Get Ready for Judgement Day

Get Ready for Judgement Day

Later today the Church of England (CofE) votes for the most significant changes to church law in almost 20 years. The Church has had women priests since 1994, and now they will vote on allowing women Bishops. In order for it to be passed however, the bill needs a two-thirds majority in all three houses of the synod. For a selected few, this measure will always be theologically incorrect and for others, this legislation is the result of a long and drawn out process, and as one female priest put it, one in which “all the joy has been sucked out” . But what are the consequences of a no vote? The outgoing Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan William, believes that voting against this historic piece of legislation could prove “publicly embarrassing and internally draining”, and that “voting against the legislation risks committing us to a period of continued and perhaps intensified internal conflict with no clearly guaranteed outcome.”

A photo of Rowan Williams
Archbishop of Canterbury. Rowan Williams

The potential schism is due to a hardcore of the CofE’s Evangelicals and Anglo-Catholics opposing the appointment of women bishops. Some clergy and believers do not accept a woman can be a valid bishop, that scripture requires male leadership in the Church and ordaining women prevents unity with the Roman Catholics. Indeed conservative members of the Catholic Group in Synod, Reformists and the Church of England Evangelical Council have already said they will vote against the legislation as they do not feel the measure makes enough provision for their needs and beliefs. However it’s estimated that only 3 per cent of Church of England parishes don’t want women clergy.

In a letter to the Times, 327 clergy united to condemn the legislation, claiming it “comes nowhere near” to giving them assurance that they will have the right to opt out of the control by a female bishop.

Dr Katharine Jefferts Schori - 300x450 Verified
The Most Reverend Dr. Katharine Jefferts Schori, 26th Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church (US)

In May this year an amendment was made to the bill to reassure its opponents, allowing parishes who do not want a woman bishop to request a stand-in male bishop who shares their beliefs about the ordination of women. However, the pressure group Women and the Church (WATCH) said the amendment “would entrench permanent division”. It was subsequently re-phased by Rev Janet Appleby which declares that the male bishop (standing in for a woman bishop) should be selected in a manner that “respects” the reasons parishes have for requesting them. This change gives future women bishops more control in selecting a substitute for a particular parish; obligating them only to respect theological objections. We all thought OMG a solution, amen.

However opponents of women bishops want to know that the male bishop looking after them is one that does not support women’s ordination, they also do not want a stand-in bishop who gets his authority from a woman diocesan bishop. Supporters also feel they have already made massive concessions by writing into law that some Anglicans do not believe women should be priests and bishops. Adding that giving a stand-in male bishop autonomous authority, would effectively make a women bishop in that diocese a second-class bishop. Unfortunately, the forgotten 11th amendment, thou shall not hold up legislation with months of arguing is not widely known.

Forward in Faith, a group for traditionalists, has dismissed the Appleby Amendment and on the other side Sally Barnes, from the campaign group (WATCH), said on the Appleby Amendment “they are very softly nuanced words but still contain discrimination” …So basically after months of negotiation no-one is happy with the bill.

A BBC poll suggests nearly 80% of people support women bishops and one in five would have a less favourable view of the Church if women were not allowed to become bishops. It seems many people believe discrimination should be left in the past with 8 track cassette players, leotards, and mary quant hampers. We may well someday have a female Archbishop of Canterbury and York, and diocesan bishops who head the 42 other Church of England (CofE) dioceses in England. If a yes vote is passed those who oppose women’s ordination may have to obey women as their superiors in the Church and women bishops would also be able to ordain priests. In the long run, approval by the CofE would also encourage those who are starting to call for the ordination of women in the Roman Catholic Church to think the unthinkable.

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