I was quoted by the Northern Echo this week as having hailed the 'brilliance' of Janet and John Appleby's amendment to the now-notorious Clause 5.1.c. That's not quite what I said, though I did use the word brilliance...(and to be fair, the Echo did also include an extended version of my remarks).
What I said was that the amendment wasn't really what either those of us most in favour of womens ordination, or most opposed to it, wanted. We all agreed some years ago that a single clause measure was preferable for clarity and theological coherence. However, there does appear to be a growing consensus that this current compromise will do for most people.
I've had several conversations with some of those who oppose women's ordination on principle. All have said that, though they probably won't feel able to endorse women's ordination by voting yes in November, this current compromise package would be acceptable to them assuming it goes through. In other words, they could live with it.
I've also had several conversations with some of the strongest advocates for women's equal ministry. Some of them, too, will struggle to vote for this, as the compromise package is such a major compromise from our original dream of a simple statement that men and women are both called and gifted by God. But most are saying that - though they feel bitterly frustrated and angry at being expected to make further compromises - they feel they could vote yes, if only because the whole sorry debacle has demonstrated clearly just how much the House of Bishops needs women members. In other words, we can live with it.
So why did I use the word 'brilliance'? I think the brilliance of the wording the Applebys have come up with lies in that word 'respect'. This cuts to the heart of the issue for most opponents, who fear that their position, and they, will not be treated with respect. And it allays some of our worst fears, because respect does not imply endorsement. I can respect your views, and you, without agreeing with you on something. I can act towards you and treat your views with respect without endorsing your views. And I can reasonably expect you to do the same with me and my views.
This legislation is not a perfect package by any means. It is still, in my view, theological nonsense to allow someone to choose their bishop based on whether they agree with them. The notion that ordaining a woman, or holding certain views on women's ordination, can impair someone's communion with their male bishop to the extent that they 'need' an alternative is anathema to me. But that is the legislation that the dioceses have accepted, and seems to be the best we can achieve in this generation. That is very sad.
Still, allowing myself a wistful sigh for what might have been, I think this legislation offers us the best hope for the future that is realistically achievable now. I will be very surprised if it doesn't go through in November.
Oddly, I feel little emotion at the prospect of it succeeding or failing. The legislation is too flawed for its passing to be cause for a great deal of joy. And if it fails, then I imagine a single clause measure will be what comes next: because if the compromise is rejected, what is the point of compromising?
I'll save my excitement for the consecration of the first woman as a bishop in the Church of England. I am confident that she and her colleagues will demonstrate that there was no need for all this fear and talk of legislative safeguards, because they will be truly brilliant.