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Consecrating female bishops in the Church of England

2014-JUL: A two decade struggle ends.
Synod finally approves female bishops.

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This is a continuation from the previous essay

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Conflicting quotations from the King James Bible. (Take your pick):

  • Galatians 3:28: "There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus."

  • 1 Corinthians 14:34: "Let your women keep silence in the churches: for it is not permitted unto them to speak; but they are commanded to be under obedience, as also saith the law."

(Emphasis by us)

This ambiguity is often found in the Bible. Religious conservatives tend to interpret passages literally and emphasize specific prohibitions. Religious liberals tend to search out and emphasize broad principles found in the Bible, and often interpret them as influenced by a particular culture millennia ago.

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2014-JUL-14: The General Synod approves female bishops:

The Church of England took its first step in 1992 to eradicate sexism in the denomination by allowing women to be ordained as priests . The first group of women totaled 32 in number, and were ordained in 1994-MAR-12. A little over two decades later, the Church of England's Synod has now voted to allow female priests to be consecrated as bishops, pending government and monarchy approval. 1

This development required that a stringent voting requirement be met: A 2/3 majority of the House of Bishops, House of Clergy and House of Laity separately had to vote in favor. The last time that this change was voted upon was in 2012-NOV, At that time, the House of Laity vetoed the proposal. Although a majority favored the move, a 2/3rd majority was not met. It is widely believed that religious conservatives were over-represented in the House of Laity at the time.

The vote this time was:

  • House of Bishops: Yes 37 No 2 Abstentions 1. 93 % in favor.

  • House of Clergy: Yes 162 No 25 Abstentions 4. 85% in favor.

  • House of Laity: Yes 152  No 45 Abstentions 5 . 75% in favor. 2
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Comment by the The Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby:

"Today is the completion of what was begun over 20 years with the ordination of women as priests. I am delighted with today's result. Today marks the start of a great adventure of seeking mutual flourishing while still, in some cases disagreeing.

The challenge for us will be for the church to model good disagreement and to continue to demonstrate love for those who disagree on theological grounds. Very few institutions achieve this, but if we manage this we will be living our more fully the call of Jesus Christ to love one another. As delighted as I am for the outcome of this vote I am also mindful of those within the Church for whom the result will be difficult and a cause of sorrow.

My aim, and I believe the aim of the whole church, should be to be able to offer a place of welcome and growth for all. Today is a time of blessing and gift from God and thus of generosity. It is not winner take all, but in love a time for the family to move on together." 2

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Excerpt from the comments of the The Archbishop of York, Dr. John Sentamu:

"This is a momentous day. Generations of women have served the Lord faithfully in the Church of England for centuries. It is a moment of joy today: the office of Bishop is open to them. 

To those who ask 'what took you so long?' my answer is that every decision has a cost and there will be those within our body who will be hurting as a result of this decision. Our answer to the hurting should not be 'get over it' but rather 'we will not let go until you have blessed us'." 2

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Responses to the change:

  • Louise Stewart, writing for Newsweek, said

    "The church has been deeply divided over the issue for decades. The previous two times similar legislation has been brought to the table, nasty debates ensued. On Monday, however, a tone of tolerance governed the back-and-forth that took place in the synod chamber immediately prior to the vote. More than 60 leaders were given the opportunity to voice their varying opinions, and several ended their speeches with statements of respect for those who disagree." 3

  • Paula Gooder, a theologian and delegate to the Synod remarked:

    "The tone in the synod chamber last time was really difficult and very angry and hard to experience, whereas this time was much more welcoming and accepting."

  • Sarah Finch, a member of the House of Laity, said during the debate:

    "The pattern for church life that we find in Scripture points to a God-given male leadership."

  • Member Jane Bisson of Canterbury referred during the debate to Mary Magdalene’s role as a disciple rather than an apostle. She feels that this shows that a woman’s place in the church is second to man’s.

Ms. Bisson is correct, as far as the four Gospels that made it into the official canon records. However, there were on the order of 40 other Gospels that were widely used within the early Christian Church. Some referred to Mary as the "Apostle to the Apostles." 4 

She asked:

    "Have we said that the Bible doesn’t matter anymore, and it’s the world that we now follow?"

She would appear to be correct. In the past, the abolition of human slavery required that the Bible's teaching on the topic be ignored. So too when the Bible requirement that non-virgin brides be stoned to death was abandoned. Restrictive passages in the Bible were ignored when women were given the vote, when same-sex marriage was legalized in parts of the UK and elsewhere, and now when female clergy will probably have access to the episcopate in the Church of England.

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The next steps:

Because the Church of England is the state church, changes of this type need to be approved by:

  • The Ecclesiastical Committee of Parliament,

  • The House of Commons, and

  • The House of Lords.

  • Finally it must be given Royal Assent by the Queen before it can be brought into force by the Archbishop

The Canon would then be returned to the Synod so that it can be formally enacted." 2

If all goes smoothly, the first woman bishop(s) might be appointed before the end of 2014. Early 2015 is more probable.

At that time, the Church of England will join other Provinces in the worldwide Anglican Communion who have already allowed women to be consecrated as bishops: They currently include: Australia, Canada, Cuba, India, Ireland, New Zealand, South Africa, Swaziland, and the United States. There are currently about 25 women bishops in the Communion. 3

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References used:

The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.

  1. "List of the first 32 women ordained as Church of England priests," Wikipedia, as on 2014-MAY-18, at: http://en.wikipedia.org/
  2. "Church of England to have women bishops,"The Church of England media centre, 2014-JUL-14, at: https://www.churchofengland.org/
  3. Louise Stewart, "Church of England Votes to Allow Women Bishops," Newsweek, 2014-JUL-15, at: http://www.newsweek.com/
  4. Rachel Held Evans, "Women of the Passion, Part 4: Mary Magdalene, Apostle to the Apostles," at http://rachelheldevans.com/
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Copyright 2014 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Original posting: 2014-JUL-19

Latest update: 2014-JUL-19
Author: Bruce A. Robinson
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