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Post-mortem on women as bishops in Church of England

Post-mortem on women as bishops in Church of England

The Guardian does a post-mortem on the vote to allow women to become bishops:

Almost half of the lay people who voted against legislation to allow female bishops in the Church of England were women, according to figures released on Monday, as senior members of the church were urged to speed up reform or risk consigning it to years of ignominy and irrelevance.

Voting records released by Church House showed 33 of the 74 General Synod lay members who last week caused the long-awaited measure to fail were women and most of them are affiliated to the conservative evangelical group Reform or the traditional Anglo-Catholic movement Forward in Faith.


In spite of fears that some advocates of women bishops had contributed to its failure out of a belief that it made too many concessions to their opponents, the records showed the vote was comprehensively blocked by a powerful combination of conservative evangelicals and traditionalist Anglo-Catholics.

The records of Tuesday’s vote illustrated big differences in allegiances between dioceses. While some, such as Bradford, Hereford and Norwich, had a unified yes vote, with their bishop, clergy and laity all backing the measure, others, such as London, Guildford and Blackburn, had a strong novote among their lay people. In Chichester, one of the two dioceses to reject the measure earlier this year, six of the eight lay representatives voted against.

The details also gave succour to critics who say the house of laity has become profoundly unrepresentative. In Rochester two of the three lay members, and one of the clergy, who voted against the measure come from the same evangelical parish.

Thinking Anglicans has a spreadsheet of the voting here and a new roundup here. The roundup includes a statement from Women and the Church including this:

Bishop John Gladwin, the recently retired Bishop of Chelmsford, and Hon Vice President of WATCH said “The public humiliation and deep wound inflicted on the Church of England by the vote in Synod on November 20th has changed the whole landscape of this and many other issues. What a small minority has done is blow up the bridge to any compromise solution. The consecration of women into the episcopate has been moved from certainty to inevitability.”


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Benedict Varnum

With respect to Sarah Ridgway, extreme positions are nothing new. We forget that our church DNA includes the history of a country where the shifting of the monarchy between Catholic or Protestant individuals could mean a new wave of oaths of conformity for the clergy, where a failure to swear to the faith of the monarch could mean the loss of good standing, employment, or even life. Only a few hundred years before that, there were literal wars and bloodshed between cities over doctrines of predestination, transubstantiation, or who might legitimately receive the revelation of the Holy Spirit.

Similarly, our American church is one (of the few) that found a way to come back together after the Civil War, and return to being a unified tradition.

There will always be those who are willing to say that a given stand on a given issue is sufficient to declare that others can no longer be part of the body of Christ with us. But scripture, tradition, and reason all ought to have something to say to that position, whether its held by “departing” Anglicans in the US, or “continuing” Episcopalians who say, “Don’t let the door hit your ass.”


The wide Anglican community has always managed to consider itself “broad” enough, a big enough tent, to include a pretty solid range of conservative to liberal beliefs. But recent events — schisms in a number of dioceses here in the Episcopal Church, the vote against women bishops in the Church of England led by Evangelicals and Anglo-Catholics, the extreme conservatism regarding homosexuality in the African continent — lead me to wonder if we’ll be able to hold it all together in the long run. There are so many folks now who are of the “my way or the highway” mentality, unwilling to compromise or even just sit with the fact that faithful people have different beliefs and that’s OK, God can handle that…

St. Paul seemed to be fairly liberal in that regard, given that there were surely significant differences in exactly how the Ephesians, the Corinthians and the Romans (among others) expressed and practiced their new faith — he didn’t write (at least as far as we know) any letters saying that one had to be just like the other.

I’m not at all sure what the solution should be; just saying prayers, I guess, that those powers that be who want to keep the big tent from blowing apart altogether be led by the Spirit to a way forward.

Sarah Ridgway

Cynthia Katsarelis

Thank you for the info. I’ve been wanting to know if the measure failed because of the conservatives or a mixture of conservatives plus liberals who didn’t want the concessions. Now it’s clearer. And sad.

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