On women bishops: Who voted ‘no’ and why?

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To the shock of legions of mainstream reporters, the Church of England fell just short of approving the long-debated step of raising women to the Anglican episcopate.

The issue that seems to have some reporters stumped, a bit, is why the laypeople who cast these votes didn’t go along with this latest evolution in Anglican orders. Take, for example, the pretty solid report from Reuters, as offered by The Huffington Post. Here are two summary passages that contain the key material:

After hours of debate, the General Synod, the Church legislature made up of separate houses for bishops, clergy and laity, fell just short of the two-thirds majority required in all three houses to pass the measure. … The vote among lay members fell short by just four votes.

“It’s crushing for morale, senior women clergy must feel despondent and most bishops and most clergy male or female feel hugely sad and worse than sad, embarrassed and angry,” said Christina Rees, a Synod member and former chairman of the advocacy group Women and the Church. “Women bishops will come, but this is an unnecessary and an unholy delay,” she told Reuters.

The second passage is the key. Yes, careful readers will, of course, note that the progressives are once again called “reformers,” which means that, by definition, they are attempting to right a wrong. Nice neutral language, there. Not.

Women already serve as Anglican bishops in Australia, New Zealand, Canada and the United States, but the Church of England, mother church for the world’s 80 million Anglicans, has struggled to reconcile the dispute between reformers and traditionalists on whether to allow them in England.

The Church had already agreed to allow women bishops in theory but Tuesday’s vote, on provisions to be made for conservatives theologically opposed to senior women clergy, needed to be approved before female Anglican priests could be promoted to episcopal rank in England. …

More than 100 members spoke during six hours of discussion in a vast circular chamber in Church House, the Church’s central London headquarters, airing their views under a domed ceiling inscribed with a prayer to “them that endured in the heat of conflict.” The dispute centred on ways to designate alternative male bishops to work with traditionalist parishes that might reject the authority of a woman bishop named to head their diocese.

So what’s the problem here?

It is good that the story notes that the opponents of female bishops are “conservative evangelicals and Anglo-Catholics,” because there are plenty of evangelicals who are willing to back the ordination of women to all orders.

It is not helpful that, at the end of the piece, the divisions inside the global Anglican Communion are described, in effect, as being between Anglicans in modern lands and many “Anglicans in developing countries.” That radically oversimplifies matters, especially in Africa. One could just as easily have described this as a conflict between the Communion’s rapidly shrinking liberal churches and its rapidly growing conservative ones.

The story also fails to note that taking this step would have created even more tensions between Anglicans and the ancient Christian churches of Catholicism and Orthodoxy, which do not ordain women to the priesthood and the episcopate.

Careful readers will note that the story does not, in fact, quote any person — ordained or laity — who opposed this crucial “reform,” which would lead to female bishops who would then ordain priests, male or female, that traditional Anglicans would argue have not been truly ordained. If the conservative evangelicals and Anglo-Catholics won, where are their happy voices? Why leave them out of the story?

But here is the key question: Did the vote fail, in fact, because there were liberal Anglicans who voted against this measure because they believed it offered too much protection for conservatives? Did they oppose this measure because it did not go far enough to please the “reformers”? Meanwhile, did others who support the ordination of women vote against the measure because they did not believe it did enough to protect the traditionalists? Watch the video at the top of this post.

In other words, did the left split? Again, note that this Reuters report did say that the key “dispute centred on ways to designate alternative male bishops to work with traditionalist parishes that might reject the authority of a woman bishop named to head their diocese.”

If that was the dispute that led to the defeat of the measure, then the single most important thing this story needed to do was to explain that conflict, while quoting representative, authoritative voices on both sides of that dispute.

The bottom line: Why voted “no” and why? Was this measure defeated by a coalition of people who opposed it for very different reasons? If so, where are these crucial voices in this report?


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