The Church of England Votes Against Female Bishops

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Luke MacGregor / Reuters

The Rev. Sally Hitchiner, chaplain of Brunel University, leaves after the Church of England's vote to allow female bishops failed in London on Nov. 20, 2012

With many hoping to smash the stained-glass ceiling, the Church of England voted over allowing women to serve as bishops on Nov.20. But the ceiling remains intact, as the vote failed to pass and the outcome could have major implications for the church’s future.

The church’s legislative body, known as the General Synod, made the decision late Tuesday afternoon. After a long day filled with dozens of speeches by various members of the Synod’s three elected houses — one each for clergy, bishops and laypeople — at Church House in Westminster, London, the measure was put to a vote. It needed a two-thirds majority from each of the Synod’s houses to pass but fell short by just six votes from lay members.

For years, there has been a strong push to allow women to become bishops in the church, which opened its doors to female priests back in 1992. Female bishops are already common in the Anglican churches in Canada, the U.S. and Australia, and many in Britain were shocked at the Synod’s decision, which was widely expected to go the other way. The Rev. George Pitcher, an Anglican priest at London’s St. Bride’s, was stunned by the vote, saying that it could cause “chaos in the Church of England.” The decision was also a blow to both the outgoing Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, who has long supported the move, as well as the incoming Archbishop, Justin Welby, who endorsed female bishops in his first address from Lambeth Palace just two weeks ago. “I will be voting in favor,” Welby told a group of reporters on Nov. 9. “And join my voice to many others in urging the Synod to go forward with this change.”

(MORE: U.K. Bishops Defect to Catholic Church: A Sign of Crisis?)

Though it’s not the most divisive issue facing the wider, worldwide Anglican community — that would be the question of gay marriage — ordaining female bishops has caused serious conflict within the Church of England for years now. According to Pitcher, the church is divided between reformers who want to see the church evolve and conservatives who are against the Church of England becoming a “mainstream, liberal, Episcopal — as in the States’ — type of church.” Traditionalist members and clergy have been especially firm in their views that only men should serve in the role of bishops, believing it to be scripturally sound. “We accept that there are different interpretations of the Scriptures,” Jane Patterson, a member of the conservative evangelical group Reform, told the Guardian, “but the church needs to guard against placing society’s views over what we see as God’s views, as expressed in his written word, the Bible.”

Meanwhile, others believe allowing female bishops is not only the right thing to do but also the necessary thing to do to keep pace with modern England. The church has been bleeding members for a number of years, with reports from the Research and Statistics Department of the Archbishops’ Council for 2010 showing that less than 2% of Britons attend regular services. And the church’s latest move isn’t likely to register well with the average citizen; a July poll showed that 74% of Britons thought the Church of England should allow female bishops. “Theology doesn’t exist in a vacuum,” Jan McFarlane, the Archdeacon of Norwich, pointed out during her speech to the Synod on Tuesday. “A church so out of step with the world around us becomes an irrelevance.”

Incidentally, even some advocates of female bishops weren’t fully supportive of Tuesday’s measure anyway, as it included a clause allowing individual traditionalist parishes to opt for a stand-in male bishop to oversee a female one. The clause was an attempt to placate inflexible opponents of female bishops, but it obviously wasn’t enough to win over everyone. After the measure was rejected on Tuesday, Archbishop Williams expressed his sadness over the decision and added that “this vote, of course, isn’t the end of the story. This is not an issue that is going to go away.” Which, unfortunately, was the one conclusion that the entire Church of England was hoping for.

MORE: A Clergy Rebellion in Austria’s Catholic Church

28 comments
VincentLovece
VincentLovece

A church isn't a golf club or something. While it seems offensive to deny women the right to be in a group, consider that we don't let women into the NBA or the NFL. This isn't because women are inferior, it is that they just wouldn't make good quarterbacks, for example. Same thing with Major League Baseball. All of those sports leagues are gender-separated to a level unknown in ANY church, all of which have nuns at least, if not women as ministers or some other form of cleric. In the church, a priest or bishop is supposed to stand in place of Jesus. Jesus is a man, and no amount of liberation theology will ever change that. While I can see some value in a church "getting with the times", I can also see value in keeping to the church's values, as long as it isn't interfering with anyone's rights... and no one has a right to be a priest or bishop: that is a privilege that very few men are qualified for. They don't let you in just because one is male.

Calvin.Hobbes
Calvin.Hobbes

Dear Archbishop Williams,

I note that you recently prayed to me requesting that women to be allowed to become bishops in The Church England.I regret to inform you that as the Omnipotent, Omnibenevolent, Omniscient Creator of the Universe I have elected to deny your request...women will never have equal rights in The Church of England, or any other Church for that matter.

In fact I was rather annoyed by your ridiculous and offensive request.

Kind regards.

God.

DavidSpencer
DavidSpencer

The bishops couldn't find a way to explain to the laity what biblical scholars have known for almost 200 years --namely, that the Pastoral Epistles are pseudepigraphical. The congregation still believes that Paul actually wrote 1 Timothy. What a mess.

DSB13
DSB13

The Church isn't supposed to  "evolve" to reflect public opinion.  What is Right is not always what is popular.  However, there are  old testament precedents of women serving in positions of Authority in regard to Godly matters;  servants of God who were called Judges were sometimes women and had great rank.

omgimp
omgimp

I guess The Church of England doesn't get that we are all God's Children, equal in His eyes. Theological b.s. aside, prejudice is usually based on fear. Why is this (or most) religions so afraid to have or see women as equals? Sadly, this means to me that, The Church of England supports the oppression of women. What would happen if a women should become a Bishop? Would God strike us down? Would the world stop spinning? I hardly doubt either would happen. What I would see happening, is the opening of some minds, allowing them to accept and embrace progress for us all. .

kattalker
kattalker

We have arrived in the 21 st century did anyone remind them of that ?

