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Consecrating female bishops in the Church of England

The 2012-NOV Synod vote denying women
priests consecration to the Episcopate. Reactions.

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This is a continuation from the previous essay

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2012-NOV-12: The debate whether to allow women priests to be consecrated to the Episcopate.

The Guardian Newspaper followed the debate. During their coverage of 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 to allow female bishops 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. 1

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2012-NOV-12: The vote by the Synod fails. Women priests are left out in the cold:

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." 2

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. 2

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2012-NOV-10: Responses to the Synod vote:

Many Anglicans expected that the twelve year process to authorize the consecration of female priests to the Episcopate would end with a positive vote on motion GS1708D. They were disappointed when the vote failed.

  • Megan Gibson of Time Magazine commented:

    "Female bishops are already common in the Anglican churches in Canada, the U.S. and Australia, and many in Britain were shocked at the Synod’s decision, which was widely expected to go the other way. The Rev. George Pitcher, an Anglican priest at London’s St. Bride’s, was stunned by the vote, saying that it could cause 'chaos in the Church of England.' The decision was also a blow to both the outgoing Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, who has long supported the move, as well as the incoming Archbishop, Justin Welby, who endorsed female bishops in his first address from Lambeth Palace just two weeks ago. 'I will be voting in favor,' Welby told a group of reporters on Nov. 9. 'And join my voice to many others in urging the Synod to go forward with this change.'

    Though it’s not the most divisive issue facing the wider, worldwide Anglican community — that would be the question of gay marriage — ordaining female bishops has caused serious conflict within the Church of England for years now. According to Pitcher, the church is divided between reformers who want to see the church evolve and conservatives who are against the Church of England becoming a 'mainstream, liberal, Episcopal — as in the States’ — type of church.' Traditionalist members and clergy have been especially firm in their views that only men should serve in the role of bishops, believing it to be scripturally sound. 'We accept that there are different interpretations of the Scriptures,' Jane Patterson, a member of the conservative evangelical group Reform, told the Guardian, 'but the church needs to guard against placing society’s views over what we see as God’s views, as expressed in his written word, the Bible'." 3

  • The current Archbishop of Canterbury, the Most Reverend Rowan Williams said:

    "Of course I hoped and prayed that this particular business would be at another stage before I left, and... it is a personal sadness, a deep personal sadness, that that is not the case." 2

  • His successor. the Right Rev. Justin Welby, the Bishop of Durham issued a tweet:

    "Very grim day, most of all for women priests and supporters, need to surround all with prayer & love and co-operate with our healing God."

  • Rt. Rev Graham James, the Bishop of Norwich, said:

    "Obviously, it is very disappointing that the vote was lost so narrowly."

  • Lucy Winkett, who would have been eligible to be considered for consecration to the episcopacy said that the synod was:

    "... detonating its credibility with contemporary Britain."

  • Women and the Church (Watch), a group promoting the legislation said the voting result was a

    "... devastating blow for the Church of England and the country."

  • The Rev Rachel Weir, chairperson of Watch, said

    "This is a tragic day for the Church of England after so many years of debate and after all our attempts at compromise. ... Despite this disappointing setback, Watch will continue to campaign for the full acceptance of women's gifts of leadership in the Church's life."

  • Synod member Susie Leafe said that the proposed legislation was faulty. She said:

    "There were a lot of places along the way that we could have had a measure in front of us that wouldn't have been voted down, and it's very sad that this was able to go on without us facing the reality of the situation."

  • The Catholic Group in General Synod which opposed the legislation said in a statement:

    "Mediation and conciliation are needed so that new legislation can be framed to provide fairly for all members of the Church of England.

    We regret the synod was put in the position whereby draft legislation failed at final approval because it was unclear and unfair in its provision for those who, in conscience, are unable to accept the ministry of women as bishops or priests.

    The Catholic Group calls on the House of Bishops to reconvene the talks started in the summer between representatives of different groups, chaired by Bishop Justin Welby. ... The Catholic Group is committed to playing a full part in the process of achieving good legislation to enable us all to move forward together in mission and service to the nation." 4

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This topic continues with more 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. 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/
  2. "Thou shalt not: Women are rebuffed from the episcopate, for now," The Economist, 2012-NOV-24, at: http://www.economist.com/
  3. Megan Gibson, "The Church of England Votes Against Female Bishops," Time Magazine, 2012-NOV-21, at: http://world.time.com
  4. "Women bishops: Church of England general synod votes against," BBC News UK, 2012-NOV-20, at: http://www.bbc.co.uk
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Copyright 2012 to 2014 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Latest update: 2014-JUL-17
Author: Bruce A. Robinson
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