I’m both saddened and proud of the Church of England right now, as they have just failed to get the majority vote needed to legislate for women bishops. I’ll start by why I’m saddened, but first some key facts…
- The Church of England has already agreed to the principle of women bishops. This vote was about how this could happen legally and in a way that accommodated people whose religious beliefs meant they couldn’t allow a woman to be in authority over them.
- Although most of the church think the “Men in charge” thing is an outdated belief, the Bible doesn’t specifically say that women can be bishops, and occasionally it hints at the opposite. Church of England rules say that nobody in the church can be asked to believe anything that isn’t clearly spelled out in the Bible. Mostly this is a good rule to have.
- Priests get their authority from God by the fact that they are ordained by bishops, this goes back to the very early church and is very important to a lot of people. The problem is therefore not just about the authority of women bishops, but also about any male priests they ordain, it gets messy.
- There were bits of legislation in there that was meant to accommodate for these people, but these people were still scared and worried that it was too woolly, didn’t do enough, and was going to be forgotten by future generations.
- In order for a vote to pass, it has to have a two thirds majority by all three “houses” in the church hierarchy. So the Bishops have to agree it, the Clergy have to agree it, and the laity (us lot!) have to agree it too. Clergy and Leity are elected onto synod, so they should represent their various groups democratically.
Why I’m Sad
1. People were scared
Given that the church has already agreed to the concept of women, the vote really was just about whether we could make it happen. I listened to speech after speech this afternoon, many from smart alec “For” people who were basically saying “Of course it’s a good idea, it would be stupid and time wasting not to vote for this”, and lots of “Against” people saying “We’re worried about what this might mean for our section of the church and what we believe in, and how it will affect our relationship with the Greek and Roman churches.”
2. Lack of trust
The best “For” speeches were along the lines of “we’re sorry, we know this isn’t perfect legislation, but please trust us that we’re going to look after you, and we’ll work together to make it work as we go along”. To be honest this fits with my idea of church, we never have all the answers but we trust each other to take care of us and accommodate differences in belief and opinion. I’m sad because at some point in the decades long debate this trust has been lost, and that scares me for the church.
3. We still can’t have women bishops
Seriously? None? But it just makes sense! Do we really have to punish one minority in order to safeguard another?
4. The Next debate can’t start until 2015
Church rules again, and that’s the very earliest, it’s likely to come in a lot later.
But why am I proud?
Here’s the final voting numbers:
House of Bishops:- 44 For, 3 Against - Passed
House of Clergy: 148 For, 45 Against - Passed
House of Laity: 132 For, 74 Against - Rejected by 6 votes
So the people in charge said yes. The people who have been to Bible college and everything like that and know what they’re talking about went “Yes, this is a good idea”. But this is the Church of England, and it doesn’t just belong to the vicars and clergy, it belongs to the whole membership, so if there’s not an overwhelming majority from the Laity, it doesn’t happen.
Yes in this instance I think it was a bad decision, and I’m shocked that it’s happened, and 6 flipping votes? Really? But at the same time I can’t help but feel a little proud of a church that cares so strongly about it’s ordinary members that it lets them mess up years of careful planning!