27/12/2012

Radical?

Perhaps, in a previous post, I was too quick to be scathing about how one member, one vote could possibly be considered 'radical' in today's world.

I forgot. The Church of England is not like other institutions. It does things differently.

Specifically the it has a very low opinion of democracy. The reasons are seldom articulated in public.
Politically the church is a constitutional monarchy. This describes the British state too, and the CofE is the State Church. 

In the State, however, the emphasis is firmly on the constitutional end of that oxymoron whilst the church clings hard to the emphasis on the monarchical.

Bishops are princes in their own domains. (A couple still live in palaces.) And it's just been announced that Archbishop Williams will now be a life peer and Baron.

When synodical government was created a great deal of thought was given to the relationship of bishop to diocesan synod:
Bishop Mervyn Stockwood
  • Synods were carefully structured so that they could not outvote their bishop. 
  • The most explicit blurring of the monarchical and the constitutional is in the merging of the Diocesan Synod's Standing Committee with the Bishop's Council. Advising the bishop and formal responsibility for maintaining local government were conflated. Consequently the representation of the laity and inferior clergy [technical term] was subsumed into the Prince's court. 
  • Bishops remain judges in their own diocesan courts. This role is normally delegated to the Chancellor of each diocese. However Bishop Mervyn Stockwood (corrected, thanks to Frank Cranmer for pointing out my earlier mistake), Kingston-upon-Thames, fell out with his Chancellor, Garth Moore. Afterwards the bishop simply sidelined his officer and made most legal judgements himself. (Moore remained Chancellor but the two never spoke to each other again.) 
The Bishop is a prince in his court (in the sense of his personal council) - and is thus surrounded by courtiers. Subsidiary power in a diocese comes from access to the bishop and therefore there is every incentive to protect such access. Consequently sharing information horizontally can be foolish thing to do - even though (or, perhaps, because) it might be best for the organization as a whole.

Autocracy (however tempered) evokes sycophancy (however disguised). It is not good for human or spiritual flourishing, nor for objective or accountable decision making. 

This is a description of the polity of the CofE. It is not about 'good' and 'bad' bishops. It is the capacity for arbitrary decision making which is destructive, whether or not it's exercised, whether or not it's effective or the bishop loved. (And what is done by the Prince is echoed in each lesser fiefdom: parish priests may act arbitrarily because their bosses can.)

So this is the main reason why one member, one vote might be considered 'radical'. It suggests that the CofE might possibly step a little closer to being a membership church, maybe. 

One member, one vote is radical in the sense that the 1832 Reform Act was radical. It allowed a much wider section of the community to vote for their governing representatives. It did not bring chaos or instigate government by the working classes. The ruling class simply accommodated and adapted - and so will the Church.

One member : One vote



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