Church of England general synod votes against women bishops

Church of England general synod votes against women bishops November 20, 2012

From the BBC.

The general synod of the Church of England has voted against the appointment of women as bishops.

The decision came at the end of a day of debate by supporters and opponents – and a 12-year legislative process.

The measure was passed by the synod’s houses of bishops and clergy but was rejected by the house of laity.

Controversy had centred on the provisions for parishes opposed to women bishops to request supervision by a stand-in male bishop.

The Archbishop of Canterbury after the vote on women bishops
The outgoing Archbishop of Canterbury was in favour of allowing women bishops

The measure needed two-thirds majorities in each of the synod’s three houses.

The votes were 44 for and three against with two abstentions in the House of Bishops, 148 for and 45 against in the House of Clergy, and 132 for and 74 against in the House of Laity.

The vote in the House of Laity, at 64%, was just short of the required majority.

Just six more “yes” votes would have tipped it over the two-thirds mark.

Twenty years after the introduction of women priests, the issue has continued to divide traditionalists – among those on the Church’s evangelical and Anglo-catholic wings – from reformers.

Had the move been backed by the synod, the proposed legislation would have made its way through Parliament before receiving royal assent.

The Bishop of Norwich, the Rt Rev Graham James, said: “It is very disappointing that the vote was lost so narrowly.”

Campaign group Women and the Church (Watch) said the outcome was a “devastating blow for the Church of England and the country”.

The Rev Rachel Weir, chairwoman 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.”

Watch said bishops would need to act promptly to offer pastoral support in the coming weeks to women clergy and others who felt devastated by decision.

Both the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, and his successor, the Rt Rev Justin Welby, were in favour of a “yes” vote.

The Catholic Group in General Synod said “mediation and conciliation are needed so that new legislation can be framed to provide fairly for all members of the Church of England”.

The group said in a statement: “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.”

The vote at the Church House in central London came after several speakers opposed the legislation.

The result means it will be at least five years before the synod gets to vote on final approval of such legislation.

The House of Bishops will hold an emergency meeting on Wednesday morning following the decision, a Church spokesman said.

Addendum:

Guardian Article:

The Church of England can no longer continue as an arm of the state

Vicar Rose Hudson-Wilkin was widely expected to become the CofE’s first woman bishop until the vote. Photograph: Carl Court

By voting against women bishops, it has shown itself to be a discriminatory organisation that seeks to be above the law

Up until now I cannot say I have been overly concerned with female vicars. That one in Dibley seems fun but mostly I am with Bill Hicks: “Women priests. Great, great. Now there’s priests of both sexes I don’t listen to.” I don’t believe or even pretend to believe in order to get my kids into the right schools.

Nor am I under illusion that the Church of England is some hippy-dippy hirsute cerebral force for good. Bits of it may well be. When I lived in London’s King’s Cross, the local vicar – “Trev the Rev”, as he was known – let the prostitutes sleep in the church when they were under assault from vicious punters and the police. This seemed to me a fine Christian thing to do. But for every Trev the Rev there is some reactionary gittish vicar determined to keep up the fine traditions of homophobia and misogyny.

Unity in the church is a joke. When I asked my local vicar if I could use his church for a blessing ceremony using a female Baptist minister, he made clear his feelings about women vicars. But half a mile up the road the clergy were in the middle of a big gay picnic and had no problem with anyone using their building. For a donation. Which is fair enough.

One encounters these inner-city vicars who don’t seem to mind what you believe – some will even say that the resurrection is but a metaphor – but don’t be fooled. At the heart of the church is a steely core of evangelicals who have far more say than they should. The provisional wing of the CofE is as fundamentalist as they come: the one thing that all fundamentalisms share is the need to keep women in their place.

Thus we had the farce of the vote against women bishops when there have been women priests for 20 years, which the majority of the congregation accepts. To ban those women from promotion is discrimination that would not be acceptable in any other walk of life. The church, with its mystifying voting process, looks not only archaic but also impotent as the vast majority of the synod did not want this result. They are praying for resolution. Sometimes prayers are not enough.

As the conservative MP who speaks for the synod in parliament said: “I think the great danger for the church following the vote is that it will be seen increasingly as just like any other sect.” Indeed, this is how many of us already regard it. The question then becomes how can the church continue to function as an arm of the state when it endorses such out-and-out prejudice?

Remember there are already 3,600 women priests in the church and 37 women Anglican bishops worldwide. Africa has just got its first woman bishop. So now we lag behind Swaziland.

The issue is not belief – people can believe in fairies as far as I am concerned – it is the relationship between church and state. In this crazy chess game, the head of the Church of England, the Queen, could not be a bishop. David Cameron has urged them to “get on with it” – ie, vote the right way for the church – but not conforming to equality legislation is untenable.

It is worth understanding what the objection to women as bishops is based on. Evangelicals believe that women cannot exercise authority over men. They use scripture (St Paul’s letters) to justify this: “I do not permit a woman to teach or have authority over a man.” Thus a man could never swear a canonical oath to a woman bishop. Other objections rest on the fact that Jesus chose only male disciples. Was Jesus sexist? And that before The Fall, when it all went wrong, women existed to act only as helpers to men. I venture that the people, many of them women, who believe such things are unlikely to be swayed by new-fangled notions of equality. But why should they hold such sway in the church and why should the church hold such sway in our land?

Away from theological debate, other issues are at stake. Money, for instance. Reform, the group that represents the evangelicals, holds the rest of the church to ransom by constantly reminding the House of Bishops of its financial clout. In 2010 Reform wrote a letter mentioning the £38m that it had added to the CofE central coffers. The threat that these people withdraw completely from the CofE appears to paralyse the church – but surely the situation has become ridiculous.

The church, in seeking to be above the law, is now a discriminatory organisation, though it holds 26 seats in the House in Lords, from which women are barred. This effective debarring of women from the legislative process is more than an “embarrassment”, it is profoundly undemocratic.

A secular country – and that is largely what we are – should have no truck with this. Why on earth should we respect this bizarre sect any longer? The separation of church and state is long overdue. An institution that allows the maintenance of a stained glass ceiling for its female clergy to bang their heads against should not only lose its moral authority. Let it also lose its unearned privileges.


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