Consecrating female bishops in the Church of England
Steps taken during 2006 to mid 2008
2006: Status of the Church of England in the eyes of the public:
The church in an awkward position -- between a rock and a hard place:
- Some of its most devout members are traditionalists who refuse to accept
female bishops; many refuse to even accept female priests. Their motivations
- Some follow a literal interpretation of the Christian Scriptures,
the New Testament. They interpret passages allegedly written by Paul in 1 Corinthians,
1 Timothy, 2 Timothy and Titus as severely restricting the roles of women, and
prohibiting their ordination. 1
- Others sincerely believe that the ordinations and consecrations of
women as clergy are invalid, and that any rituals performed by them
would be without effect.
- Some are simply misogynists.
- British culture largely condemns racism, sexism and homophobia as
serious social evils. The Church of England is one of the last institutions
in the UK that still actively discriminates against women. The church is
losing the confidence of the population because of sexism and other reasons.
Church attendance is dropping rapidly as a result.
The church cannot change and yet cannot retain the same sexist policies
without alienating large numbers of people.
2006-JUL: General Synod vote approves female consecration in principle:
On 2006-JUL-08, at the General Synod of the Church of England in York, the
Archbishop of York -- Rt. Reverend John Sentamu -- introduced a motion to
approve the consecration of female bishops. 2
Christina Rees, Chair of Women and the Church (WATCH) -- a group
supporting sexual equality -- said:
"This is a day we have been praying for. This is a significant and important day in the
life of the Church. Now the Episcopal leadership of the Church of England will
reveal in a new way what we say we believe - that women and men alike are made
in the image of God."
This is an obvious reference to Genesis 1:27: "So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them."3
The vote was 288 to 110 after a three-hour debate. It carried by more than a two-thirds majority among the bishops and clergy.
If this level of support continues, a future synod would be able to pass the
legislation to actually consecrate female bishops. Because the Church of England
is the state church, Parliament would then have to pass enabling legislation
before consecrations could happen.
Organized religions are not known for speedy change. It is
remarkable that the Church of England is considering women bishops after having opened the priesthood to women
only 14 years
ago, and having ordained its first female priest only 12
However, although the theological
impediments to consecration of women had been resolved, procedures to implement
the change had not been worked out. Church spokesperson Ben Wilson said that "2012
was bandied about [for the first consecration], but that is looking a little
Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, -- the spiritual leader of the
Anglican Communion -- has suggested that the best path
forward might be to split the Church of England into two groups.
- One would be
composed of laity and clergy who want to continue discriminating against women
- The other would be made up of laity and clergy who accept gender
That way, conservative parishes could secede from any dioceses led by a female
bishop, and obtain alternate episcopal oversight from bishops who opposed gender
Current status of women in the Anglican Communion's clergy:
As of 2006-JUL, fourteen of the 38 Provinces had accepted consecrated women bishops
in principle: Bangladesh, Brazil, Canada, Ireland, Japan, Mexico,
North India, Philippines, Scotland, Southern Africa and Sudan.
Of these, three
-- Canada, New Zealand and the United States -- had already consecrated women
In 2008-MAY-22, Australia consecrated its first woman bishop: Kay Goldsworthy
in Perth. On MAY-31, Barbara Darling was consecrated in Melbourne.
2008-MAY-14: Women priests sent an open letter to their bishops:
There are more than 2,000 women ordained as priests in the Church of England.
More than 700 of them signed an open letter to the bishops of the Church of
England in advance of the mid-year synod.
They firmly stated that they wanted to be eligible to be consecrated as
bishops, but not at any price. In the words of WATCH, they are keen to:
bishops on a par with their male colleagues. [However, they] "... don't
want their their ministry to be fenced around with restrictions in order to
'protect' those who will not accept them." 2
The open letter says, in part:
"We welcome the work done by the Legislative Drafting Group
outlining ways forward for the Church with regard to the consecration of women
as bishops. ..."
