Tuesday, November 20, 2012

In Stunning Decision Church of England Narrowly Rejects Women Bishops

The Church of England has been plunged into its biggest crisis for decades after the General Synod rejected women bishops despite overwhelming support for the change.

In a knife-edge decision at a special sitting of the Synod in London, bishops and clergy voted through the change by large majorities.

But the measure failed to secure the required two thirds support among representatives of the laity by just 6 votes.

Although 324 members of the Synod voted in favour of the change, 124 voted against and 11 abstained.

The result was met with dismay in the Synod chamber at Church House in Westminster.
Read the rest here.

14 comments:

William Tighe said...

The result was:

In favour of female bishops

Bishops: 44
Clergy: 148
Laity: 132

Against

Bishops: 3
Clergy: 45
Laity: 74

Abstentions

Bishops: 2
Clergy: 0
Laity: 0

The legislation needed a two-third majority in all three houses of the General Synod to pass. It did not achieve this two-thirds majority in the House of Laity, and so the legislation was defeated.

The ensuing roars, howls and liberal fury will be a dleight to behold.

Chris Jones said...

I fail to see why this decision is "stunning" nor how it constitutes the Church's "biggest crisis in decades." There can be little doubt that the Church of England will have its women bishops. This is just a procedural hiccough that will be worked around in due course. I'm sure it is galling to have to wait for five years to try for this again; but after waiting for nearly two millennia, what's five more years?

What people forget is that there is a reason why super-majorities (like the two-thirds in this case) are required for important changes like this. It gives a minority the right to say to the majority "This is really a big change; shouldn't we take the time to be very, very sure that we are doing the right thing?". Of course it is anti-democratic, and of course it makes it harder to make "progress." But that is not a bug, it's a feature.

I hasten to add that my own belief is that women bishops, priests, deacons, or any female clerics whatever are a theological impossibility. (That conviction is strongly associated with the fact that I am no longer an Anglican and have not been for nearly thirty years.) But if once you have admitted that women may legitimately be ordained, how can you then say that women may be deacons but not priests (as some even Orthodox have suggested), or priests but not bishops? At that point, it seems to me, one has left the realm of theological principle, and entered the realm of gender politics. In that realm a "conservative" (whatever that means) does not stand a chance.

The battle was lost in the Church of England in 1992 (when the priesting of women was approved). What the "conservatives" have won here is only a meaningless rear-guard action. It will have no effect on the eventual outcome.

The Archer of the Forest said...

Wow...didn't see that coming. Dr. Tighe above has it right, it will indeed be a delight to behold.

Phil said...

I agree with Chris Jones. Furthermore, along the lines of your previous post on the subject, this is only likely to goad the state into forcing the CoE to permit women bishops, anyway. Such blatant interference by the government in ecclesiastical affairs (I know, I know, that's the whole point of the CoE, but bear with me...) is likely to devastate whatever credibility it has left in the Christian world. In such an eventuality, there would be no difference in theory in the state forcing the church to recruit and ordain Hindus as priests.

Priest David Thatcher said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Priest David Thatcher said...

I like much of Chris Jones' comment, but he is incorrect in asserting that the existence of women deacons would somehow establish a precedence for women priests and bishops. First, there were deaconesses even in the New Testament, besides hundred of years of the early Church -- and that did not in any way lead to women ordained for the priesthood or episcopate. Second, deacons as an ordained order are not of "apostolic rank"; they do not preside, especially at the Eucharist. In other words, deacons are a different sort of ordained ministry from priests and bishops. This is perhaps confused (surprise, surprise) in the Anglican tradition with its "Archdeacons" who are, in fact, priests, as I understand it. The female diaconate evaporated when it was no longer needed for ministering to women catechumens. The female diaconate is hardly at theological, or ecclesiological, impossibility.

Chris Jones said...

Fr David,

I would venture to disagree with you on a couple of points. I believe that you are, in one case, drawing a distinction that does not exist, and in another case failing to draw a distinction that does exist.

