Monday, 7 July 2008

Women Bishops: Single Clause pretty much wins the day

Update: Never mind, eh? See here.

According to Ruth Gledhill's blog, the Bishop of Dover, chairing the General Synod, sat weeping after saying these words just before the final vote which approved the introduction of women bishops with nothing more than a 'Code of Practice' to provide for those who cannot receive their ministry:

"I have to say that for the first time in my life I feel ashamed. We have talked for hours about wanting to give an honourable place for those who disagreed. We have turned down almost every opportunity for those opposed to flourish. And we still talk the talk of being inclusive and generous. The Rochester report said in many many pages that there were a variety of ways in which scripture and reason could be read with integrity. It argued over and over again that it is possible to be a loyal member of the CofE and [accept] some legal safeguards for those who oppose the ordination of women. It is not just those who are opposed to the ordination of women who find the motion we have at the moment difficult. I do. Where is the CofE about which we have spoken today? Is this CofE to which we have come to in this vote the CofE at its best? I have to say I doubt it. Is this the CofE to which I thought I belonged? I have to say with huge sadness, I doubt it."

The fact that Tom Wright, the Bishop of Durham then moved (unsuccessfully) for an adjournment may make Open Evangelicals at least pause for thought about what has been done.


Final form of the substantive motion

As a result of the two successful amendments (67 and 76) the final form of the substantive motion became:

That this Synod:
(a) affirm that the wish of its majority is for women to be admitted to the episcopate;
(b) affirm its view that special arrangements be available, within the existing structures of the Church of England, for those who as a matter of theological conviction will not be able to receive the ministry of women as bishops or priests;
(c) affirm that these should be contained in a statutory national code of practice to which all concerned would be required to have regard; and
(d) instruct the legislative drafting group, in consultation with the House of Bishops, to complete its work accordingly, including preparing the first draft of a code of practice, so that the Business Committee can include first consideration of the draft legislation in the agenda for the February 2009 group of sessions.

After a vote by houses the substantive motion was carried.
Voting figures


No comments will be posted without a full name and location, see the


  1. Hi John - commiserations mate. I've been following it all night and of course I feel pleased by what has occurred. I don't fully understand yet quite where it leaves you guys but as regards my hopes for working one day in the Church in a fuller capacity, it does of course help my psychology. I remember discovering that my own theological convictions were actually an integrity and how much of a boost this gave me. In the conservative parish where I live, I had at one point felt very isolated in my beliefs. I now feel as though I can put my experiences behind me and move on for real so that I might shake off this political episode and concentrate on the real business of taking the message of Christ out there into the world unashamedly - the church has now recognised what I feel is demonstrated in the Bible - that Christ and St Paul did indeed turn the world upside down - that God has created us all mere vessels and He has no favourites but would ultimately want for us all to reveal the truth of his message and of His son in the varied and various ways that we can in the many shapes and sizes that we come.

    Blessings Rachel

  2. Hi Rachel

    This is what the Manchester Report said would result from the kind of vote the Synod has just taken:

    "There is no doubt, therefore, that proceeding with legislation that removed the earlier safeguards would trigger a period of uncertainty and turbulence within the Church of England. Many priests and congregations would undoubtedly leave. The Church of England that emerged at the end of the process might possibly be more cohesive. It would undoubtedly be less theologically diverse."

    I think it should be commiserations all round.


  3. I'm really struggling to work out how on earth someone with our (John R's and mine, which i suspect are fairly similar) views on the role of women could possibly serve as a priest in the church now. How could one undertake a vow of obedience to a woman bishop, and thereby become complicit in them having a leadership role over you that you don't think they should have over you.

    Until recently, I was seriously considering a vocation into the church of england - now I'm really not so sure.


  4. Hi John

    Clearly unless something is done (and that would be a rarity amongst Conservative Evangelicals) the flow of Conservative Evangelicals into the Church of England ministry will diminish to zero in time.

