The Church of England has again voted down the introduction of women bishops, after a long and divisive debate including over 100 speeches.The Church of England has again voted down the introduction of women bishops, after a long and divisive debate including over 100 speeches.
The measure had majority support but did not win the two-thirds majority in all three houses of the General Synod that was needed for it to pass. It was lost in the House of Laity by just six votes.
The result will embitter and embarrass supporters of modernisation, with many tweeting that they were “ashamed” of the church’s decision.
Among existing bishops, 44 voted for women to join their ranks, three voted against and two abstained. Among priests, 148 were in favour and 45 against. Of the laity, 132 were in favour and 74 were against. Forty-two of the church’s 42 dioceses have previously backed women as bishops.
The church will not vote on the issue again for at least five years. But there has been speculation that women priests might turn to civil law for redress, asking that the church be stripped of its exemption to obey equal-employment laws.
Before the vote, Sally Muggeridge of Canterbury asked who would go to see the Queen, a woman, and “tell her that we’ve failed her?”
Canon Jane Charman of Salisbury described the debate as “one of the most inward looking? I can remember”, saying a spin doctor did not exist who could make excluding women sound like good news to the outside world: “Synod, we need to pass this legislation.”
But speakers opposing the measure cited scripture as the basis for their refusal of “female headship”.
The synod was voting on a compromise measure that would have allowed women bishops but left wriggle room for conservative evangelicals, with women bishops able to “delegate” authority to a male bishop if their parish requested it. The incoming Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, said the compromise was “as good as we can get”.
But Edward Armitstead of Bath said the measure was unsatisfactory and that opponents of female bishops had not really been listened to: “The measure as it stands is discriminatory and does not offer reassurance to the almost a third of members who cannot accept female headship.”
Bishop Peter Forster of Chester said he was uncomfortable with the ordination of women as bishops even though he gladly ordained female priests. The proposed change would allow parishes to choose their own bishops and would mean bishops “will not be in Eucharistic communion with one another”.
Women spoke against the measure too. Rosemary Lyon said she was not a misogynist but “we need to stick with scripture.”
“Please vote against this. There is a better way,” she said.
Canon Rebecca Swyer of Chichester said she felt the church did not have the authority to make this decision.
Rod Thomas of Exeter said the compromise would still mean recognising the authority of female bishops, something he believed was not accepted in scripture.
But Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams asked how long the church could sustain a system in which some priests are blocked from being bishops. He said he wanted the church to “liberate itself” from the issue so that no more time and energy would be spent on it.
First published in The Age.