Humiliation for C of E as women bishops measure is lost

By staff writers
November 21, 2012

The General Synod of the Church of England narrowly failed to pass draft legislation which would have allowed women to become bishops at its meeting in London on Tuesday 20 November 2012.

Under the rules of the tripartite legislative body for the Established church, the legislation needed a two-thirds majority in each of the three voting houses for final draft approval.

While more than two-thirds voted for the legislation in both the House of Bishops (44-03) and the House of Clergy (148-45), the vote in favour of the legislation in the House of Laity was less than two-thirds (132-74). The vote in the House of Laity would have led to approval had six votes gone the other way.

In total 324 members of the General Synod voted to approve the legislation and 122 voted to reject it.

The outcome caused immediate dismay and upset among the supporters of women becoming bishops, who are the great majority in the Church of England overall - 42 out of 44 dioceses and around 80 per cent of active members.

Beyond the walls of the institution the vote produced waves of astonishment and even ridicule, with thousands of condemnatory messages appearing on BBC and newspaper websites.

The head of a leading Anglican mission agency, Mark Russell, tweeted in a personal capacity: "I'm committed to sharing Good News to those outside the church, thanks #synod for making my job more difficult."

The Bishop of Chelmsford told religion journalist Andrew Brown that his Church had regrettably become a "national embarrassment" -- though he demurred at the commentator's suggestion that it had committed a "long and boring suicide" in the debate.

Outgoing Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, spoke of his "deep personal sadness" after the vote and of his concern for its consequences.

He and his successor, Bishop Justin Welby of Durham, had their eloquent pleas for unity and progress ignored by a hardline minority. The archbishop elect tweeted afterwards: "Very grim day, most of all for women priests and supporters". He called for prayer and "collaboration with our healing God".

The Rev Lucy Winkett, rector of St James' Piccadilly and formerly Canon Precentor at St Paul's Cathedral, write in the Guardian yesterday evening that the vote was a "disaster" for the church, though one from which she believed it could recover.

Ms Winkett declared: "It is a matter of shame that millions of women have lived and died as practising Christians while being told from the pulpit that they, as the inheritors of Eve, were responsible for all the sin in the world. It is a matter of shame that in this country women were bridled at the time of the Reformation for daring to speak publicly about their faith. It is unutterably sad that women have lived and died nursing an unfulfilled vocation to serve as priests."

The Rev Canon Rosie Harper, vicar of Great Missenden and chaplain to the Bishop of Buckingham, had said during the nine-hour debate that rejecting women bishops would be "the act of a dying Church" and that "a Church with lower moral standards than the rest of society risks its right to comment on other issues."

"The House of Laity has betrayed the Church of England and the whole nation," added Christina Rees afterwards. She is a prominent a lay member of General Synod, a broadcaster and a writer.

Women and the Church (WATCH) described the outcome of the debate and vote as a "devastating blow for the Church of England".

The Rev Rachel Weir, chair of WATCH, commented: "This is a tragic day for the Church after so many years of debate and after all our attempts at compromise. Despite this disappointing setback, WATCH will continue to campaign for the full acceptance of women's gifts of leadership in the Church of England's life."

Simon Barrow, co-director of the Christian thinktank Ekklesia, and a former Church of England diocesan adviser, said: "This failure to embrace a complete episcopal ministry will undoubtedly be seen inside and outside the Church of England as a further ecclesiastical betrayal of women. It is a very sad outcome to twenty years worth of discussion, though it is most unlikely to be the end of the matter.

He continued: "The Church will certainly remove the barriers to consecrating women bishops in the future, but it is causing itself great pain, and damage to all involved (especially women), by allowing a minority to continue to thwart the process in the meantime.

"The attempt by opponents to embed an anti-women 'church within a church' inside the institution began with the well-intentioned but misguided accommodations of the Episcopal Ministry Act of Synod 1993 and its 'flying bishops'. This latest Synod vote is another sign suggesting that those who determinedly oppose women's ministry on principle will not be placated., and upon reflection proponents of change may perhaps recognise that it is a theological and practical mistake to confuse reconciliation with appeasement. The former depends upon a genuine change of heart, whereas the latter is a diplomatic policy aimed at avoiding conflict by making
concessions to an aggressor. In some cases the conflict has to be worked through, though by peaceable means consistent with the Christian message."

During and after the General Synod debate there was puzzlement expressed by observers and commentators at contradictory arguments used by opponents of women bishops on both the evangelical and catholic wings of the Church.

Some said that they would vote for women bishops if their theological objections were met in pastoral provision for alternative male oversight -- meaning that they would not accept the ministry of men who accepted women as priests. Yet their basic position remained that women bishops were an impossibility per se.

Others said that they "longed to see women bishops accepted by the whole church", but then urged a vote against them on the basis that the Catholic Church, which does not recognise the validity of any Anglican orders, needed to move first.

The Church of England's post-vote press release noted that the consequence of the "no" vote terminating any further consideration of the draft legislation means that it will not be possible to introduce draft legislation in the same terms until a new General Synod comes into being in 2015.

Supporters of women bishops have already pledged to contest seats in the House of Laity which in recent years have been captured by minority opponents through a concerted attempt to thwart change.

The Church of England also finds itself more isolated internationally as a result of the Synod vote. Women already serve as Anglican bishops in Australia, New Zealand, Canada and the United States. South Africa is about to follow suit.

Both the Church of Ireland and the Episcopal Church in Scotland have approved measures permitting women to be bishops, but have yet to appoint them.

Some 17 out of 38 provinces in the 78 million-strong Anglican Communion have now removed obstacles to female episcopacy.

* 'Vote against women bishops keeps church on wrong path' -


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