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Consecrating female bishops in the Church of England

Developments from 2008-JUL until 2012

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This is a continuation from the previous essay

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2008-JUL-09: Response to the synod vote from Forward in Faith:

Many traditionalists were distressed at the synod vote. John Fulham, chairman of Forward in Faith wrote on JUL-09:

"Many of you have phoned me in the last twenty four hours, angry or distressed.  Several have suggested that we should declare war on those who seek to destroy us.  Particularly, the suggestion has been made that we stop paying Diocesan Quota.  I am open on this matter but think that now is not quite yet the time for such drastic gestures, for whatever we do needs its timing to be agreed by us all so that we can act together. Be assured of my commitment to our common life and of my determination to continue to seek a common way forward in faith for all of us." 1

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2008-JUL: Meeting of women bishops:

Eighteen women bishops gathered near Oxford for a two-day meeting prior to attending the Lambeth Conference of Bishops that is held every ten years. Included were 11 bishops from the U.S., three from Canada, two from Australia, and one each from Cuba and New Zealand. 2

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2009: Vatican sets up "Ordinariate" groups:

This is a structure set up by the Vatican in 2009 that would allow Anglican laity and clergy to leave the Anglican Communion, form separate groups affiliated with the Roman Catholic Church, while still following Anglican liturgy and other practices, A new liturgy was scheduled to be published by the Vatican for all Ordinariate groups, including the one in the UK.

Keith Newton, who heads up the UK Ordinariate, said:

"Every week somebody writes or e-mails asking how they can join the Ordinariate. They are often people I have never heard of before. ... For clergy it is a practical risk, meaning they abandon tied housing and a guaranteed stipend for a smaller income and uncertainty.” 3

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Further developments during 2009 & 2010:

  • 2009: 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

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2011-JUN-04: UK: More than 50 Church of England priests becoming Roman Catholic priests:

Protesting equality for women and LGBT individuals in the Church of England, a group of seven Anglican priests decided to abandon the Anglican Communion. They were ordained as Roman Catholic clergy on 2011-JUN-04 by the Most Rev. Peter Smith, Roman Catholic  Archbishop of Southwark. Subsequent groups will be ordained on successive weeks. More than 900 laity have preceded them and become Catholics; most were motivated by the Church of England's decision to ordain women.

The new Catholic priests will lead former Anglican laity to worship as a separate Ordinariate groups in the UK. 5

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2012-MAY-21:Most dioceses approve proposed legislation:

Forty-two 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 then voted in favor of the amended motion. 6

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2012-NOV-10: "Final" Synod vote fails:

Webmaster's rant: (Bias alert)

I try to remain objective when discussing religious developments on this web site. I try to explain all viewpoints fairly and with sensitivity. However, when I see pockets of discrimination still existing against half of the human race, I get really te'ed off. My personal point of view is that sexism is simply gender-based bigotry, and that sexism based on fundamental religious beliefs is still gender-based bigotry. So please excuse the following outburst:

King Henry VIII founded the Church of England in 1534 CE during the Renaissance. From then until 1992, women were totally excluded from the priesthood. As of 2012-NOV, women could be considered for ordination, but were still excluded from the episcopate, solely because of their gender. Their individual interests, ability, intelligence, knowledge, talent, achievements, personality, education, training, suitability, etc. did not matter. If they were female, they could never hope to be consecrated as a bishop simply because their DNA lacked a "Y" chromosome. The rest of English society had moved on and had largely eliminated sexism. The Church of England which is expected to act with the highest level of morality and ethics remains at the bottom of the cultural heap, continually dragging their feet by allowing gender-based bigotry to continue.

Stepping down from the soapbox:

Many, perhaps most, members of the Church of England expected that this Synod would correct almost six centuries of gender discrimination to end. The entire process of discussing consecration of female bishops has taken 12 years. Over four years previously, the Synod of the Church of England had approved female bishops in principle. At this Synod meeting many Anglicans expected sexism to be ended by a vote.

Women as bishops is not really unique to England. Anglican provinces in Australia, Canada, Cuba, New Zealand and Southern Africa have already consecrated women bishops. Another dozen have approved them, but have not consecrated any to date. 7

Rowan Williams, the current Archbishop of Canterbury, has been a strong supporter of the GS1708D legislation that would allow the consecration of women priests as bishops. Justin Welby, the incoming Archbishop of Canterbury, who is scheduled to replace Williams at the end of 2012, said that he was "deeply committed" to passage of the measure.

A major provision of the legislation involves parishes where the majority cannot accept the authority of a female bishop, either because of misogyny, strong sexist feelings against women in positions of authority, a desire to follow the biblical interpretations of traditionalist Anglicans, or a desire to follow the Church's centuries-long tradition of excluding women from positions of power. The legislation contains a compromise that would allow a parish to request that their female bishop delegate her authority to a stand-in bishop for those parishes in her diocese who could not accept her. This compromise is resisted by two groups within the church:

  • Many Anglo-Catholics and other traditionalists feel that the problem should be avoided by simply not consecrating any female priests as bishops.

  • Many liberals, female members and clergy, and civil libertarians feel that allowing a parish to import a "flying bishop" is insulting to all women.

