CoE allows women bishops

July 14, 2014 • 9:17 am

Well, the Church of England has finally stopped disenfranchising half of humanity, at least as far as being bishops in their church is concerned. Now I don’t know why anybody would want to be a bishop, but if they allow men then they should allow women. The BBC has just reported this:

The Church of England has voted to allow women to become bishops for first time in its history.

The General Synod gave final approval to legislation introducing the change by the required two-thirds majority.

The previous vote in 2012 was backed by the Houses of Bishops and Clergy but blocked by traditionalist lay members.

The Archbishop of York asked for the result to be met “with restraint and sensitivity” but there was a flurry of cheers when it was announced.

The crucial vote in the House of Laity went 152 in favour, 45 against, and there were five abstentions. In November 2012 the change was derailed by just six votes cast by the lay members.

In the house of Bishops, 37 were in favour, two against, and there was one abstention. The House of Clergy voted 162 in favour, 25 against and there were four abstentions.

The vote overturns centuries of tradition in a Church that has been deeply divided over the issue. It comes more than 20 years after women were first allowed to become priests.

Women bishops could be appointed by the end of this year in the Church of England after legislation backing the move was give final approval by the General Synod.

The vote followed after almost five hours of debate at the University of York.

Of course there’s a disclaimer for the sexists:

It contained concessions for those parishes unwilling to serve under a woman bishop – giving them the right to ask for a male alternative and to take disputes to an independent arbitrator.

What I’m wondering is this: is it on religious grounds that they previously prohibited women from these positions? If so, what has changed: did God change His mind, or did someone get a revelation that scripture needed reinterpreting? Or was it simply that the secular tide in society favoring equality of the sexes finally swept up the church?

Once again we have evidence that secular morality changes before religious morality does, i.e., a demonstration of the Euthyphro argument.

h/t: pyers


91 thoughts on “CoE allows women bishops

  1. Exactly what I was thinking. The mere fact that something so fundamental to religious doctrine can be determined by a parliamentary body pretty much puts paid to the notion that this has any connection with the divine, doesn’t it?

    I mean, if Jesus had some skin in the game, they wouldn’t need to vote, would they? He should be quite capable of drawing just the tiniest bit of omnipotence to, say, sit down with everybody involved over a nice cup of tea, explain it to them simply and brilliantly with his omniscience, and have clear unanimity without even the need of calling the question.

    …unless, of course, he’s just everybody’s name for their own imaginary friend….


    1. “I mean, if Jesus had some skin in the game, they wouldn’t need to vote, would they? He should be quite capable of drawing just the tiniest bit of omnipotence to, say, sit down with everybody involved over a nice cup of tea, explain it to them simply and brilliantly with his omniscience, and have clear unanimity without even the need of calling the question.”

      Nope, sorry. Some people are just too willing to let Satan lead them astray, and even Jebus can’t stop that.
      How can we tell that someone is in thrall to the Evil One? Easy. They are the ones that don’t vote the way I do.

    2. The English (church) like to put the conscience into Christ, and course, anyone who has one can speak for Christ.

    3. There was no miracle of the Pentacost. The Holy Spirit does exactly what you’d expect for an imaginary being, i.e. tell each person just what each wants to hear.

    1. That brings us up to…what? 37,165,575 Christian sects? I think…might have lost count somewhere along the way, when Baihu jumped on my shoulders….


      1. I think of it a bit like those sweet counters in cinemas – you take your bag & stuff it with whatever takes your fancy! Iyou decide on some flavours though, it is as if the assitant will never allow you to taste any others.

        We atheists are those who choose to go sugar free.

    2. The Catholic church is waiting with open arms to welcome all those Anglicans too bigoted and misogynistic to deal with female bishops.

      Assuming there are any left after the last lot of homophobic Anglicans jumped ship for the Catholic church over the ordination of homosexual clergy.

      Remember boys and girls, atheists are the ones without a moral compass because they don’t derive their morality from goat herder snuff porn as mediated by child abusers who preach celibacy and poverty while living in stolen palaces full of looted art treasures.

        1. I think that bears repeating Dominic. There are married priests in the Catholic church. A married priesthood is anathema to the Vatican, but when an opportunity arises to poach priests from a rival cult then who needs principles?

        1. send them as postcards – you might as well spread the message to Post Office workers too.
          sorry, on P.O. any more, is it. Consignia? FatCatRipOffia? Something like that.

    3. Yep.

      Goodbye to a lot of the African congregations, who are the major source of new members.

      Death-knell, methinks.

      1. The old Archbishop called England a “post-Christian” nation, and some other church official said the the CoE would be on the fringe of society in a generation or two. Here’s hoping they’re right!

      2. I don’t know. Desmond Tutu has been light-years ahead of the pack for a long time, and an outspoken advocate of things that even his paler northern comrades in arms sometimes shied away from. You may find some conservative attitudes in Africa, but you will also find very liberal enlightened ones too.

        1. From the Africans I’ve spoken with, in Africa, the conservatives greatly outnumber the progressives.

  2. Much the same as with the issue of how to treat, when to beat your slaves. Why would a god overthrow centuries of unchanging truth?

    She changed her mind.

  3. James Hacker: Humphrey, what’s a Modernist in the Church of England?
    Sir Humphrey Appleby: Ah, well, the word “Modernist” is code for non-believer.
    James Hacker: You mean an atheist?
    Sir Humphrey Appleby: No, Prime Minister. An atheist clergyman couldn’t continue to draw his stipend. So, when they stop believing in God, they call themselves “Modernists”.

