The Press this week is full of derision for and condemnation of the Church of England, following the failure of the motion for Women Bishops in General Synod this week. It needed to reach a two-thirds majority in all three of the houses in order to be passed. It reached a two-thirds majority in the Houses of Bishops and Clergy, but it fell short by six votes in the House of Laity, so the measure as a whole was dropped. By Synod’s complex rules, the issue can not return to Synod for another five years (unless, in exceptional circumstances, the House of Laity specifically petition to bring it back sooner).
There is a lot of confusion in the Press and even in the Church of England about why the motion failed and what the issues really are. Some are saying that the House of Laity was not representative and there are calls for the vote to be taken again, for complete reform of Synod’s structures and rules. The British government are even threatening to force the Church of England to have women bishops by removing the Church’s exemption for equality legislation.
For all those protesting that the vote was not representative of the Church of England because so many around the country were in favour, I venture to suggest that it was the House of Laity, not the Houses of Bishops or Clergy that most accurately reflected the opinion of the average congregant. It’s all about which question you ask.
- If you asked the average worshipper, ‘do you want women bishops?’ they would most likely reply ‘yes’.
- If you asked that same person, ‘do you want the Anglo-Catholics and Conservative Evangelicals to be forced out of the Church of England for not agreeing with it?’ they would most likely reply ‘no’. Most people thought there should be some kind of provision for ‘conscientious objectors’.
- If you then asked that person, ‘Do you think that this particular measure in Synod contained sufficient legislation to protect the Anglo-Catholics and Conservative Evangelicals whilst not compromising the authority of women bishops?’ the answer you would most likely had received was ‘I haven’t the foggiest.’
It was this latter question that was the real focus of the debate on Tuesday, and the basis of the decision. It was not a ‘no’ or even a ‘not yet’ to women bishops, it was a ‘no’ to it on this basis, with this particular arrangement.
“Everybody accepts women bishops. The timing is not an easy one but I am one of those that strongly believes…there will be in my lifetime.
“The principle has already been accepted by the general synod and in all the dioceses so what we need to do is find the legislation.” John Sentamu, Archbishop of York, in The Telegraph, on why the motion was not passed.
It is my heartfelt hope that the relevant parties can take some time around the table to come up with a compromise or collaborative solution which will produce workable legislation, introducing women bishops whilst meeting the needs of my Anglo-Catholic and Conservative Evangelical brethren. It’s a tall order, and some would say impossible, but God is known for His miracles, and that’s what I’m praying for.
Won’t you join me?
Here are some of the best articles I’ve read this week from the blogosphere and around:
- Jon Marlow – Is Synod Broken? This is incredibly useful analysis of the voting and selection process for anyone asking the question about reforming Synod or recalling Synod for another vote. Before you sign a petition asking for a re-vote, this is a must-read.
- Jon Marlow – Not for this reason, not in this way – Why supporters of women bishops may still have voted against the motion.(I know I’m biased, but I really do think my husband’s two articles are extremely helpful!)
- Krish Kandiah – Grace, Truth and Synod – wonderfully conciliatory and balanced
- Bishop N T Wright for Fulcrum – Women Bishops: It’s about the Bible, not fake ideas of progress – challenging the Prime Minister’s calls for the Church of England to ‘enter the 21st century’.
- Vicky Beeching for the BBC – Perspectives: Jesus was a feminist and so am I – offering some biblical evidence for an egalitarian argument
- Jody Stowell – Are women really human? – really helpful in understanding why so many women priests are distraught at the decision, particularly addressing the Anglo-Catholic objection that women cannot celebrate the Eucharist.
- Ugley Vicar – Don’t blame the laity! – has some interesting things to say about synodical process
(Note to regular readers: I will stop talking about this issue in the near future, honestly! The God and Suffering series is continuing as normal, and look out for my advent series, and how you can link up).