"We believe that it should be possible for women to be consecrated as bishops,
but not at any price. The price of legal “safeguards” for those opposed is
simply too high, diminishing not just the women concerned, but the catholicity,
integrity and mission of the episcopate and of the Church as a whole. We
cannot countenance any proposal that would, once again, enshrine and formalize
discrimination against women in legislation. With great regret, we would
be prepared to wait longer, rather than see further damage done to the Church of
England by passing discriminatory laws. In this, we support the recent
principled stand taken by the Archbishop and Bishops of the Church in Wales."
"After 21 years of ordained ministry and 14 years of priesthood, many of us
have much experience of building trustful relationships with those unable to
accept the priestly ministry of women. In the Anglican Communion overseas,
women take this experience into the episcopate, which leads them to invite other
bishops into their Dioceses or Episcopal areas to ordain, confirm and take other
services when required. Bishops should be trusted to act wisely and behave
with dignity, and all bishops should work within clear expectations and codes of
practice. The language of “protection” and “safeguard” is offensive to women,
and we believe the existing disciplinary procedures are enough for women or men
to be brought to account if they behave inappropriately. We would commend the
good practice over the past 20 years of the 15 Anglican Provinces which have
already opened the episcopate to women: none of these has passed discriminatory
"Discussion of a single clause measure without including the possible
arrangements for those opposed, characterizes those who argue for it as
somehow “not caring” about those who oppose the ordination/consecration of
women. This is far from the truth. Strong relationships have been
forged on the anvil of profound disagreement and there is ample testimony to the
richness of these encounters, to set alongside those situations which have
proved painful. As the broken body of Christ on earth, the Church’s
internal relationships should rest on trust, forgiveness, repentance and
reconciliation, rather than on protection and an over-anxious reliance on the
letter of the law. Work has already been done on a draft proposal of robust and
clear arrangements that make the passing of a single clause measure realistic in
today’s Church, as well as theologically and ecclesiologically cohesive."
"We long to see the consecration of women bishops in the Church of England,
and believe it is right both in principle and in timing. But because we
love the Church, we are not willing to assent to a further fracture in our
communion and threat to our unity. If it is to be episcopacy for women
qualified by legal arrangements to “protect” others from our oversight, then our
answer, respectfully, is thank you, but no." 5
The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above
essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.
- We use the word "allegedly" because most theologians believe that the
Titus and Timothy epistles were not written by St. Paul. Rather, they were
composed by an unknown forger who wrote in Paul's name during the 2nd
century CE, some 35 to 85 years after Paul's death. These writings thus
reflect the developing biases of the early Christian church, rather than
Jesus or Paul's teachings. Many theologians also believe that the passage 1
Corinthians 14:34b-35 which requires women to remain silent in church was
inserted into the original writing by an unknown person at an unknown date.
If it is not part of Paul's original writing, it cannot be considered
- "Women bishops for the Church of England," WATCH, 2006-JUL-08. at:
- From the King James Version of the Bible.
- Women priests in the Church of Wales -- a separate Anglican province --
took a similar stand. As a result, a recent motion to allow the consecration
of women bishops was defeated.
- Women priests say 'no' to women bishops at any price," Times Online,
- Ruth Gledhill, "Church of England votes to ordain
women bishops," The Times, 2008-JUL-08, at:
- Muriel Porter, "Accepting women bishops," Australian Broadcast Corp.,
- "Synod votes in favour of women as bishops, with a Code of Practice,"
WATCH news, Accessed 2008-JUL-11, at:
http://watchwomen.com/ This will be a temporary listing.
- "Statement from Vatican," Forward in Faith, 2008-JUL-08, at:
- John Fulham, "A Message from the Chairman of Forward in Faith,"
- "Church of England plans male 'superbishops' for rebel clergy who refuse
to be led by women," Daily Mail, 2008-JUL-06, at:
- Hilary White, "Anglicans to Catholics: Ready or Not, Here we Come.
Church of England General Synod to touch off an exodus by approving women
bishops," Life Site News, 2008-JUL-07, at:
- Daniel Blake, "54 Anglican Clergy to Defect to Catholic Church in Pentecost Ordinations," The Christian Post, 2011-JUN-04, at: http://www.christianpost.com/
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Copyright © 2006 to 2011 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Latest update: 2011-JUN-13
Author: Bruce A. Robinson