Andrew Brown wonders if the Church of England can avoid destroying itself over women bishops and marriage equality.
The Guardian: Andrew Brown’s blog:
The female bishops fiasco is the latest expression of the long-running problems that have led to this situation. The Church of England as a whole wants female bishops by an overwhelming margin. Once it is allowed that women can be priests, and thus can represent Jesus at all, the idea that they can’t be promoted within the organisation becomes absurd and repugnant. Nonetheless, opposing female bishops is an article of faith among Conservative evangelicals, who believe that the Bible has patriarchy as a core value.
Although they are a very small minority among Anglicans and still smaller nationally, they are rich, well organised and passionate. At the last synod elections, in 2010, they managed to capture a blocking third of the members of the synod’s house of laity, which is elected by an arcane procedure from among churchgoers with the highest tolerance of committee meetings about nothing very much – deanery synod members, to be technical.
This meant that when proposals to make female bishops came before the synod for the last time last autumn – and this after five years of a legislative process apparently modelled on a cow’s digestive system, with four separate stages, much chewing on regurgitated matter, and a remarkable emission of noxious gas throughout – it still needed two-thirds majorities among all three constituent “houses” of the synod. The bishops and clergy voted it through overwhelmingly, but in the house of laity it failed to reach the necessary two-thirds majority by six votes.
The backlash was immediate and overwhelming. The outside world, and even the church outside the synod, simply could not understand how this had happened. The incoming archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, has produced a much simpler measure to replace it, which would only take two years – incredibly fast by synodical standards – to become law. This strips off all the legislative frills and furbelows of the old measure, which were meant to protect the delicate sensibilities of opponents from the sight of women in episcopal frocks. Instead, they must hope that female bishops choose not to inflict their presence on congregations that loathe them. Although this will almost certainly happen, the fact that conservatives will no longer have a legal right to pretend that nothing has changed seems to them an appalling persecution. Any resemblance to their attitude to gay rights is entirely intentional.