Women Bishops: the real issues

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).


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19 Responses to Women Bishops: the real issues

  1. RaymondTheBrave 27th November, 2012 at 2:36 pm #

    The following is what I was trying to say in my comments previously on this subject. I believe we are missing the whole issue with focusing on Women bishops. Please do me the honour of listening to the attached link to an audio teaching by Misty Edwards. May your hearts be open to hear God’s voice and longing for your love.

    Matthew 22:37-39 Great Commandment

    Do we really do what Jesus said in the following scripture?

    Do we Love with ALL our HEART, SOUL and MIND?

    Do we know what this really means?

    I dont!

    Jesus said to him, ‘YOU SHALL LOVE THE LORD YOUR GOD WITH ALL YOUR HEART, WITH ALL YOUR SOUL, AND WITH ALL YOUR MIND.’ This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like it: ‘YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOUR AS YOURSELF.’

    (Matthew 22:37-39)

    The following audio link by Misty Edwards helps to explain the above scripture and how loving God with all our heart, soul and mind will give us a vision for our lives, change us from the inside out and give us joy unspeakable and peace. We were made to love God and nothing else will do.


    By RaymondTheBrave

  2. Claire Alcock 26th November, 2012 at 2:25 pm #

    Until Tuesday I would have agreed, but the speeches on the day of the vote, trotting out tired old arguments against women presiding and teaching per se, show that actually the two against wings of the C of E will probably never be satisfied with provision. It was all about misguided theological objections after all.

    See excellent article:
    http://www.abc.net.au/religion/articles/2012/11/23/3639111.htm for the best theological response.

    • Tanya 27th November, 2012 at 11:11 am #

      Thanks for this. I had a helpful conversation on Twitter with women who were articulating much the same thing – that because of the speeches they had become convinced that no compromise would ever have been acceptable to the ‘no’ camp. And I could see how you would get that impression. I was also frustrated by those who were trotting out the familiar arguments (on both sides…) without out dealing with the specifics.

      But I know personally people who were spearheading the ‘no’ campaign and if there had been better legal provision, (any one of the amendments that had been so quickly voted down by those who wanted the single clause measure), then they would have advised their members to vote ‘yes’. The issue really was the provision. And this is why it is my earnest hope that WATCH would be able to show incredible grace and sacrifice and find a compromise where we get women bishops but with legal provision for those who object. I think, I think, it would be possible, though as others are pointing out, parliament might decide that they want to stick their oar in. But I don’t think David Cameron would want to be known as the Prime Minister responsible for disestablishing the Church of England…

      • Tim Carlisle 28th November, 2012 at 1:12 pm #

        More sense Tanya. The problem as I see it is that whilst the leaders and spokespeople are speaking in helpful correct ways, there are lots of other voices.
        Those other voices speak without the same level of understanding, without having seen where the discussion has actually led. There is a certain lack of grace too in those people (who are on both sides) who will not accept that there are bibilical reasons that both camps and therefore because the Bible is not black and white on the subject there needs to be a middle ground.
        Sadly foot soldiers may be full of energy and passion but can use it in a misguided way. Which is why we need the leaders to meet, hammer it out, and where possible discipline their ‘wings’ to follow their lead.

  3. Gillan 26th November, 2012 at 11:15 am #

    Thank you Tanya. An excellent post. From your third question about adequate provision, my answer would be yes, but I understand why some were still not happy with it. The problem is that a lot of time and thought has been put into finding a compromise and this is the best solution so far. If this is not good enough then maybe the conclusion is that finding an answer that pleases all sections for the church is potentially impossible.

    Maybe I’m being defeatist, but if we wait for everything to be perfect before a measure is put into practice, then there could be a very long wait. There’s no guarantee that things will turn out any differently next time it comes to Synod.

    Is it time to ask the different factions whether a compromise will ever be possible or do we just wait until the make-up of the synod changes and the motion gets passed irrespective of what clauses are in it?

    Of course if the government rides roughshod over synod and forces it through, all this debate will be irrelevant…

    • Tanya 27th November, 2012 at 11:04 am #

      Thanks so much for your comment, I always appreciate your thoughtful analysis.
      I am hearing a lot around the Internet that this solution was ‘as good as it was going to get’. The question is, for whom? Are those who are pro-women bishops prepared to compromise further to provide legal provision? The code of practice wasn’t even written in the measure – it would be drawn up by each individual bishop, with each individual bishops deciding how they would implement it.

