Church votes to allow women bishops

For those interested in such things, the Church of England’s ruling body, the General Synod, has voted to allow women to be consecrated as bishops, despite opposition from some 1,300 clergy members of the Church who have threatened to leave the Church. This had already been agreed in principle, but has now been formalised, and the conditions under which it is to happen have been discussed.

A code of practice is to be drawn up stating how those “who as a matter of theological conviction will not be able to receive the ministry of women as bishops or priests” will be dealt with. The details of what will be in this code of practice remains to be seen, but the BBC reports that this is likely to fall short of the controversial “compromise” conditions demanded by traditionalists – the creation of male “superbishops” who would take over spiritual leadership of those who refuse to recognise the authority of their female bishop. Opponents of this measure said that it would effectively create a two-tier system of bishops, with women confined to the lower tier.

The Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams (the head of the Church of England), was against this measure, saying he would be “deeply unhappy with any scheme or any solution to this which ends up, as it were, structurally humiliating women“, a view supported by the 4,000 Anglicans (half of them clergy) who wrote to oppose a two-tier clergy.

The argument against women bishops is based on the fact that Jesus picked only men to be his 12 disiples, and the general biblical teachings of ‘male headship’. Nevertheless, women priests have been allowed since 1992. Traditionalists who oppose women bishops have concerns that priests ordained by women bishops will not be ‘properly’ ordained and lack authority from God. (Trying very hard to keep a straight face here). Just a few short weeks ago I was writing about petulance from Catholic priests – this month, Canon Brandie blustersif we don’t see some provision that offers real ecclesiastical integrity and security, many of us will be thinking very hard about the way ahead“. The Telegraph (sounding pretty cheesed off all round) gives some column inches to the tears of traditionalists and the victim mentality of the Rev Prebendary David Houlding, who complains “We are being pushed by a particular liberal agenda and we are going to have women bishops at the exclusion of any other view“.

More refreshingly, Tory MP and General Synod member Robert Key (who supported reforms) said the church should “stop navel gazing” and get on with its business.

The Church of Wales rejected the same proposal in April of this year, and this is one amongst a number of issues which is threatening the unity of the worldwide Anglican Communion. The most contentious issue is that of homosexuality, which some say will split the Church. Christian Feminist has some interesting views on this:

“This isn’t just a question of sexuality, its also a question of whether or not wealthy white countries […] should be able to tell developing countries what to do […] we cannot win this battle by continuing in fundamentally racist and imperialist attitudes. If the African Anglican Church is to change its mind on issues of sexuality, then African Christians and African LGBT people will have to lead the way. We can give our opinions and assistance to their struggle, but we don’t get to be in charge.”

Update: Zoe Williams on the (traditionalist) bishop who cried during the General Synod debate:

Generalisations are hateful, but to make one anyway, men of a certain age are terrible at hugs of comfort. I can’t help thinking that if you’re going to start crying on the floor of the General Synod in York, you really want a female bishop on hand.


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