An Asian Christian woman living in London blogging about the everyday issues of religion

Monday, 22 November 2010

Perhaps I am a naive lay woman

Having a conversation with secular people and lay Christians about the General Synod was an extremely irritating experience for me when I was standing for election. The conversations would go like this: 'General Synod', silence, 'What does it do?' or 'is that to do with the Vatican?'. I would then patiently explain that it was the Church of England's ruling council blah di blah di. 'Ah! The people who don't want women and gays' was the reply. Few people knew about the General Synod and, even worse, that it did anything else but hold sessions on how to keep women and gay people out.

The Anglican Covenant? That was another experience. 'You mean the Methodist Covenant,' educated lay types would say to me, taking delight in their superior political knowledge of the Church. 'No, The Anglican Covenant as set out in the Ridley-Cambridge Draft', I would say wearily.

That, in a nutshell, represents people's knowledge of the governing body of  the CoE. It is seen as a place where repression is debated on, voted on and acted on. The falsehood depressed me and was the message I sought to get across during the hustings-that perception is as important as reality. The obsession with sexual orientation and gender politics is the brand recognition of General Synod. The church is being seen as an investor in practices deemed outdated and illegal in the modern world. I used the picture of Holman Hunt's 'Jesus knocking at the door' to illustrate my message and posed the question as to how many people were being kept out by this perception?

I am a new player to the politics of the Church but, nevertheless, I am adamant that the ordinary lay person does not care about the Anglican Covenant or the intellectual detail of the theological considerations of the headship argument. If your country was under a serious and immediate national security threat would you rather that the generals sat around discussing the strategic alliances and ideological positions to adopt or would you feel safer if they were actually seen on the ground battling the problem? People want a grassroots level church that is open and accessible to all. Christians being attacked at a frightening rate all over the world don't care for the intellectual indulgences of Christian folk in the safety of the Western world. They want to know that we care.

The big challenge for Synod is fraternity. The concept of the Big Society is being debated tomorrow and this is an opportunity to demonstrate Christian cohesion. However, it will all be undone if trust in the church cannot be fostered. Perhaps I am being naive in hoping for a message of inclusivity to be sent out by General Synod in the way that Miss World contestants hoped for 'world peace' and raised mocks of laughter in response.


  1. I am rarely pedantic, as to be so is boring. But please, "Secular" does not mean "atheist" or non-churchgoing. It just means "of the world" rather than "of religion" (in fact, in Christianity it specifically means "not in a religious order, so you get secular priests). I consider myself as much secular as I am religious. The day I stop being worldly will be the day I stop being any use in my religious life.

  2. Sorry, CL, I forgot to mention why I am breaking my "don't be a pedant" rule. It's a particular hobby horse of mine that we should wrestle back terms like "humanist" and "secular" from the fundi-atheists, so that those of us who are religious, humanist and secular can converse with those who are secular, humanist atheists or agnostics and actually do something humanist together to change both our secular and religious worlds for the better.

  3. MP, I take your point. I would consider myself secular, humanist and religious too. The point I was trying to make was that both religious and non-religious people were united in an ignorance of General Synod.