      Why not write a code of practice into the measure, so that bishops would be held to it? That’s what I can’t understand. If this were done, I would imagine that the A-Cs and Con Evos would be happy, and there would be women bishops. Personally, I see that as a good solution, but I know I’m probably in the minority! 🙂

      • Gillan 27th November, 2012 at 11:34 am #

        Thanks Tanya. You may well be right. I have to admit that I haven’t looked into the finer details too hard but what I did see seemed to provide sufficient provision. There’s plenty more debate to come though. I do desperately hope and pray that an amicable agreement can be reached next time round.

        Have to say I thought Jon’s article on the General Synod was very good and helpful, so much so that I linked to it today on my blog. Thank you both!

        • Tim Carlisle 28th November, 2012 at 1:06 pm #

          I think Tanya is right, the issue is perhaps not whether there was provision, but rather that the provision in some cases might not work.
          Essentially as it stands the provision stated that a church would have to apply to their Bishop to seek alternative oversight. That Bishop could then theoretically say no (the provision stated application but gave no guarantee) and you could ask someone who for biblical reasons could accept female headship to then submit to the will of their female bishop. It becomes a cyclical argument and so the way to take it out of that is to have the flying bishops with application for alternative oversight carried out by them.

  4. Liz Eph 26th November, 2012 at 9:06 am #

    I really don’t understand why these minority groups with leanings away from the C of E are allowed to dominate the voting because people are frightened that they’ll up and off. Why not let them ? Why should the C of E bend double to keep people who are not that committed ? What’s wrong with splits ? Why not plant out amicably and say we realise we’re not meeting your needs, let’s make sister churches that can be different but respect each other. Historically, politically, even religiously there is nothing compatible with Rome and the C of E. Rome doesn’t allow C of E to take communion with them -ie doesn’t recognise fellowship together. That’s not a reciprocal relationship. I think these people should chose who they’d like to follow rather than drag one down a route that the majority of the members don’t want because they’re leaning elsewhere. I think the world is big enough to have lots and lots of churches. Why can’t we be grown up about this ?

    • Tanya 27th November, 2012 at 10:57 am #

      Thanks Liz. I agree that there could potentially be benefit from splitting, if people chose to leave. But on which issue would you split? The liberals are far from being the majority of the Church of England, and the churches that are growing are the evangelicals, both conservative evangelicals and other evangelicals. So who gets to decide who goes and who stays? This is but one vote, one issue. It is an important one, to be sure, but I am not sure it would make a good basis for deciding who should be in or out of the Church of England.

  5. Tim Carlisle 25th November, 2012 at 9:20 pm #

    I think you get to the heart of why many didn’t vote yes, but I think there is more to it. The issue is (as you say) ‘what’ people were actually being asked to vote on. The issue as I see it is that the measure/legislation/proposal (however you are supposed to term it) was poorly thought through. Initial wording was changed almost at the last minute because what was in place wasn’t deemed acceptable to many.

    Essentially it was unfit for purpose, hastily put together – I could be uncharitable and suggest that Rowan Williams leaving a month later might have had something to do with the need to get it voted for in this past synod for his own legacy.

    On an issue such as this it was essential to get all parties to agree on a compromise that was carefully put together beforehand, that the main groups would sign up for, and as the Revd Marlow suggests in his other blog ‘What was lost this week?’ there is a lot of finger pointing from all sides, a lot blame culture creeping in and a lot of ‘you are wrong on this’ being told to people. All sides need to accept that there are legitimate Biblical claims on both sides, both of which need to be upheld (and not get sidetracked by culture, ‘progress’ , history or tradition).

    But we also need to stop ‘campaigning’ and we mustn’t wait five years, the former creates division, tension and arguments when what we need now more than ever is love, grace, unity. The latter will allow things to fester and inevitably cause instability and infighting when we would be better getting on with the business of building the kingdom.