    So ... is anything going to be done, I ask myself.


  5. I would like to make, if I may, an observation about Bp. Tom Wright's unsuccessful attempt to adjourn the debate.

    While I was studying for my final exams at Oxford (in physics, not theology) in 1972, I had several opportunities to bowl to Tom Wright in some improvised cricket nets that had been set up on the large lawn at the back of Wycliffe Hall, where he was then an ordinand.

    As a batsman he had been well, but only half, taught. If a ball was pitched on a good length, or slightly more, he played very well off the front foot. He could drive especially well, on both the off- and on-sides. I found, however, that if the ball was pitched short of a length, he got into all sorts of trouble. At that time (I don't know if he ever worked on it later) he had almost no back play at all, while his forward play looked as if it came straight out of a text-book.

    I never had an opportunity to face him in an actual match, but after bowling to him two or three times in the nets, I thought a fairly simple strategy would serve to get him out. My approach would be, in the main, to pitch the balls slightly short of a length, so the delivery would reach him at the level of his wrists. This would keep him quiet, since he had almost no way of scoring from such balls, and there was a good chance, with a little movement off the seam, of getting an edge to the slips. While also mixing it up with a few good length balls to keep him guessing, I would look for an opportunity, after keeping him off-balance with a series of short-pitched deliveries, to slip in an overpitched inswinger aimed, if possible, to land at his feet. A yorker (no pun intended) of this type stood a good chance of taking him by surprise, and bowling him. (I later saw Ian Botham use just this old simple strategy to dismiss one of the Australians in the 1981 Ashes series. )

    My overall sense was, that if I bowled to his strengths, where he was well-schooled and learned, he would shine. However, if I kept him on the defensive, and forced him into an area where he was much less familiar, he looked surprisingly weaker.

    It would be just too fanciful to say: "in church politics as in cricket," but I couldn't help reflecting on this over the last few days as I read Tom Wright's written responses to GAFCON, and today about his attempted intervention in the synod debate. I get the sense of a very gifted thinker trying to come to grips with events which are beyond even his wide compass. He hasn't grasped the nature of the struggle which has just started. The two sides are closing ranks on both sides of the field, practically everything is in play, and we are just beginning to learn the rules.

    Whatever is coming, we just have to trust, as Bp. Nazir Ali said in the press conference at GAFCON, that God will protect his Church.


  6. Topper has provided a full name and location but asked for it to be withheld.

  7. Well the Church of England hasn't changed that much if we can still compare everything to cricket! :)(For American readers of this blog: that's a bit like basbeball, but for grown ups).

    Seriously: Rachel, thank you for your lack of triumphalism- it is much appreciated. What this means is

    a. another step has been taken in a process David Wells calls "the weightlessness of God"(David Wells, "God in the Wasteland" IVP 1994, chapter 5): "I do not mean by this that he is ethereal, but that he is unimportant. He rests upon the world so inconsequentially as not to be noticeable. He has lost his saliency for human life". The C of E has just said to the world that we do not have to listen to God if we don't like what he says. Why should they listen when we tell them the gospel?
    b. that the gay rights activists have won. The hermeneutical somersaults used by open evangelicals to justify women's ordination follow the same method used to get around passages like Romans 1:18-32. Full acceptance of homosexual practice in the C of E is now inevitable.

    My wife gave birth to a beautiful little girl on Saturday night. I am now desperately afraid for what kind of church she will grow up in.

