Church of England votes against allowing women bishops

The Church of England has voted at its General Synod to deny women the opportunity to serve as bishops. This was despite a compromise that allowed congregations to request a male bishop if they opposed a woman. This has plunged the church into crisis. There are dire warnings that the Anglican church has seriously harmed itself with this decision by seeming to be outdated and out of touch.

For the motion to allow the ordination of women bishops to have passed, the church’s rules required that three separate groups (bishops, clergy, and lay representatives to the Synod) each pass it by two-thirds majorities. The bishops passed it easily, 44 to 3. The clergy also passed it fairly easily by a vote of 148 to 45. Where it lost was among the laity, where the vote in favor was only 132 to 74 or just 64%. If just six laity had switched their votes, the measure would have passed.

It is an odd decision. Unlike the Catholic church that excludes women from the priesthood altogether and finds ways to justify this on doctrinal grounds, the Anglican church long ago allowed the ordination of women clergy, so this decision is a deliberate act of exclusion of women at the highest reaches of the church and is hard to understand except as a willful imposition of a glass ceiling.

The fact that it was the lay group that caused the legislation to fail does not surprise me that much. At one time I was heavily involved as a layperson in the Methodist Church that, like the Anglicans and other mainstream Protestant churches, has fairly democratic structures. As a result of my involvement, I became quite familiar with church politics and found that the clergy were often much more congenial to me than the other lay people in those church bodies. While lay members of the church were in general quite progressive on social issues, the kinds of lay people who got involved in church politics and thus got elected to its decision-making bodies tended to be some of the most rigid and doctrinaire. They were holier-than-thou, wannabee clergy, with strong views but without much theological knowledge and were far more reactionary in their outlook and often saw their role as to keep the clergy in line.

The Church of England will undoubtedly revisit this issue and the ordination of women bishops will eventually occur because modernity cannot be stopped, only slowed. The only question is how soon. The next Synod is in three years but there are efforts to get the measure approved sooner by other means.


  1. raven says

    Episcopal Church elects female leader – USA Today
    usatoday30. usatoday. com/news/nation/2006-06-18-episcopal_x.htm

    18 Jun 2006 – Nevada Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori became the first woman to lead any church in the global Anglican Communion when she was elected …

    The head of the US equivalent church, the Episcopalians, is a female bishop with a Ph.D. in oceanography.

    If the gods objected, they haven’t bothered to show up and say anything.

    This is just gender bigotry. In my old Protestant sect, roughly half of the ministers are women. When it first happened, there were dire warnings of all sorts of terrible things that would happen, lightning bolts from angry gods, darkness at noon, demons stalking the land, the usual. That was decades ago and nothing happened.

  2. stonyground says

    This kind of discrimination is actually illegal in the UK. The CofE are, for some bizarre reason, exempt from great swathes of employment legislation just because they are a religious organisation. Of course, the fact that they even want such exemptions shows how morally retarded they are. As a consequence of this, any attempt by them to lecture the rest of us on moral issues is met with hoots of derision. Since their supposed purpose is to be guardians of the nation’s morals, they are looking more and more redundant with each passing day.

  3. Marianne says

    It’s true. The secular world has left the Church far behind in matters of morality. I attended a meeting of ‘Credo Cymru’, a group opposed to even women priests. It was the Welsh equivalent of ‘Forward in Faith’.

    The members were disgruntled because women priests had now been accepted. In the absence of the chairman Joan Buckingham, a priest opened by saying ”We’re not bigots;we’re not misogynists; we’re traditionalists.”

    This was undermined when a female member stood to refer contemptuously to the ‘insensitivity’ of ordaining a large gruoup of females on the same day. She pronounced ‘females’ as if it was a swear word.

    A sane looking man then rose to say that they should not worry because ‘there is no such thing as a woman priest’ and after that day, there would be only a certain number of ‘so-called ordained women or cows.’ ‘Cows’ did not sound like a trivial insult in this context, but really demeaning and dehumanising. It was greeted with half suppressed applausive laughter.

    It was a very depressing event. The members seemed extremely childish and spiteful. They were no advert for Christianity. They were not, I trust, typical of Welsh people either.

    The Welsh laws of Hywel Dda gave women rights in medieval times, which after Englsih conquest, they would not see again until the mid twentieth century. The Welsh colony in Patagonia allowed women to vote in the 1860s.

    ‘Credo Cymru’ is an embarrassment; they speak for no-one but themselves, a tiny ‘suculture’ that despises women.’ To confuse the issue, the now deceased female chairman had been a Baptist minister before converting to Anglicanism. She was desribed as ‘steely’ by her greatest admirers. Her successor Alan Rabjohns was more human but ‘only heard what he wanted to hear.’

    Some of them professed to subsribe to the ‘equal but different’ complementarity concept. The same weasel words were used in the 1950s to oppress African Americans. In this context, it was held in the 1950s that it is not possible to be genuinely equal but different. Ophelia Benson and Jeremy Stangroom would say that complementarity ain’t pretty.

  4. Lofty says

    The Anglican Church in Australia is in serious decline, the parishioners are all terribly old, the strict (male) conservatives won’t give up control, kiddy fiddler payouts are eroding the income base, and buildings must be sold to cover the bank loans. In a few decades it will be an historical interlude that left behind some nice stone buildings that have been converted to private homes, museums or restaurants. I shan’t weep for them.

  5. thewhollynone says

    In the patriarchal Abrahamic religions there will always be a glass ceiling for females because all the gods and the prophets are male. It amazes me that women continue to adhere to such cults which discriminate against them so blatantly both politically and mythologically.

  6. mnb0 says

    “Church of England votes against allowing women bishops”
    But that’s excellent news! CoE is already halfway. Now only if they voted against male bishops as well …

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