Last week, the Church of England was put in the spotlight while the General Synod finally gathered to decide on the acceptance of women bishops. The vote was held after more than fifteen years of struggle and debate.
A sense of profound deception accompanied the result as the Synod rejected the motion. It was a matter of six votes within the laity house which crushed the hopes of accepting women’s ordination.
Looking back on the events, many have commented that the result was expected, the Church not yet ready for such an important change. However, tracing media feeds from the past few weeks support for women bishops seems to be the overriding opinion.
The outgoing Archibishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, as well as the incoming one and current bishop of Durham, Justin Welby, had both spoken in favour of women entering the bishopric; and it seemed that many within the Church were ready for the change.
More radical views have raised the concern that the rebuff had put the Church into a serious crisis. It is argued that the rejection of women bishop crystallises the incapacity of the institution to adapt to modern society.
The dismissal of women bishop does not, by itself, generate an acute crisis, however it illustrates the escalation of deeper problem of the Church to recognise the needs and demands of our current society.
To fully understand the debate, it is useful to grasp the complicated system of vote count which was used. The General Synod is composed of three houses: the bishops, the clergy and the laity. Though the two-third majority necessary for the proposal to pass was met in both the houses of the bishops and the clergy, it is the house of the laity which, six votes short, blocked the motion. Another way of looking at it: 42 of 44 dioceses voted in favour of the legislation.
The legislation was thus not blocked by a large majority of traditionalists, but by a minority defending the motto “equal but different “and an archaic decision-making and voting system.
Defendants of the motion have talked of “embarrassment” and “shame” regarding the outcome of the General Synod’s decision. Such powerful statements are the blunt evidence of the increasing discrepancy between members of the Church’s authorities, and its public representation.
The Church’s structure is at crisis and cries for reform: it is its intrinsic rigidity which serves the interests of the minority of ultra conservative. What is conveyed through the results of the vote can be described as institutionalised sexism: in the 21st century, women are depicted by the Church as less able than men to provide spiritual and moral guidance.
Although, since 1992, women have been granted the right to priesthood, those against women bishops underline the need for a larger consensus in order for women to have greater importance within the church. At a time when feminism has real resonance in our modern society, the Church is clearly sending the wrong message to women and challenges their spiritual and religious purpose. The question is; how will Christian women react to such a stand: resignation ? resentment? anger?
The legislation for women’s ordination will not be able to be decided upon again in the three next years; until then, the debate can only escalate.Published on The Yorker on November 26, 2012 http://www.theyorker.co.uk/comment/opinion/society/12893-no-to-women-bishops-a And on “Ones to Watch” on November 27, 2012 http://onestowatchmedia.com/2012/11/27/what-next-for-the-church-of-england/