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Women Bishops… not yet

The Church of England’s General Synod voted last night to continue to reject the idea of women bishops. That is to say that two of the three houses (bishops and clergy) were quite clearly in favour while the third house (laity) fell narrowly short of the two-thirds majority required to carry the motion. Given how much weight the Church of England still puts on the role of professional clergy compared to laity, it beggars belief that a vast overall majority can be defeated by the lack of a handful more positive votes from lay members of the synod.

Perhaps it is ironic given that most of those voting against the change are probably from that parts of the church that are most demeaning about the role lay members can play in regular worship? Mind you, this is the same group who protest that “apostolic succession” would be broken by letting a woman take the role of a bishop, while seemingly quite happy to believe that it passed quite happily through events such as the rejection of papal authority and numerous primates standing by while other believers were murdered by fire. I know that was all a long time ago but, if you value tradition above all else, surely the path trodden through history has to mean something.

Had the vote gone the other way, I know there would have been a number of people feeling very wounded by the change but I warrant there are a far greater number baffled and bruised by the lack of it.


  1. One of the complicating factors is that there are two traditions opposed to the ordination of women as priests (presbyters) and/or bishops.

    On the Anglo Catholic side it’s seen a church unity issue i.e. if the Pope decided that women could be ordained, then it would be OK, because it wouldn’t be a bar to greater unity. Although it’s not a position I would support, I think it has integrity and should be respected.

    On the Conservative Evangelical side, it’s about male headship, which I don’t really understand. The people who support it seem to be very much of the public school, Oxbridge type (stop me if this sound familiar) and is as more of a cultural position than a theological one.

    Interesting to note women make up 33% of Anglican clergy and only 22% MPs.

    • I have to confess that I am not entirely persuaded by the “popish” argument. There is a clear way to improve unity with the Roman Catholic church, namely by joining it, while unity with other groups is damaged. If this kind of vote had taken place at the time I was moving to Oxford, I think I would have been inclined to put visiting an Anglican church much further down my list. That might, of course, have made no difference apart from a longer journey before reaching St Clement’s but it would have been an additional barrier.