The recent meeting of the General Synod’s House of Laity: my speech in support of Philip Giddings

On Friday the House of Laity of General Synod of the Church of England trudged through the snow to attend an extraordinary meeting to vote on a motion of ‘no confidence’ in the Chair, Dr Philip Giddings. Here’s the speech I contributed to that debate:

Chair, I very much regret that this motion has been brought before us.

I do not think that any of us were prepared for the tsunami of emotion that swept across the church last November. Emotions can sometimes be a powerful force for good – they can show us what needs to be done and then insist that we muster the courage and the determination to do it.

But emotions – especially anger and frustration- are also dangerous forces in the human psyche. They can drive us into unreason and unleash primitive forces that require catharsis or the search for a victim.

Aristotle was surely right when he warned,Anyone can become angry – that is easy, but to be angry with the right person at the right time, and for the right purpose and in the right way – that is not within everyone’s power and that is not easy’.

And so, given the strength of the emotions in the aftermath of the November debate, we are have been set an extraordinarily difficult task this afternoon and I urge that, mindful of primitive forces potentially at play here, we examine the charges leveled against our Chair as fairly and objectively as we can.

The charges that I find most difficult are those that relate to the implied responsibilities of Chair of the House compared with those of ordinary members.

We need to keep reminding ourselves that whilst our Chair speaks as the Chair he was not IN the chair at the time of the debate. I have never heard it suggested that office holders should not express their own view in these circumstances. Indeed we elect them on the basis of their experience and authority to do just that, surely.

Philip Giddings did not present his view as if it was the view of the house. Indeed, he acknowledged the likely majority view and indicated that he wanted to express a minority view. And neither was that view a vanishingly small minority view within the house of which he is the Chair. It transpired that over one third held views that were comparable.

Given our diversity, I can see why some of the house might think twice about electing him to be the Chair. But his views were very well known when we voted for him at the beginning of this quinquennium, and surely that was the time to express our distaste for them. Further, our procedures insist that, in due course, he re-submit himself for election, and that will surely will be the right time to re-consider our support for him, not this extraordinary meeting convened in the heat of the moment.

Then there is the allegation that he did not support the overwhelming view of the house of Bishops. Are we really saying that our Chair should be inhibited from taking a view contrary to other houses? Have we forgotten how, in July 2009, we applauded so warmly when Dr. Giddings opposed the recommendations coming from Archbishop’s council for a reshaping of the constitutions – how we roundly rejected their recommendations and adopted his amendment? It was because of his huge experience as the foundation Chair of mission and public affairs and years of leadership at the very heart of our church institutions that we voted for somebody of his stature and willingness to have an independent mind.

Of course we want our Chairs to express themselves sensitively, to work collaboratively and to be accessible to all our members. But has Philip Giddings failed on this count? Where is the evidence? He has years of experience of collaborative engagement with the institutions of the church under his belt.

Anyone can become angry – that is easy, but to be angry with the right person and for the right purpose and in the right way – that is not within everyone’s power and that is not easy’. In the light of this warning, can we safely conclude that we are angry with the ‘right man’ here? And in the right way?

Even for those who felt that a grave injustice was done last November, can it now be right to compound one injustice with another? I urge that we reject this motion.

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