The women bishops vote in the Church of England
“If it had been passed, the dissenters would be excluded even further from the life of the Church of England over the next ten years and before long, as in many parts of The Episcopal Church, acceptance of women in the episcopate would be the litmus test for ordination.”
Full text below.
By a very narrow vote, the General Synod of the Church of England has rejected a bill which would allow the consecration of women bishops. The supporters of the move had spoken of an unstoppable groundswell of support and never really expected the bill to be defeated. Yet a large group of evangelicals within the Church of England, alongside more traditional Anglo-Catholics who also opposed the bill but for different reasons, prayed and worked together to bring about this result. This is no time for triumphalism — there were only 5 votes in it and in terms of the raw figures there was massive support for the bill in all three houses — but our evangelical brothers and sisters should still take heart from this. Pulling together and being willing to stand up and be counted is important and can sometimes stop an unstoppable tide.
The bill included an ill-conceived and entirely ineffectual measure for the protection of those who conscientiously object to the oversight of a woman bishop. It was ineffectual because those who drafted it did not really want it. It was a token which would satisfy only those who didn’t actually read it. If it had been passed, the dissenters would be excluded even further from the life of the Church of England over the next ten years and before long, as in many parts of The Episcopal Church, acceptance of women in the episcopate would be the litmus test for ordination. If the General Synod is going to revisit the issue sooner or later, and almost inevitably it will, then the protection measure for those who conscientiously object needs to be drafted by those who need it and who will ensure that it is genuine and effective.
Perhaps it is inevitable that those who voted down the bill would be demonized by the press and by the liberal majority in the General Synod. Some will be acting out of their disappointment and others from a deep seated opposition to evangelical Anglicanism. Still others, who had attempted to lead evangelicals and Anglo-Catholics into acquiescence to the proposed illusory protection, will be frustrated that they were not able to gain the confidence of enough to win the day. However, there will be no real progress until it is recognised that opposition to this proposal is not only perfectly legitimate, but arises from a deep conviction that men and women are equally valued by the God who created and redeemed them yet are intended to complement one another not simply duplicate one another. The teaching of Scripture on the distinction between men and women in the exercise of Christian ministry for the building up of the church and glory of Christ’s name is not a time-bound relic of a bygone culture. It is God’s good gift which enhances our unity and challenges Christian surrender to one of today’s cultural juggernauts. It genuinely values women as opposed to devaluing them.
It would, of course, be much better if the General Synod of the Church of England abandoned the attempt to make women bishops altogether. It would be genuine leadership if the incoming Archbishop of Canterbury took a stand with the teaching of Scripture against the pressure to move in this direction, no matter where that pressure comes from. Yet whatever happens, those who believe that what God has to tell us about men and women — how they should relate and how they should serve together among God’s people — is good and wholesome and life-giving, should determine to build on what was accomplished overnight and take the courage to keep standing firm for biblical truth.
A friend of mine loves to repeat a paraphrase of the words of Oliver Cromwell about the perils of fighting battles against those who seem to be in control: ‘The problem with fighting the king is that you have to win every time. He only has to win once.’
– First published at Theological Theology, Wednesday, 21 November 2012.