe that is really being called into question is the method of governance [and] … clarity over the role of our chairs. This house is not equipped to deal with these matters alone.”
Deborah McIsaac of Salisbury said the motion seeks to make Giddings a scapegoat “and it will not undo the damage of reputation of the House of Laity. It will do further damage to this church, General Synod and this house and will be interpreted as a vindictive action.
Some speakers also cited as problematic Giddings’ role as convener of Anglican Mainstream, a global conservative network that stands in opposition to the full inclusion of gays and lesbians in the church.
One speaker noted that Giddings had been a key opponent of the appointment of openly gay priest Jeffrey John as bishop of Reading in 2003.
But Clive Scowen of London said that the House of Laity elected Giddings knowing his views and his role with Anglican Mainstream.
— Matthew Davies is an editor/reporter of the Episcopal News Service.