What I Really Think…

I  have to confess to a certain ornery kind of pleasure in the vote of the General Synod against women bishops. Here’s why:

I don’t really give two hoots whether the Church of England has women bishops or not. In fact, if it were up to me and me alone and only my opinion I’d give the women ministers the benefit of the doubt and certainly, now that they have women ministers it seems silly and inconsistent and unkind to the existing women ministers to deny them the final step and thwart their ambitions to high office. I’d give them the pass and say, “You go girl.”

The reason I’m delighted about the vote is that it has overturned the entire system. Here’s what I mean: the whole idea of General Synod was a liberal invention in the first place. It was supposed to give a voice to the people. It was supposed to bring a democratic method of governance to the fusty old hierarchical Church of England. It was supposed to be a counter balance to a Church of England hierarchy dominated by aristocratic bishop types.

The crusty old establishment types got all modern and democratic and consultative and “listened to the voice of the people” but the people didn’t actually do as they were supposed to do. Didn’t they know they were supposed to listen to voice of the clergy and the bishops like faithful sheep and vote the right way? The Church of England bishops have spent the last six months bullying the members of General Synod with a syrupy and soupy set of videos in which the Bishops emote on cue to camera saying, “I have thought and prayed long and hard about his, and at last the time of waiting is over and I really think the time has come for you to vote for women bishops.”

Instead the laity said, “Nah. Fanks very much bish, but we ain’t goin’ along wiv it.” This tickles me pink because the establishment types–so keen to have a democratic process have been frustrated by the very process they thought was going to bring in all the radical changes they wanted. The democratic process was supposed to bring in more democratic stuff like equality for women and then gay marriage and all that, but the democratic process didn’t work–and neither did the episcopal bullying.

The other reason the vote is rather pleasing is that I believe it was overturned mostly not by the Anglo Catholics–who are pretty much a spent force–but by the conservative Evangelicals. You have to have lived within the Church of England to realize just how much the conservative Evangelicals are despised by the establishment. “They’re so lower class with their enthusiastic happy clappy worship, their tendency to fundamentalism and their grinning vicars with bucked teeth!” You can just hear the upper class English snoots saying, “Don’t you know they’re just so dreadful with their women in calf length floral print skirts and bad hair dos, their summer Bible camps and their earnest Bible studies…”

And yet, in one interview I saw a very nice Evangelical lady who was a member of General Synod was treated aggressively by a TV interviewer who said, “Are you happy now that you’ve held the entire Church of England to ransom??” The nice Evangelical lady replied very sweetly and smiled and said, “I don’t think we held anyone to ransom. You see, we are the growing part of the Church of England, and our voices deserve to be heard.”

She might have added, “We are not old fashioned duds and dinosaurs. Our churches are full. Are yours? Not only are our churches full, but they are full of young people. Are yours? We contribute the majority of the running costs of many of the dioceses. Most of the seminarians are Evangelical. Our theological colleges are full. Are yours?” She might also have added, “Furthermore, our part of the church is the part of the church which is growing around the world. There are more Evangelical Anglicans in Nigeria, for example, than in all of the UK, Canada and the USA combined.”

Everybody likes an underdog, and the fact that these sincere Bible believing Anglicans stuck to their guns and sank the big liberal establishment ship and annoyed virtually everybody in England makes me grin.

The fact that the smug establishment liberals with their self righteous assumption that they’re not only right, but everyone knows they’re right have had their canoe turned over is rather pleasing.

What tickles me even more is that they are all turning up with glum faces saying, “We are deeply saddened….” which is liberal code for “We are really, really pissed.”

The other thing which I can’t help being pleased about is that the whole Anglican authority structure has been shown for what it is–a completely incoherent mess. People talk of the guidance of the Holy Spirit and how the Holy Spirit will guide the church. But how does that happen? Has anyone in the Anglican Church thought it through? Did you think the Holy Spirit would guide you through an elected body? How does that work?

So after forty years of debating the question of the ordination of women the Holy Spirit finally guided you to make a choice to have women priests–something which the Holy Spirit had never guided any Christians to do for the first 2000 years. Then 20 years later when it’s time to seek the Holy Spirit’s guidance about women bishops the Holy Spirit changed his mind? First he was for women priests now he’s not so sure?

