As the United States experienced a wave of social progress in the wake of its last general election, the United Kingdom saw a significant setback with the Church of England’s decision to reject women bishops. The nation remains one of the few in the developed world where women cannot become ordained as Anglican bishops. However, strong support among church leaders suggests the situation may change in the coming years.
The decision was a close one and reflects the Church of England’s ongoing struggle between traditionalist and progressive clergy. On Tuesday, 20 November, the Church’s ecclesiastical legislature, the General Synod, voted on the consecration of female bishops at its headquarters, Church House in London, but fell just short of the two-thirds majority required in all three houses for passage of the proposal. While the houses of bishops and clergy passed the proposal, the house of laity rejected it by only four votes. Because of the way the General Synod is organized, a “no” vote means the ordination of women bishops cannot be voted on again for another five years.
For the growing number of Anglican clerics who support female bishops, the decision was disappointing and frustrating, but church leaders have expressed a strong commitment to reforming Church law, which only allows women to become a minister. According to Reuters, Justin Welby, who will replace Rowan Williams as Archbishop of Canterbury at year’s end, said “[i]t’s clear that woman are going to be bishops in the Church of England,” and that “[i]t was a pretty grim day for the whole church,” but that “there is a lot to be done but I am absolutely confident that at some point I will consecrate a woman bishop.” In addition to the changing attitudes among church spiritual leaders, independent churches in countries like the United States, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand which belong to the worldwide Anglican Communion already allow women to become ordained bishops.
The Universal Life Church Monastery shares the frustration felt by the many spiritual leaders who filled the halls of Church House when the Synod announced its decision. Like the Anglicans who champion ecclesiastical reform in the face of centuries-old tradition, the ULC Monastery resists traditionalist efforts to exclude women from top spiritual leadership positions. It seems especially unfair to impose a two-thirds majority on a proposal to allow just half the population to assume such positions. A truly whole and complete church is one which recognizes the wisdom and spiritual authority of all its followers, male and female alike.
We may not see a woman become a bishop in the English Church for at least another five years, but the change in attitudes on the part of church leaders regarding women in top leadership positions is changing rapidly. If the institution is going to remain relevant to the majority of Britons, it will have to adapt to modern-day sensibilities and abandon the staid and passé “appeal to tradition” argument. This should not be a controversial decision. For as Galatians 3:28 states, “[t]here is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus.” Letting women be ordained ministers is not enough; the Church must let them be bishops, too.
Huffington Post: “Church of England Rejects Women Bishops In Vote”
Huffington Post: “Archbishop Justin Welby: Church Of England Will Have Women Bishops”