The Church of England voted not to ordain female bishops last week, a move widely seen as defying the modern world. Much justification was given for this view.
Both the retiring and the incoming archbishops of Canterbury deplored the vote. The former, the scholarly (and “greatly saddened”) Rowan Williams, said, “It seems as if we are willfully blind to some of the trends and priorities of … wider society.” The incoming Justin Welby took a more upbeat view, one appropriate for a former senior oil executive. “There is a lot to be done,” he said, “but I am absolutely confident that at some point I will consecrate a woman bishop.” Still, Welby conceded that the vote was “a pretty grim day for the whole church.”
British Prime Minister David Cameron, pausing in the midst of his battle to reduce European Union spending, snapped that the church needed to “get with the program” and that his task was, while respecting its autonomy, to give it a “sharp prod.” A succession of clergy, men and women, lamented the decision, some crying demonstratively on the street outside the hall where the synod – the church’s parliament – met.
The “victors” were a minority who scraped together a little more than the one-third of votes needed under the gathering’s constitution to block the change. The bishops and the clergy in the Synod voted overwhelmingly for gender equality, but the conservatives, the evangelicals and the Anglo-Catholics were stronger among the laity and “won.”
Immediately afterward, Ben Bradshaw, a former Labor Culture Secretary, said in the House of Commons that since the church “is established and answerable to Parliament,” that body should debate the question of whether it could remain exempt from equality legislation, which if applied would render its decision on women bishops illegal.