Good reason never to lay an eye or hear an ear  to the church of england again. 

akpat
akpat

Sadly the Church of England has shown itself to be just as bad as the Church of Rome, an outdated dinosaur wait for extinction.

CarlosDecourcyLascoutx
CarlosDecourcyLascoutx

...well, the Church of England can become an exclusive Motherless Boy's Club. once they have done that, they can chuck religion and become

the brats they yearn to be. 

guddiya
guddiya

Of course 'The Church of England Votes Against Women Bishops'...sexist views are the way of the church.

RyGuy
RyGuy

So, your imaginary belief system has shown it's sexist tendencies?  What a surprise!   

branchltd
branchltd

It may have something to do with what the bible says about bishops (shepherds).

abelinone
abelinone

Leave the church... take your money with you.  Problem solved.

NormanAllen
NormanAllen

What do you expect of an institution based on irrationality, arbitrariness, abuse, and FORCE?  If it was humane, rational, compassionate to humans, it would be following scientific methodology!

physiojoe
physiojoe

Congratulations. The Episcopal church continues to follow the Pope and the Catholic Church as monumentally irrelevant to their congregations. Did they ever stop to think that the only reason the original apostles were all male was because that was the historical era they lived in. Well today there is no reason why women cannot be both priests and bishops. This is just another example of male arrogance subjugating women to a less than equal role.

MacdonaldBank
MacdonaldBank

The pope is running a bigger fraud than Madoff’s $50 billion ripoff.

MacdonaldBank
MacdonaldBank

There is no scientific evidence to prove any of the cross related bogus elements of christianity and other religions. Our early human ancestors; on this earth … go back more than 6 million years … 5,996,000 years before the Greeks, Romans and the Jews. Christianity is basically a 2012 year old fictional cult.In the year 300 AD when Emperor Constantine, who to some was the first pope; went on to fabricate & market Christianity!Christianity is a fantasy; which turned out to be one of the most hateful & evil concoctions ever perpetrated on the world.It is written; so therefore it shall be? We are the chosen people? Such a wicked fantasy. To see the religious lunatics manipulate government and our lives is shameful.The pope and churches fully aware that Leviticus 18:22 applies to priests only … refuse to remove this stigma … maliciously persecuting gays. Kids are being bullied into suicide …!

DSB13
DSB13

Keep in mind, however, that if something reflects God's Will, it is a Right and not just a privilege, so the question is, what exactly is God's Will in regard to this matter.  I don't think anyone is suggesting that a woman with an Evil Heart or Mind has the right to be a Bishop or to serve in any leadership capacity in the Church.  However, if a woman has the right kind of Heart and Mind in God's eyes, should she be denied by Man the full and honorable use of that which God has bestowed upon her?  Consider the thought that God the Father was pleased with Jesus not because he happened to be a certain gender, but because he Honored and Glorified Him perfectly with all his Love and Devotion. Clearly, standing in the place of Jesus is not at all about gender, it is about one's relationship to God and all that God Loves, and I believe that we walk on thin ice when we choose to deny others that which he would not want God to deny us. True leaders are also true servants and God's children have the Right to do both. 

AnOthaQ
AnOthaQ

@Calvin.Hobbes 

Really?

Gaud! God, you are so Male Chauvinistic! How did you feel about there being a British Q U E E N?

Rissy
Rissy

@Calvin.Hobbes You Git, how dare you speak with a devils tongue, how dare you speak your words and use our Father God as your cover. Hypocrite, Pharisee, read your bible properly and find that the Lord used many women in responsible positions of Authority, Please get over yourself and ask our Lord for his forgiveness

ibtlius
ibtlius

@Calvin.Hobbes 

Dear pretender of the Omnipotent, Omnibenevolent, Omniscient Creator of the Universe,

Thanks for your letter.  There are enough controversies already in our church with men at the helm. We are already steadily losing our clientele and wish to stop further bleeding.  Hence at this time, there is no absobleepinglute need for a female version of those same and new types of controversies which will double up to snarl our churches into bankruptcy and the ultimate collapse of the industry.

Thanks again for your concern.

Kind Regards,

Archbishop Williams.

DSB13
DSB13

@DavidSpencer The Pastoral Epistles are "pseudepigraphical."  That certainly doesn't sound good.   And Paul taking credit for stuff...  When will it stop!

geoffrobinson1
geoffrobinson1

@MacdonaldBank You have very little understanding of early church history. There's lots for you to read, but you definitely need to see evidence that the New Testament was based on eyewitness testimony. I recommend the book "Jesus and the Eyewitnesses."

rayfavs
rayfavs

@MacdonaldBank Lev 18:22 contains moral law that applies to everyone. I dont know where you get that it only applies to priest from. 

Jym
Jym

OK, but you better be right!

BenjaminHolmes
BenjaminHolmes

The point of this rant? Also, nature itself is enough proof of God. The bigger delusion is the atheist worldview that it is all a colossal random mistake. Nice make-believe, I must admit.

JREDQ
JREDQ

@BenjaminHolmes So you're saying god throws a fit every now and then and uses nature to flood great cities like New Orleans, killing hundreds of good people, right? Don't talk about "make-believe" when all you have to base your faith on is a book written by people you've never met.  Might as well dive right into Dianetics.