This is why the system is so ridiculous. Do you think any of the liberals in the Church of England are sitting at home right now saying, “Well, goodness me, it seems the Holy Spirit is directing the church NOT to have women bishops after all! I guess we got it wrong. Furthermore, if we’re not to have women bishops, maybe we should not have women priests either! Thank the Lord for the wonderful General Synod through whom, in a wonderfully mysterious way the Holy Spirit has directed us.”?

I don’t think so.

They’re gathered around their kitchen tables tonight venting about the few fundamentalists who dared to rock the boat. They’re busy planning how they can overturn their own General Synod rules and cheat the system. They’re planning the campaign for the next five years and how they’ll win the vote next time. They’re planning how to get Parliament to side with them and make a rule to have women bishops anyway.

Had they won, however, it would have been all roses and smiles and “Isn’t the Lord good to have guided the General Synod so wisely to vote for women bishops.”

Finally, I remember how, when the whole debate started the people who were for women priests were the “brave pioneers” they were the “few courageous prophetic voices” calling the church to change. They claimed the moral high ground because they were the minority–the persecuted minority. They had to be right because they were the few, the faithful few. Now they are the establishment and they’ve been turned upside down by a seeming minority they’re not so sure about all that “few the faithful few” garbage. When they were in the minority they were the “brave pioneers” but this minority are, of course, hidebound, stubborn conservatives.

General wisdom is that the whole thing will go through five years from now, but what if these few laity are not a dying breed, but the first wave of a new kind of Anglican? What if, in fact, the liberal surge is over and the conservative Evangelicals continue to grow in the Church of England and continue to make their voices heard? What if this new group of “brave pioneers” are to become the new establishment?

That prospect would really put the wind up the aging trendies.

Sorry for spilling my guts, but I thought you might like to know how I really feel…


  • Tracy

    This is very interesting to me. I’m not familiar with the Anglican Church except for what I’ve learned through your blog. I find it interesting because I think you could point to just about any Protestant denomination and see the same thing happening. My home conference finally dropped the “Mennonite” because they no longer adhere to Mennonite theology, but also, I think, to give some distance between themselves and the Mennonite churches who have accepted women pastors and the gay lifestyle. Then there’s the colleges that have wandered so far from Mennonite teaching as to be unrecognizable as Mennonite. It sounds to me that in the Anglican Church it’s more of the same.

    The liberal-led churches, no matter what denomination, are emptying out at record rates.

    • Fr. Dwight Longenecker

      Yes. The problems are the same in all Protestant denominations.

    • John

      A brilliant review!

  • Morgan Edge

    I loved hearing “how you really feel!” Most Excellent! :)

  • http://www.thecatholicbeat.com Gail Finke

    Tracy: There are Mennonite women ministers???? Wha???
    Fr. L: “Do you think any of the liberals in the Church of England are sitting at home right now saying, “Well, goodness me, it seems the Holy Spirit is directing the church NOT to have women bishops after all! I guess we got it wrong.”” Isn’t that so true? It’s been my experience that the people who talk most about being guided by the Holy Spirit mean that when things they want happen, they were guided by the Holy Spirit, but when something else happens — well, the Holy Spirit was ignored, or was otherwise occupied. No consistency at all…

  • Terry

    Father: I take it that the unbroken line of Apostolic succession was eventually severed and died out some years after Henry the VIII became the head of the Church of England and therefore the Holy Spirit working through Holy Orders (if I said that right) couldn’t possibly guide the Church of England.

    Too make a long story short I have felt the Holy Spirit enter my heart at two different confirmations and also at a con-celebrated Mass were two priests, a deacon and our Bishop consecrated a new altar. I appreciate the power of the Holy Spirit, at least to the best of my abilities.

    My pastor has advised me to express gratitude for the Gifts I have received, and I am grateful: while we sift through my interpretations from dreams that occurred about a week after the second confirmation and three weeks before the consecration of the altar.

    • flyingvic

      “. . . and therefore the Holy Spirit . . . couldn’t possibly . . .”


  • JohnOS

    I too have indulged in a little schadenfreude over the Anglican SNAFU. Mea culpa ! On the question of voting – don’t we expect the Holy Spirit to guide the college of cardinals when they select a new Holy Father ? Yes, it’s a far less frequent vote than the Anglican Synod. But a vote nevertheless…

  • John White

    Father, you touch on the crux of the problem with the whole synod thing. That is, that you can somehow arrive at doctrine through democratic vote. One only has to look at the utter mess that is the Episcopal Church to see what I mean.