    Steve Walton
    Marbury, Cheshire

  8. These are reflections from someone outside the episcopal tradition. They are therefore rather insensitive but I hope sufficiently independent of 'sides' that they can be heard.
    Two things worry me about the vote taken.
    First, I can understand the dismay of the Bishop of Dover, the sense of shame, as the vote seems to have decided to ignore previous undertakings and I think that is a far more serious matter than the issue of women bishops. The church is meant to be a community of integrity and I think that the vote undermines that.
    Secondly, since I am not an episcopalian (although working and worshipping at an Anglican church), I find it hard to understand why the issue is so important to Evangelical Anglicans. Conservative Evangelicals within the Church of England have always maintained good relations with nonconformist types. Thus, it seems that they acknowledge that bishops are not necessary in the same way as the gospel, the Bible or the sacraments. If bishops are not necessary, and let's face it some of them are distinctly unnecessary, why does it matter if they are women or men? For years Evangelical Anglicans had survived an episcopacy that was horrendous. Why does it matter so very much if the bishop is a woman, perhaps even a godly and orthodox woman? Evangelicals have always had to cope with bishops who should not be bishops. Even if they consider it inappropriate for women to be a bishop, can they not rejoice when they get a godly bishop even when a woman? It seems a lot better than what many have now.
    What I am saying is that the issue seems to have gathered a significance that is appropriate only to fundamentals such as the gospel, when the issue does not merit it. The letter to the Galatians is a tract directed against giving non gospel things a kind of gospel status.
    Thank you for allowing an outsider to comment
    Tim Keene

  9. A quick response to Stephen Walton's remarks, linking the women bishops issue with homosexuality, I fail to see the link. There is a book by William J Webb, Slaves, Women and Homosexuals, which argues very coherently against any such link, however often asserted.
    Tim Keene

  10. Stephen Walton, I expect your little girl will grow up in a church where she learns that women can make coffee, wash-up and teach little people but that she can never ever presume to teach a man even if her biblical Greek is a good deal better than his.

  11. To Stephen Walton
    I have two little girls and as I've said on Re vis.e Re form today:
    In 2015 (when we will see first female bishops) my girls will be 10 and 13 and I'll be 40.
    With two daughters currently aged three and six, I am pleased that they will grow up in a Church that is represented by both men and women in leadership positions right the way to the top - or should that be the bottom - after all this pyramid is an inverted one and it's about servant-heartedness not power. They 'get' inclusive church. I've tried to explain to them what happened last night and they 'get it' and they don't see it from the point of view of their society either - they are too young to understand worldly priorities. They understand it biblically, as much as they can at this age. 'God loves ladies and men' they say and 'but mummy, Jill's a vicar, so she can be a bishop too' (our church in Derby). When we listen to a Spring Harvest Track in the car from the album 'Wonderful Saviour' called 'Beauty Unspoken' - the words of which I've included underneath, my three year old daughter choruses 'NOT ME - ALL OF US' and we all laugh. Even at the age of three, she is beginning to appreciate the hugeness of God's love.

    Beauty Unspoken
    Glory unchanging
    Maker of the stars above
    God uncreated
    Made yourself nothing
    Carrying the cross for love

    Light in the darkness
    One with the Father
    The beginning and the end
    Lifter of burdens
    Bruised and forsaken
    Jesus Christ the sinners friend

    You are love never ending
    Your grace overwhelming
    Crucified for me
    And this blood never failing
    Your mercy unveiling
    Given lord for me

    Thank you God
    Thank you God
    Thank you God
    For Saving me

    I know I'll never change Anglican Mainstream's opinions on 'male headship' but why not just open yourselves up to the scholarly work that has been done in this area. Gilbert Belizikian was a complementarian, until he looked at the grammar and the Hebrew and Greek more closely - his analyses of passages that have often been used to prohibit women's leadership in Church is very convincing. Also, one thing I don't understand is that if we worship a God who is interested in all of our lives - where the secular becomes spiritual if people are taking God with them through the power of His Holy Spirit where ever they go, then why separate these places, with women 'keeping silent' in Church but nowhere else. Doesn't a trad. conservative have to be consistent - if he thinks women should 'remain silent' and not 'teach a man' in the church then surely they shouldn't teach him anything anywhere. Conservative Evangelicals should similarly decline the services of female lawyers, teachers, doctors etc too and is this really the kind of world God wants our little girls (and little boys - what a responsibility) to grow up in?
    Yours in Christ

  12. Rachel

    What does your husband think of all this?


