- 18 января 2013, 21:01
Philip Giddings accused of causing Church of England 'reputational damage' by speaking against ordination of women
The controversial head of the Church of England's house of laity has survived a vote of no confidence in his leadership over his opposition to the introduction of female bishops.
Dr Philip Giddings, a conservative evangelical, had been accused of directly undermining the next archbishop of Canterbury and causing the church "reputational damage" by using his role to speak at the General Synod in November against proposals to bring women into the bishopric.
Although the legislation was supported by the houses of clergy and bishops, it failed to gain a big enough majority in the house of laity, leading one bishop to warn the church was in danger of becoming "a national embarrassment".
Almost 150 laity members braved the snow to travel to Church House in central London to join the unprecedented debate, which had moments of passion, humour and bitterness. The motion of no confidence was defeated by 80-47, with 13 abstentions.
It had been proposed by Canon Stephen Barney of Leicester, who said the synod's failure to vote in favour of female bishops last November had been "a train crash of epic proportions" for the church.
Barney accused Giddings – who spoke directly after Justin Welby, the archbishop-elect of Canterbury at the synod – of "killing the momentum" of Welby's speech urging a yes vote and of defending a minority opinion among the laity when he should have made it plain the majority favoured female bishops.
The vote in November required a two-thirds majority in each of the three houses to pass – in the laity 132 were for and 74 against.
"A number of new members of this house were very surprised and shocked that our chair spoke and voted as he did," said Barney. "From a private individual, this speech would have been just fine. From the chair, it was not. It was partisan and narrow when it should have been strategic and statesmanlike."
Giddings said that although he did not believe he had undermined or personally criticised Welby, he had apologised to the archbishop, who had since told him he had found nothing offensive, discourteous, impolite or disrespectful in his words.
Giddings added there was no evidence his speech had damaged the reputation of the church, said he had not presented his own opinion as the view of the laity and asked why the head of the laity should feel obliged to support the views of the house of bishops.
He said that he had acknowledged the fact that the majority of the laity was in favour of the measure, but had spoken up for the minority because "the CofE can ill-afford to alienate those who are opposed on grounds which have a long and honourable tradition within our own church and the church more widely".
During the debate, Giddings's opponents accused him of repeatedly using his position as a platform for his conservative views, while his defenders said he had been used as a scapegoat and subjected to cruel and unchristian treatment whose "express purpose was to pillory the chair".
After the vote, Giddings said he recognised he needed to "take my own medicine" and listen to those of the laity who disagreed with him. called on the house to put the matter behind it and expressed the hope that the "temperature [could] be lowered".
Giddings, one of the most powerful lay members of the church, is the convenor of the conservative evangelical Anglican Mainstream network, which was founded to oppose the appointment of Jeffrey John, a gay priest, as the suffragan bishop of Reading in 2003.