  • Edward Green (@EdwardBGreen)


    You are right to point out that evangelical churches are growing, and many ordinands are evangelical. However many of those growing churches are charismatic and fully in favour of ordained women, and many of those evangelical ordinands are charismatic and female. The majority of evangelicals in the Church of England have much in common with the Vineyard Movement or streams of Wesleyan and Pentecostal Christianity where women’s ministry has been embraced and valued for many years, at times in a profoundly counter cultural way.

    Such movements do of course have a very different understanding of ordained ministry than the apostolic communions of East, West and the Orient. As the charismatic movement grows in the CofE, through the Alpha course and the influence of thriving churches such as Holy Trinity Brompton there will be far deeper questions about lay presidency and the nature of the sacraments. A sacramental female Anglican priest once shared with me that she would rather be a lay person in the Roman Catholic Church than a priest in a future Church of England with such a radically different view of the Eucharist. Insert your own apostrophe’s but such views hardly reflect your liberal vs. conservative explanation.

    The drive towards women bishops is no more a liberal plot than a charismatic evangelical plot – unless you relabel the charismatic’s as liberals – in which case the fastest growing and thriving British churches are mostly liberal after all.

  • flyingvic

    Would you have sneered at the Councils of Nicaea?

    • Fr. Dwight Longenecker

      Are you seriously comparing the General Synod of the Church of England to the Council of Nicaea???

      • flyingvic

        I was responding to John White!

    • John White

      Please present evidence that votes were taken at the Council of Nicea. Are you suggesting that the Episcopal Church is not a complete mess? Is it not true that this mess has been created by a liberal left wing majority crushing all opposition based on their belief that they are responding to the leading of the Holy Spirit? That church is in self destruct mode and any objective observer can see it.
      I thank God every day for the papacy and the fact we Catholics do not blow in the wind with every secular fad, with silly synodical voting.

  • SteveD

    The supporters of this measure keep insisting that if the ‘church’ doesn’t ‘get with the program’ then it will be regarded as irrelevant and so lose authority and members. They only have to look at the slow death of the US Episcopalian ‘church’ to see that this is no way to ensure survival and yet they (and similarly thinking ‘Catholic’ liberals) seem to ignore the most obvious example of the results of accommodation with the secular world. It’s as though no-one has already tried it and failed.

  • Mark G

    As a former Anglican Priest who has sat through both Diocesan Synod and General Synod as a Clerical Representative I can attest to everything cited here. I trained in the UK at what was one of the last all male Seminaries attached to a Religious Order and still have many dear Anglo- Catholic friends over there. You are quite correct; Synodical government is a shambles especially when one observes and has been involved in all the intrigue and sometimes manifestly unchristian undermining of people and their positions both before during and after. One of the main reasons I left the Anglican Priesthood is over the issue of authority I could no longer in good conscience and theological reason accept the structure of Anglican authority and call myself a solid Anglo-Catholic. So I left and was received into the Latin Rite Catholic Church. I hope soon to be Ordained a Catholic Priest. I do however have a lasting affection and concern for my former brethren both at home and abroad; however what I see does not fill me with confidence indeed I think the Evangelical takeover of the Communion is inevitable. It is time for Anglo-Catholics of good conscience to ask themselves if they can remain. Thanks Father for your humourous observations.

  • FW Ken

    It wasn’t entirely a matter of conservatives who cost the measure. Remembering that it failed by 4 votes or so in the lay order, at least one negative vote was by a liberal:


    I pretty much convinced that had the pro-women bishop crowd been willing to provide a secure haven for those opposed, the measure would have passed.

  • veritas

    I have heard theological liberals many time use the term “The Spirit is guiding us to …”
    Rarely have I heard them use the term, “The Holy Spirit is guiding us to…”

    Do you see the difference?

    I don’t think they are talking about the Holy Spirit at all.

    Listen carefully and see just how often they refer to a vague “spirit”, as against a specific reference to the Holy Spirit.

    Knowingly, or unknowlingly, they are talking about the spirit of the age or even more shockingly, I honestly believe some of them are refering to the evil spririt – Satan himself.

    • flyingvic