  13. My husband doesn't understand the conservative traditional stereotypical mindset - I say stereotypical because all labels fail to identify anybody really. We've discussed these things at great length over many years. Our marriage is definitely worked out on the basis of giftings and personal fulfilment and what is best for our whole family unit - we could never reduce issues to mere gender divides - wow - you know in some ways that would be so and too easy - 'hey - you're a man- your job!' - 'You're the woman - your job!' We have a lot of fun with all this - he jokes with me sometimes- 'submit to me woman - submit!' and we laugh. It works so well - the giftings thing - I know what his strengths are and he knows what mine our and so we let each other lead in certain areas of life, where, because of that person's skills, we as a family will benefit more overall. When I became pregnant for the first time and we were both earning the same salaries, we talked about whoever could make for a more secure living whilst feeling personally fulfilled would go out to work, the other would stay home to raise the children until school age. His career took off, mine as a teacher could be put on hold.My enthusiasm for my career also waned on the birth of our children and also breast feeding two children for two years each (excuse the details here) was just something he couldn't do - so I was happy to become main carer. In Sept 08 all will change but still the overall happiness of our whole family unit is our priority - I will study part -time and also care for the children, he will continue to bring 'home the bacon' - yes it's all very traditional but it's a choice. I feel so lucky to be in this marriage - my husband does all the ironing - he's faster - I cook - I'm more skilled. He takes both his daughters to ballet every Saturady morning for nine o'clock and I have a break from the usual morning routine (that is an incredible bonding experience for his daughters)- it works you know - I truly recommend it and it has all come about because of what we believe is God's will for us that we 'Submit to each other out of reverence to Christ' the NIV really shouldn't be attaching verse 21 to the paragraph before you know - it's just not accurate.

    Excuse the length of this post
    In Christ and so happy about it

  14. Rachel,
    You are obviously someone who loves Jesus, and I would be interested in your view on a question related to this matter. I am open to persuasion on the issue of women's roles in ministry, though I have met many godly Christians, both men and women, who are committed to the complementarian view, and who hold this view on the basis of Scripture. Perhaps contrary to your experience, I think that, properly applied, this view does not imply that God loves men more than women, or anything like that. In short, I don't see the complementarian view as being manifestly evil or unjust (not that this was what you were implying), though it may potentially be incorrect.

    My real issue in this debate is that, on my reading of Paul's letters especially, I think that it is possible for a course of action to be morally wrong, not because of anything inherent to the action, but because by carrying it out one causes others to stumble or be led astray. Therefore, supposing it is allowable for women to be bishops, it might still be wrong for them to serve in this way if by doing so they cause others to fall. What do you think on this? If there is a group of Christians who (perhaps incorrectly) are convicted, on the basis of Scripture, that women should not be bishops, should women refrain from being bishops for their sake?

    From my days at university, I can remember a few liberal-leaning Anglicans being mortally offended by the Christian Union asking people to sign up to a doctrinal basis before they were allowed to serve in certain roles - in their view it was well out of order to be so narrow-minded. It would be ironic if the same Anglicans were to end up creating an effective Church of England 'doctrinal basis', excluding those who hold to a complementarian position on women's ministry.

    God bless.

    Chris Illingworth

  15. Hi Chris
    Re My real issue in this debate is that, on my reading of Paul's letters especially, I think that it is possible for a course of action to be morally wrong, not because of anything inherent to the action, but because by carrying it out one causes others to stumble or be led astray.