Before the vote, during an interval of hymn singing and prayer, Rowan Williams noted:

"By the end of today, whether the world will look at the General Synod and the Church of England and say ' That looks like Jesus Christ' is a large prayer to ask. But it is the prayer we have to be asking because there's probably no other prayer worth praying'." 8

The Guardian Newspaper followed the debate. During the first half hour of discussions, they wrote:

  • "Nigel McCulloch, the Bishop of Manchester, spoke said that rejecting the idea of female bishops would be a '... devastating blow to the morale of many, not least our female clergy.'

  • Anglo-Catholic Simon Kilwick spoke to say he thought the measure would be bad for the Church of England, Anglo-Catholics and conservative evangelicals. He said '... proper provision for traditionalists has to be an essential ingredient of a new measure' and said this measure was 'not fit for purpose.'

  • Rachel Treweek, the Archdeacon of Hackney, says the measure as it stands is 'not perfect for any of us. It's a compromise for all. And that's how it should be.'

  • The Bishop of Liverpool, James Jones, speaks next. He says if the future of the Church of England is at stake, the future of England is at stake too. He says the church would collapse if all the female priests in place now were to be somehow removed. But he understands the theological position barring women from any leadership roles in the church -- even from being part of the General Synod. He used to believe this himself, according to 1 Corinthians 11:3: 'But I would have you know, that the head of every man is Christ; and the head of the woman is the man; and the head of Christ is God."

But he came to realize he was wrong. After all, the Queen is head of the Church of England, he says. And a woman first fed the body of Christ, he says. 'If a woman can feed the body of Christ in the flesh, she can surely feed the body of Christ in the spirit.'

Jones says the truth is that, without women in leadership, we are no longer able to serve [all] the parishes of England.

He has sought to honor the place of Catholics and evangelicals, he says. But he now believes it is right for women to take their place 'in this house of bishops sitting before you now.'

  • Rev Janet Appleby of Newcastle says the synod members have more in common than that which divides them. 'The trouble is our disagreement is absolute - either a woman can be a bishop, or she cannot. ... [But] this measure is, I believe, the best compromise we can possibly find. To say no today is to say we are not able to use trust and respect to work out our differences ... so please vote yes today.'

  • Canon Rebecca Swyer of Chichester says she has to be true to her theological convictions and vote no, because she does not believe the Church of England has the authority to make this decision. 'What we've ended up with, I think, are words that no one seems particularly keen on ... This is not about who we like and who we trust, but the nature of the church ... If it is to happen let's make sure that the measure is right.'

Bookmaker Paddy Power offered odds of 8 to 15 that the church would vote yes, and 11 to 8 that the church would vote no. 8

A vote was taken by the Synod. It was expected to receive a two-thirds majority in all three houses -- the House of Bishops, House of Clergy, and House of Laity. The bishops and clergy independently voted in favor of the legislation with more than a two-thirds majority. The House of Laity voted in favor of GS1708D. However, the vote did not reach the required two-thirds majority. It lacked only six votes. Thus, the motion was killed.

The actual vote totals were:

  • House of Bishops: Passed: 44 in favor (94%), 3 against, 2 abstentions.
  • House of Clergy: Passed: 132 in favor (75%), 45 against.
  • House of Laity: Rejected: 132 in favor (64%), 74 against.

There have been accusations that the members elected to the House of Laity may not be representative of the laity. The Economist commented:

"Elected once every five years, the current synod was chosen in 2010, two years after women bishops were approved in principle. Determined to block the measure going any farther, a clutch of conservative activists made sure that as many of their people were elected as possible." 9

With such strong support by the bishops and clergy, the legislation to allow women to become bishops is unlikely to be abandoned at this stage. Depending on the mechanism by which the matter is pursued, a new vote may be taken as soon as the next Synod or it may be delayed until 2017. 9

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This topic continues with reactions to the Synod vote

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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. John Fulham, "A Message from the Chairman of Forward in Faith," 2008-JUL-09. at: http://www.forwardinfaith.com/
  2. Muriel Porter, "Accepting women bishops," Australian Broadcast Corp., 2008-JUL-10, at: http://www.abc.net.au/
  3. "More Anglicans Complete Ordination into Catholic Church," Understanding the Times, International, JUN-27, at: http://www.understandthetimes.org/
  4. "Women Bishops," The Church of England, undated, at: http://www.churchofengland.org/
  5. Daniel Blake, "54 Anglican Clergy to Defect to Catholic Church in Pentecost Ordinations," The Christian Post, 2011-JUN-04, at: http://www.christianpost.com/
  6. "House of Bishops approves Women Bishops legislation," The Church of England, 2012-MAY-21, at: http://www.churchofengland.org/
  7. "Thou shalt not: Women are rebuffed from the episcopate, for now," The Economist, 2012-NOV-24, at: http://www.economist.com/
  8. Paul Owen & Ben Quinn, "Women bishops: Church of England votes no - as it happened," The Guardian, 2012-NOV-21, at: http://www.guardian.co.uk/
  9. "Women bishops: Church of England general synod votes against," British Broadcasting Corp., 2012-NOV-20, at: http://www.bbc.co.uk/
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Copyright © 2008 to 2013 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Latest update: 2013-JUL-11
Author: Bruce A. Robinson
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