Wednesday, November 21, 2012

No Lady Bishops in the Church of England

The General Synod of the Church of England held what was billed as a "final" vote on whether or not to consecrate women as bishops.  The vote failed to get the necessary two thirds majority to pass in all three houses.  It passed in Bishops, passed in Clergy, and failed by just 6 votes to pass in the Laity.  The measure will not be considered for a vote again for another 5 years.  This is a devastating blow to all those who have been working since 1960 for full equality in the Church of England, and I suspect a Pyrrhic victory for those who opposed it.

I would imagine that those who opposed women bishops (and women's ordination in general) would rejoice in a possible exodus of progressives from the church, but there is no guarantee that would happen.  What they might get instead is an even more militant and determined effort for women's full equality, and one that is willing to act precipitously since it no longer has anything to lose.

As always, Simon Sarmiento over at Thinking Anglicans has all the reports, statements, and commentary in exhaustive detail here, here, here, here, and here.  I think the Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams was right in his comments that however the vote went, there was bound to be rancor, but that the clear will of the majority of the Church of England in all of its houses was thwarted by so narrow a vote by a determined minority must be especially rancorous and galling.  I cannot see any good coming from this.  I see an even more conflicted Church of England in an even steeper decline, seen by an increasingly secular England as still more hopelessly archaic and out of step with the increasingly egalitarian social morality shared by a large and growing majority of its citizens, and out of step with their experiences.  What is worst of all, those same citizens see the Church's determined resistance to equality as out of step with its own Gospel proclamation.

This is a huge blow to those of us who take seriously the message that men and women were created in God's image, and that in Christ there is no male or female. 

The Episcopal Church was always famous/notorious for acting precipitously in matters of social change.  The ordination of women in the Episcopal Church came about not through parliamentary debate and legislation, but because some members acted and forced the church to take a stand.  In 1974, three bishops ordained 11 women to the priesthood in Philadelphia, the "Philadelphia Eleven."  Those involved faced disciplinary actions and not only refused to back down, but attracted others to their cause who also were not deterred by disciplinary threats.  By 1976, the General Convention of the Episcopal Church decided to ordain women into all 3 orders of the clergy, deacons, priests, and bishops.  The consecration of Gene Robinson as Bishop of New Hampshire was also a precipitous act on the part of the Diocese of New Hampshire, forcing the church to consider the ordination of openly gay and partnered clergy.

That legacy of precipitous action arguably came back to bite the Episcopal Church when some diocesan bishops began leaving the church and taking their dioceses with them (or trying to anyway), though the mass exodus of laity and clergy darkly predicted by the detractors of the Episcopal Church has so far failed to materialize.  On the other hand, those precipitous actions did force the church to confront and deal with very real issues that people outside the church door must face daily.

For all of its internal warfare and constant problems, the Episcopal Church seems a model of institutional health compared to the Church of England.
Archbishop Williams leaves the Church of England in the impossible position of trying to advance equality while maintaining consensus.  This leaves the Church as an institution paralyzed in stalemate unable to move forward or back.

My friend David Kaplan is a member of a Conservative Jewish congregation.  He likens the Conservative movement in American Judaism to the Episcopal Church.  They are both compromise religious movements trying hold on to tradition while seeking to comprehend and adapt to modern experience.  As he says, such a position is intellectually indefensible, and yet only fanatics could thrive in a world where religion and modernity are completely segregated from each other.

Piero della Francesca, Mary Magdalene

One thing David Kaplan points out is that all of the religious fundamentalist movements around the world, Christian, Jewish, Muslim, and Hindu, are militantly opposed to feminism and seem to be deeply threatened by the very idea of female equality and female sexuality.
I wonder what that is all about.


The comment threads over on Thinking Anglicans are crackling with anger this morning.


Parliament gets involved in the issue, and expresses its exasperation.  You can watch the discussion in Commons here.  Something which is hard for us Yanks to understand and appreciate is that The Church of England is part of the historic constitutional settlement of Britain.  The C of E is a state church, and an integral part of the unwritten constitution, and so the decisions it makes have consequences beyond the parish councils and cathedral chapters.
Do I think we have the better system here in the USA where governments and churches stay out of each others' business (for the most part)?
Of course.


There may be precedents.  For example, here is the very controversial 9th century mosaic from the Chapel of Zeno in the Church of San Prasaede in Rome showing Theodora, the mother of Pope Paschal I with the title "Episcopa."

And here is a detail of an anonymous 15th century French painting showing the Virgin Mary as a priest.

1 comment:

JCF said...

"Where God is male, man is God": Mary Daly.

Where God isn't male, man-on-dog??!!11!!1!

Poor, poor CofE...

God bless TEC!