First, I do not believe that there is a distinction of "apostolic rank" among the orders of the sacred ministry -- or rather, if there is such a distinction, it is between bishops on the one hand and presbyters, deacons, and minor clergy on the other hand. Only the bishop is a successor to the Apostles. It is true, as you say, that both bishops and presbyters preside and deacons do not. But only the bishop presides at the altar in his own right. The presbyter presides only as the bishop's delegate and using the bishop's antimension. Thus only the bishop is truly of "apostolic rank."

Apart from that distinctive role of the bishop it seems to me that the distinctions among the ranks of the clergy are of degree only, not of fundamental character. The ecumenical canons speak of all of the clerical ranks from Reader onwards as being part of "the clerical list." And if I recall correctly from my own tonsuring as a Reader (now almost thirty years on), the Bishop spoke of that tonsuring as "entering the lowest degree of the priesthood."

Second and more important, while it is certainly true that there were deaconesses in the New Testament and for a number of centuries afterward, I believe it is a serious historical and theological mistake to identify "deacon" and "deaconess" as one and the same order and ministry. Deaconesses were never ordained, but only set apart; they never formed part of the "clerical list"; and they never performed the liturgical functions of a deacon. To ordain female deacons now in the twenty-first century would not be the restoration of a ministry that existed in the early centuries; it would be the use of a linguistic coincidence to justify an entire innovation.

Now, I am neither a historian nor a theologian, so I could be wrong about either of those points (though I doubt it). This is what I have been taught by those whose scholarship far exceeds my own.

Priest David Thatcher said...

Well, Chris, you're a sharp fellow, but you are incorrect in your second comment, for the most part. "Apostolic rank" means to be the proper ministers for presiding over the sacraments, esp. the Eucharist. Actually, biblically and historically, priest (presbyteroi) and bishops (episcopoi) share the same churchly taproot, and are difficult to even tease out in the Apostolic period. In addition, the business of continuity in the order(s) of deacons and deaconesses might be subject to debate, but there is considerable evidence that deaconesses even had a liturgical function, mosaics showing them wearing diaconal vestments. This is hardly matter of "linguistic coincidence" (nice try!). For the record, I am not an advocate of reviving the female diaconate today.

Not to be personal, but perhaps you should consider attending seminary. This stuff is certainly discussed.

Alice Linsley said...

The Anglican laity have more common sense than the clergy.

Chris Jones said...

Not to be personal, but perhaps you should consider attending seminary

I have considered it, to be sure. When I was an Episcopalian I sought postulancy for holy orders twice, only to be turned away for being too conservative. When I was Orthodox I went through the two-year Late Vocations program of the OCA Diocese of the West, under the tutelage of Fr (now Bishop) Alexander Golitzin. His Grace bears most of the credit or blame of my knowledge of patristics, Church history, and Orthodox theology. He was a fine teacher and my intellectual debt to him is incalculable.

At this point, however, I no longer consider seminary since I am pushing 60 and such things are generally for younger men.

Matushka Anna said...

Alice: I noticed that too. Rather bizarre.

William Tighe said...

Those interested may wish to consult this legal case:

http://www.infotextmanuscripts.org/vexatiouslitigant/vex_lit_queens_bench_williamson.html

This 1997 case is a subsidiary to an earlier 1994 case, but I cannot find a report of the former case online. What is clear from it, however, is that it is still “settled law” in England that “the doctrine of the Church of England is whatever Parliament declares it to be.” So Erastianism rules okay.

Eurasleep said...

I don't know much about the CoE, but the obvious fact that the Laity was strongly against this, in my mind may indicate that the laity may be turning against this sort of liberalism that we've seen in the last decades. At least one can hope. Admittedly, I also don't know who comprises this Laity that can vote, but perhaps the laity (small L) can be fertile ground for the Orthodox to till. Just a thought.

Chris Jones said...

the obvious fact that the Laity was strongly against this

I fear you are mis-reading the data, Eurasleep. In fact the laity were strongly in favour, not strongly against; just not quite strongly enough in favour to achieve the required two-thirds majority. The laity voted 132 to 74 in favour (that is roughly 64% to 36% in favour), just 6 votes shy of the required two-thirds.