    I absolutely agree that a course of action can be a stumbling block to others - Paul certainly brings our attention to this. You know, on that basis I feel that women in leadership roles actually helps to bring the gospel to our society: it is a society in which women are treated as equals, are being given the same access to education and jobs. I do not read women's prohibition in ministry as discriminatory or sexist because this is articlating it socio-politically and not theologically and I set my discussions inside a biblical framework which sometimes means it's hard for people of the world to understand me. What your ref. to stumbling blocks actually does though, is make me consider my culture, Paul became one with the people he was directing towards God, in order to meet them where they were at and not thrust something upon them or 'lord' it over them. We do actually need to meet the women of our society where they are at so that they don't encounter stumbling blocks in their journey towards God, for if their culture values them, educates them and affirms them, then Christianity should too. If a new Christian woman is faced with the idea that her husband should be her Lord and she should not use her giftings to bring others to faith, even if she has all the qualities desired in a bishop or vicar then surely this teaching would be a stumbling block to her in her development as a Christian. So yes, I absolutely agree with you but I perhaps differ in my application of this wisdom from St Paul.
    Every Blessing
    Rachel at Re vis.e Re form

  16. John - does this help - maybe you could go and seek advice:

    Pastoral Letter from the Bishop of London. July 9th 2008.

    Dear Friends,

    You will be aware by now that the General Synod has voted for the legislative process to begin which will open the way to the consecration of women bishops, possibly as early as 2012. The majorities for this change were substantial in all three houses of bishops, clergy and laity. For many this will be a cause for rejoicing. As Paul says in Romans XII: 15, we are to “rejoice with them that rejoice and weep with them that weep”. The question remains of how to honour the promises made when women were ordained to the priesthood that those who could not accept the decision of General Synod as one authorised by scripture and tradition would continue to have a secure and honoured place in the life of our church. It was clear from the debate on Monday that there are profound doubts about whether a national code of practice could provide such a “secure and honoured place”.

    I believe that the London Plan has provided a secure framework within which we have not only been able to live together in one church for more than ten years but we have been able in unity to address the agenda which God has put before us as a Christian community called to serve him at the beginning of the 21st century. In one of my speeches in this Synod which attracted rather less media attention than the events of Monday, I rehearsed some of the most significant challenges facing us as human race – “climate change, the flaws and forces of globalisation, the scramble for resources, the conjunction of weapons of mass destruction and the lethal ambitions of people with an apocalyptic view on life”. To these we might add some of the more pressing issues in our own country and Diocese – the violence on our streets and the waste of young life, the fragility of relationships particularly within the family, social fragmentation and the loss of a moral compass. All these will become more obvious as the euphoria generated by a booming economy is replaced by anxieties which the most vulnerable members of our community, those least able to insulate themselves, feel most acutely.

    I believe that estrangement from God and ignorance of the work and person of Jesus Christ, God’s human face, lie at the heart of the challenge which the whole world faces. I am also convinced that only through one of the greatest and innermost renovations it has ever gone through will the world be saved and enabled to maintain itself. Our own Diocesan Synod has endorsed the London Challenge 2012 as a distillation of our corporate response to the agenda which God is putting before us in the suffering and turbulence of our world. It would really be a tragedy if we were to be distracted from this work which needs our combined prayer and energy. With all this in mind I am summoning a Sacred Synod for those who wish to consult about how to reaffirm and reinvigorate the London Plan. We shall be able to discuss the potential of the Plan for keeping open that “secure and honoured place” which has been promised to those who share the Great Commission of Jesus Christ to make disciples of all the nations but whose convictions do not enable them to accept that the consecration of women as bishops is authorised by scripture or tradition.

    I am grateful to the Rector of All Souls, Langham Place, Hugh Palmer for making his church available for this gathering on Friday October 3rd. This date is some days before the next meeting of the House of Bishops and I hope that it may be possible as a result of our deliberations to make a substantial contribution to the thinking of the House.

    With thanks for our partnership in the Gospel.

    The Rt Revd & Rt Hon Richard Chartres DD FSA

  17. Stephen Walton - what do you make of the way Tom Wright reads passages like Romans 1:18-32?