Consecrating female bishops in the Church of England
Liberal and conservative viewpoints. Timeline.
Positions of liberals and conservatives within the Church differ:
- When compared to religious conservatives, religious liberals tend to emphasize personal experience and the findings of science while de-emphasizing a literal interpretation of biblical tests and church tradition. To liberals, consecrating female bishops would drastically reduce the level of sexism within the
Church. They feel that discrimination against women is immoral and is an
embarrassment within the larger culture that has greatly reduced privileged
treatment of men. They typically base their viewpoint on:
- The biblical theme of
justice which permeates the Hebrew and Christian Scriptures (Old and New
- Jesus' treatment of women as equals.
- Paul's statement about sexual equality in 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."
- They also
note that of the 40 names that Paul mentions in his
letters, 16 were women. As Helmut Koestler wrote:
"That's a considerable proportion of women involved in
the Pauline missionary effort." 1
- When compared to religious liberals, religious conservatives tend to emphasize church tradition and a literal interpretation of biblical texts while de-emphasizing personal experience and the findings of science.
To many conservative groups within the church, both Evangelicals and
Anglo-Catholics, denial of consecration of female priests to the episcopate is a major concern. They
view men and women as being spliritually equal but complementary. They feel that the two sexes
should be confined to specific roles within the family, in the church, and in the rest of society, irregardless of an individual women's talent, ability, education, training, skills, and interests.
Positions of power are to be given primarily or exclusively to males. Most would wish to deny female ordination as
priests, because that assigns them a role where they are considered equal to men in authority. Their opposition to
the consecration of female bishops is even greater, because it would place
some women in a supervisory role over some male priests.
They base their
opposition on specific passages in the New Testament, including:
- 1 Timothy 2:11-15 in which the author did "not permit a woman to teach
or to have authority over a man; she must be silent."
- 1 Timothy 3:2 specifies that overseers and deacons must be men.
- 1 Corinthians 14:34b-35 states that women must be silent and in
submission when in church.
Many theologians doubt the validity of these three passages. They have come to the conclusion that:
- The entire pastoral epistle of 1 Timothy was not written by Paul. It was written by an anonymous author who pretended to be Paul, during the first half of the second century CE -- over 3.5 to 8.5 decades after Paul was executed. Some feel that it represents the second century Christian movement's beliefs that had deviated in major ways from Jesus' teaching and from Paul's interpretation of that teaching.
- The short passage embedded as 1 Corinthians 1:33b-36 was written by an unknown counterfeiter and inserted into the middle of Paul's text. Bible scholar, Hans Conzelmann, commented on these three and a half verses: "Moreover, there are peculiarities of linguistic usage, and of thought. [within them]." 2 If they are removed, then Verse 33a merges well with Verse 37 in a seamless transition.
Statement by one conservative group, with possible rebuttals:
"Forward in Faith" is a conservative group which is actively
opposed to female priests and bishops. They state:
"Forward in Faith is a worldwide association of Anglicans who are
unable in conscience to accept the ordination of women as priests or as
Forward in Faith is opposed to the ordination of women to the
priesthood and the episcopate for three simple reasons.
- First, it is a practice contrary to the scriptures as they
have been consistently interpreted by the two thousand year tradition of the
churches of both East and West.
- Second, we hold that the ordination of women by individual
provinces of the Anglican Communion, without inter-provincial agreement or
consensus, is a schismatic act, impairing communion between provinces by
subverting the interchangeability and mutual recognition of orders between
- Third, mindful of the unity for which Our Lord prayed on
the night before he died, we are bound to repudiate an action which has
willfully placed a new and serious obstacle in the way of reconciliation and
full visible unity between Anglicans and the Roman Catholic and Orthodox
In rebuttal, liberal Anglicans might suggest:
- First: The Hebrew and Christian scriptures accept and regulate human
slavery. Christianity historically accepted the ownership of people as
property for almost two millennia until part way into the 19th century. Today, with few exceptions, Christian
faith groups have repudiated human slavery and regarded the institution as
- Second: Most of the 36 provinces within the Anglican
Communion now allow the ordination of women. Thus, the norm for the Communion is
to ordain all qualified, faithful, competent, and dedicated persons regardless of gender. If there is
any schismatic act in existence it is among the minority of provinces that
continue to discriminate against women. Lack of interchangeability does not seem
to be a problem; those provinces that continue their discrimination on the basis
of gender simply
refuse to recognize female priests from other provinces as validly ordained.
- Third: The Anglican Communion, Roman
Catholic Church, and Orthodox Churches have been evolving
along different paths for generations. No significant
progress has been made towards unity in spite of significant
efforts over the past few decades. There are tens of thousands
of Christian faith groups in existence worldwide. There is
no real possibility of achieving unity -- unless, of course, if God decides to
tell humanity which, if any, is the true religion and which, if any, is the
true denomination within that religion.
Steps towards eliminating sexism within the
Church of England:
- 1920 to 1992: Efforts concentrated on allowing
female candidates to be ordained as priests.
- 1994: The first women priest was ordained.
- 2000: In the first move towards female bishops, Judith Rose, the Archdeacon of Tonbridge,
introduced a motion to the General Synod to debate the
consecration of female bishops.
- 2005: After two positive working party reports,
General Synod agreed to "set in
train the process for removing the legal obstacles" blocking
The General Synod passed a motion stating:
"That this Synod welcome and affirm the view of the majority of the House of Bishops that admitting women to the episcopate in the Church of England is consonant with the faith of the Church as the Church of England has received it and would be a proper development in proclaiming afresh in this generation the grace and truth of Christ."
- 2006: A
legislative drafting group started working under the the leadership of Right Rev Nigel McCulloch.
- 2008: The group published its report. General Synod passes a resolution confirming its 2006 decision in favor of the principle of female consecration.
The Synod debated the draft legislation and sent it on to a revision committee. By the end of that year, the revision committee had issued its interim statements.
- 2010: The proposed legislation was published. It was debated by the Synod and left largely unamended. It was referred to the dioceses for debate and vote. 4
- 2012-MAY: By this time, 42 dioceses out of the Province's 44 dioceses had approved the legislation by a majority vote. Only the dioceses of Chichester and London voted against the legislation. The Synod's House of Bishops debated the draft legislation, passed two amendments, and rejected two others. The bishops voted in favor of an amended motion. 5
- 2012-NOV-10: A final vote was taken by the Synod. A majority in all three houses -- the House of Bishops, House of Clergy, and House of Laity -- voted in favor of the consecration of women as Bishops. However, the House of Laity's vote did not reach the required two-thirds majority. It lacked only six votes. Thus, the motion was killed. More details.
- 2014-JUL: A second, successful, vote was taken. The first female priest is expected to be consecrated to the episcopate in mid-2015.
The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above
essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.
- Dr. Helmut Koester, "The
role of women in the Christian churches of Paul's day." This is a
series of excerpts from his speech titled "St. Paul: His Mission to
the Greek Cities & His Competitors," given to the Foundation for
Biblical Research, Charlestown, NH, on 1997-SEP-13. It is available
- "1 Corinthians 14:33," at: http://www.bibletexts.com/
- "Forward in Faith" has a web site at:
- "Women Bishops," The Church of England, undated, at: http://www.churchofengland.org/
- "House of Bishops approves Women Bishops legislation," The Church of England, 2012-MAY-21, at: http://www.churchofengland.org/
Copyright © 2000 to 2014 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Latest update: 2014-JUL-18
Author: Bruce A. Robinson