    • Tanya 27th November, 2012 at 10:51 am #

      Thank you, Tim. As a member of the laity, you are proving once again that non-clergy have good insight into the situation and deserve to be heard on this! Have you thought of standing for General Synod? 🙂

      • Tim Carlisle 28th November, 2012 at 1:01 pm #


  6. simon 25th November, 2012 at 7:07 pm #

    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 –

    ‘how significant are the bishops for conservative evangelical Anglican churches (particularly churches influenced by Reform)? why not split and become simply conservative evangelical? as I understand it (and as I’m sure you know) when Rowan Williams became archbishop, St Helen’s stopped taking stipendiary from the Church Comissioners as a protest against ‘theological liberalism’ and clergy were paid by congregation; more lately, Richard Coekin has had a bust up with Bishop Tom Butler and planted churches without permission, and had had people ordained by Bishops in South Africa. conservative evangelical churches will often say things like ‘the CofE is the best place to reach the most people’, i.e. a pragmatic reason for being in the CofE, but they are so often critical of the system one wonders if it’s worth the aggravation and whether it’s not a little self-centred. A cons. evangelical might respond they have genuine concern with the theology of the church, maintaining a ‘true’ course, but when you are a subset in the church with protection from local female bishops and basically hostile towards the hierarchy (as the two stories above are indicative of) how can you have a positive impact?

    with respect to the Anglo Catholics, I’m not sure, except i sometimes wonder about the longstanding fascination with Rome from Newman onwards and think this might warrant joining them in some cases. i tend to darken the doors of Anglo Catholic churches at the moment, but i haven’t heard much said about the issue.

    this is all rather blunt, but I suppose I am quite dubious of the sudden interest in catholicity in the church when in the past there was mutual indifference/borderline mistrust between the various sections of the church. it all looks a bit cynical, not really in a spirit of communion/prayer and more self-interest. I agree that splitting up is the opposite of the spirit of the church that the New Testament urges – I am often struck when reading early theology how much admonition there is about not loving each other – but I am also not convinced many conservatives really care. I remember being in a meeting of a plant of a cons. evan church in London and someone mooting the possbility of breaking away, to which to be fair the vicar said ‘that’s just the kind of seditious comment I’ve come to expect from the son of a Methodist minister’ (as indeed he was!) in jokey way, but the point is that for some people the move would be quite amicable, and I suppose that this might be amicable also for the other side of the church. one might even say pragmatic.

    I couldn’t argue for egalitarianism against a learned complementarian nor visa-versa, so I tend to keep out of the substantive theological arguments. I’m just saying what I see.

    • Tanya 27th November, 2012 at 10:50 am #

      Thanks for this thoughtful question. I think some evangelical churches (both cons and charismatic) are not too bothered about the church of England and what it means, and could happily hop off by themselves. These tend to be the bigger, more well-connected churches. My question to them would be, ‘if you were to leave, would you be supporting those smaller churches that will also be forced to leave?’

      I hear what you’re saying about the mistrust between tribes, and the question of why stay at all. But I also find it sad that gospel-preaching churches should be forced out of their denomination unnecessarily.

      With regards to how significant a bishop is – the answer is very significant when they decide that they don’t like you and want to stop what you are doing. Tom Butler is perhaps a case in point, and people are deeply fearful of a situation like ECUSA where churches are being forced out of their buildings, bishops are taking churches to court etc because they won’t accept bishops who are in gay sexual relationships. That doesn’t mean to say that necessarily will happen here, but I can totally see how it might.

  7. Mia 25th November, 2012 at 4:52 pm #

    Dear sweet Tanya Friend
    I know how important this issue is to you and therefore I am so sad on your behalf. In the Reformed Church in South Africa, the denomination I grew up in, woman are still not allow even to vote in church. That is based on the verse that women are not allowed to speak in church. For a long time women had to wear hats when attending church for her head needed to be covered, also according to one Scripture. That one does not count anymore! And in the mean time people don’t want anything to do a house that is so divided and I am sure that our Pappa God is also grieved! Oh, Tanya, that is not our Lord’s will. He asked us only two things and that is to love Him and to allow Him to love others through us. If that is the only rule how different things would be. My heart is crying with you and I will check out the articles you have provided.
    Hang in there and be assured that you are in my prayers!

    • Tanya 27th November, 2012 at 10:39 am #

      Thank you so much Mia – and for sharing your situation too. It’s really helpful to get a picture of the worldwide church, and also good to be reminded that our perspective is but a narrow one, and there are so many different situations and struggles all over the world. I love the Internet that we can all connect together like this! Bless you xx

  8. Mark Allman 25th November, 2012 at 3:59 pm #

    I will join you. By the way who’s that Jon Marlow that keeps showing up. 🙂

    • Tanya 27th November, 2012 at 10:37 am #

      Thank you for standing with me!
      And that Jon Marlow – he does keep showing up, doesn’t he?? 🙂

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