jQuery Slider

You are here

UK: Synod Rejects women bishops. Laity knew more than bishops and clergy

UK: Synod Rejects women bishops. Laity knew more than bishops and clergy

News Analysis

By David W. virtue
November 22, 2012

And so it came to pass that the laity in the Church of England rose up and declared they would not have women bishops to reign over them. The vote was admittedly only six votes, but six votes are six votes. The issue cannot be revisited until a new Synod is elected in 2015.

Liberals and progressives along with homosexuals and lesbians are in "tears" and "agony" over this defeat. So is the Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams and the soon to be Archbishop Justin Welby who both spoke up in favor of the measure. It was a bitter pill for Williams to swallow as he is out the door in five weeks, another example of his failed incumbency. His legacy lies in ruins. It's a bad start for Welby.

Williams said in the aftermath of that decision, the church risks being seen as "willfully blind" to the demands from wider British society; it must do away with institutional and theological sexism.

"We have, to put it very bluntly, a lot of explaining to do," he told the General Synod. "Whatever the motivation for voting yesterday, whatever the theological principle on which people acted and spoke, the fact remains that a great deal of this discussion is not intelligible to our wider society. Worse than that, it seems as if we are willfully blind to some of the trends and priorities of that wider society."

He added, "We have some explaining to do, we have as a result of yesterday undoubtedly lost a measure of credibility in our society."

What sort of explaining to society is it that the church is supposed to do exactly? The church is a counter culture. We are told not to "conform to this present age", we are not to be lovers of the world system, we stand in opposition not apposition to society. The church is not supposed to embrace the mood of a transient culture; to do so will soon enough make it a widow. He makes it sound as though it was a power play and he and his fellow liberals lost.

Phillip Giddings Chair of the House of Laity and a conservative said "Legislation will not remove diversity of opinion. The diversity reflects not prejudice or simple refusal to change but solidly based theological judgement - as was recognised in the Rochester Report. We may disagree with the dissenting minority, but does that mean we have to exclude them from the future of this church? Those who have experience of working for reconciliation know that you cannot achieve a solution unless all parties agree to and own it. That is the missing piece in this legislative package. Those for whom the provision is intended do not own it.

"We have been told that we have debated these matters long enough. Long enough, perhaps, for those who are in the majority and can impose their will; but not long enough to gain the consent of those who are opposed - and whose consent is necessary if we are to remain a united and growing chu The vote was the latest (and last) stage in a process that started in 1975, when the Synod agreed that "there are no fundamental objections to the ordination of women to the priesthood." The church voted for women to be ordained as priests in 1992, leading some Anglicans to switch to the Roman Catholic Church. Provision for a code of practice to cater for parishes that object to women bishops on theological grounds did not go far enough to prevent further conflict, opponents said."

One has to be very careful here. It is the laity who voted against it, not the bishops or clergy. It is the laity who pay the church's bills, including new brocade for bishops (however liberal they might be), the salaries of all clergy as well as church maintenance. Too much hand wringing and finger pointing is going to look bad. The Elevated Ones dare not bite the hand that feeds them. It is a Catch-22 of the highest order. One outraged feminist said the church was being held captive by a backward looking minority...who might, in reality, be more in touch with Jesus than she is.

Furthermore new figures released reveal that 46% of Anglicans in England are evangelicals. Most of them are laity. What does that say? We know from The Episcopal Church that most of the laity is generally more conservative than clergy and bishops (but necessarily evangelical). They are the last to roll over. So it is in the CofE. Furthermore their seminaries are loaded with next generation evangelicals who will be around long after the liberals have disappeared down the drain pipe of secularism and humanism taking the likes of Jeffrey John, Giles Frazer and Colin Coward with them.

I am told that a lot of the laity have been reading certain US orthodox Anglican blogs and have seen the damage women bishops have wrought in The Episcopal Church. They saw a slippery slope that might just lead to another Mary Glasspool (suffragan bishop of Los Angeles), a committed lesbian, emerging in time in the Church of England. Who wants that?

It was the retired Suffragan Bishop of Massachusetts, Barbara Harris who publicly denied the Sacrament of Marriage at a gay Eucharist sponsored by the Episcopal Church's homosexual advocacy group, Integrity at one General Convention, radically reinterpreting the Church's sacramental theology. That action got the church to mandate that every diocese must have women priests, blasting the consciences of bishops like Keith Ackerman, William Wantland, and Jack Iker, to name but a few. Not a single woman bishop in TEC is remotely orthodox in faith and morals. Most are believers in "womanist" theology with women's rights trumping anything Scripture might have to say about biblical headship.

Does the Church of England really want to head down that road? The laity apparently doesn't think so. Should the church follow the bell curve of the culture and society just because Rowan Williams says so?

After the vote Dr. Williams turned inward and said, "The priority for today for all of us is to attend to one another ... that is to give to one another the care that we need, and whatever else we do today, and think today and say today, I hope that that is what we will be able to offer one another." It was a smack down for Archbishop-elect Welby, hardly a fitting start for an evangelical.

The irony here should not be missed. When the vote was done, the evangelical Rev. Rod Thomas, chair of Reform, a conservative network of individuals and churches within the Church of England, said, "We thank God that the Church of England has avoided making a big mistake which would have led to real division and a less inclusive church. The synod's decision shows respect for the issues of conscience involved. It has avoided putting significant minorities who, as faithful Anglicans, seek to follow the Bible's teaching, into an impossible position. We now have a real opportunity to build on the Church's solid biblical foundations, reflecting together on the right way forward."

Church Society, another group of conservative evangelicals in the Church of England, said it was pleased that synod had chosen not to pass the women bishops measure in its current form, which they believe would not have allowed the church to go forward together.

A society member, Zoe Ham, told BBC Radio Five Live that she and others voted against the measure because they felt that the legislation did not give "proper provision to those of us who hold a biblical view that men and women have to play a different role in the church."

The Anglo-Catholic, traditionalist movement Forward in Faith who are opposed to women's ordination, said in a statement: "We are not surprised that the legislation failed to command the necessary majorities, as it has been apparent for some time that it lacked any consensus across the whole of the Church of England. As we have done for the last decade and more, Forward in Faith stands ready to offer a better way ahead, which might indeed command that wider consensus which this draft Measure so clearly lacked. We ask now for a period of prayer and reflection on the part of the whole church, following today's events."

Significantly, the chairman of the GAFCON Primates Council, The Most Rev'd Dr. Eliud Wabukala, Archbishop of the Anglican Church of Kenya, weighed in saying that although he realized many will be very frustrated that the Church of England's General Synod failed to pass legislation to admit women to the episcopate by such a narrow margin, "I believe that this result will come to be seen as a positive turning point. The key issue at this stage was the maintenance of proper safeguards for those who as a matter of theological principle could not accept such a fundamental change. I am therefore heartened that the Church of England has stepped aside from following the path of the Episcopal Church of the United States which has progressively marginalized and excluded those who seek to hold to historic Anglican faith and order in good conscience."

He concluded by saying that now that legislative pressure has been removed, "it is my prayer that there can be a period of calm reflection in which the biblical understanding of calling, for both men and women, will be prominent."

Feminization of the Church

Overlooked in the theological and ecclesiastical discussion is the pressing issue of the feminization of the Church of England that is seeing a decreased attendance of men to local parishes.

Roland Morant, writing for VOL noted that Peter Brierley found that attendance at church in 1980 was 57% for women and 43% for men. In the year 2000 the figures were 60% for women and 40% for men; while in 2010 attendance for women was 63% and 37% for men. Thus although there was a net loss of men and women from churches in the ten year period 2000 to 2010, the proportion of women still attending (albeit in an overall shrinking group) appeared to be steadily rising.

Of course, all the whining and crying on Rowan's shoulder begs the deeper question: If this event was bathed in so much prayer prior to the vote, then clearly God's will was done with the outcome, and people should be rejoicing. Apparently not.

When it comes to women's ordination, leaders both in and beyond the Church of England have continually stressed the need for discernment. Perhaps they should discern what is immediately in front of them, and attend to the continued words of admonition and warning that have been given them by other Christian churches like the Roman Catholic and Orthodox churches which steadfastly refuse to ordain women to the priesthood. They also might want to "discern" why 59 million Brits out of 60 million don't darken the doors of their local parishes.

Women priests (and bishops) don't make churches grow, men will continue to drop out of churches and inclusivity and diversity will only drive people away if there is no significant differential message change from the prevailing culture. Will the issue come around again? For sure it will. And will women finally become bishops? Absolutely. Both the next Archbishop of Canterbury and the Archbishop of York want it and the House of Laity will be vetted to make sure evangelicals do not override the liberal mindset next time. But don't expect God to smile. By then the ratio of men to women in church will be 80% to 20% so women priests and women bishops can talk and preach to themselves about God knows what. It will be the Vicar of Dibley times ten.

This week the Church of England got a wakeup call. The people prayed, the Holy Spirit heard and heeded those prayers . If the Lord God can open the mouth of an ass, and talk to Balaam (Num. 22:28)He can certainly hear and answer the prayers of the lowly laity.


Get the latest news and perspectives in the Anglican world.
comments powered by Disqus
Barnabas Fund

Land of a Thousand Hills Coffee

Drink Coffee

Do Good

Sustainable Ministry

Coffee, Community, Social Justice


Trinity School for Ministry
Go To Top