    1. It is possible to be an avowed atheist and a clergyman in the C of E. I know one. Search for “Sea of Faith Network”.

  4. I’m betting that the clawback-for-sexists is an attempt to prevent said angry sexists from leaving the CoE for pastures where sexism can be assured (viz. the Roman Catholic Church).

    One of the UK’s MPs Anne Widdecombe is famous for doing just that after the CoE started to ordain women. Apparently she didn’t see the irony in spite of being a female MP.

    “I left the Church of England because there was a huge bundle of straw. The ordination of women was the last straw, but it was only one of many. For years I had been disillusioned by the Church of England’s compromising on everything. The Catholic Church doesn’t care if something is unpopular.”

    1. I wonder if Anne Widdecombe is the western equivalent of Muslim women who vote for sharia?

      1. She’s quite strange. She can come across as a likable person in interviews and TV appearances, but she has backed some bizarrely ultra-conservative parochial policies like support for the death penalty, a ban on abortions and the shackling of pregnant prisoners while in hospital. So, yes, I rather suspect you are right.

        1. I remember seeing her in the Fry/Hitchens debate which wasn’t exactly her best moment.

          But I just don’t get, I suspect. To love a religion/system that regard you as a second-class human.

          1. Widdecombe first came to my attention when I saw the Christopher Hitchens and Stephen Fry versus Ann Widdecombe John Onaiyekan Intelligence Squared debate “Is the Catholic Church a force of good in the world ?”

            My god, I thought at the time, that woman is one of the Python Pepperpots (the middle-aged lower-class housewives who engaged in surreal conversations) come to life, gone feral, scripted by Stephen King and directed by George A. Romero (Dawn of the Dead).

            By the way, that debate is an absolute must see.

            1. Well, she can’t help the way she looks or the way she sounds (and she’s exceedingly middle-class). But she certainly can help the opinions she holds and the policies she tries to influence.

              I’d only recommend the Hitch & Fry parts of the debate, though. The Widdecombe – Onaiyekan parts are abysmal.

            2. Yep, that’s the one and concurred, a must-see.

              Although I’m sure some theologians will complain they didn’t bring their a-team. 🙂

        2. [Widdicombe-not-fair] She’s quite strange.

          Did someone start an understatement of the month competition that I didn’t notice?
          Since I don’t get a daily paper, I don’t know what the cartoonists have made of her, but I’d be astonished if no-one had cast her as Jan Pearce’s grey mare. Laden with her past public utterances. several facing backwards.
          Got to give her brownie points for “Something of the night about him” though, about Michael Howard. It may have been calculated and tested, but it was still a classic example of the stiletto between the ribs being disguised by the battle-axe cleaving the skull to the chin.

          1. Her performances on Strictly Come Dancing (UK version of Dancing with the Stars) are comedy gold.

            1. Comedy gold? Thankfully I never saw more than a few seconds of that … thing.
              Comedy gold, of the sort best appreciated by melting and then pouring it down one’s throat?

  5. I think “the secular tide in society “. Anyone who looks at the mainstream religions though who is religious, must surely conclude that their [ridiculously bigotted] god/s dislike women.

    When I worked at St. Paul’s Cathedral (non-religious job I hasten to add!) there was a female Canon – Lucy Winkett was badly treated by some fellow clergy, which shows how much bile religious ‘moderates’ have –

  6. You say, “Once again we have evidence that secular morality changes before religious morality does…”

    If you mean that the moral views of individuals outside of creedal religion “changes before religious morality,” I would probably agree. For instance, leaders and thinkers of Roman Catholicism were still denying separation of church and state, religious freedom, in the early 20th century!

    However,(as a lay historian and former teacher of American literature/history), I think that often it has often been that “religious” morality that has changed “secular” morality.

    A couple examples would be abolitionism and the Underground Railroad largely, if not completely, led by religious individuals, many Quakers.

    The Civil Rights Movement in the U.S., the labor movement in England. There are many examples when religious people led the move to change the morality of both the secular and religious.

    1. I don’t agree about the Civil Rights movement: the churches and reverends did do the activism in the 1960s, but the idea that ethnic minorities should have equality did not come from the church. There were just as many churches mandating segregation (and slavery) as opposed it.

      And look at the Catholics, for chrissake. They’re WAY behind everyone on women’s rights, contraception, abortion, divorce, etc. etc. etc.

      Remember the convenient revelation that the Mormons had allowing blacks to be lay priests? That happened after the civil rights movement was underway and when the Mormons wanted to expand into Brazil, where prohibiting black lay priests would have been, err, inconvenient.

      It’s not atheists, by the way, who mandate cutting off people’s hands for theft, or stoning women for adultery.

      1. I completely agree with your horrific examples of how religion tries to deny human rights and equality.

        In fact, I think there were far more churches and religions that have mandated inequality–in history. The vast majority denied equality.

        So we mostly agree; my comment was only a qualifier on your one point:-)

    2. Religious “morality” has been behind the revolution curve for the last major revolutions in the West. The French revolution had to boot the Church the heck out to stop it from meddling in the rights and freedoms they established as a republic. It certainly wasn’t the Church that saw democracy and individual rights as an asset – it took a bloody revolution to force it. Further, where was the church in leading change during the so-called second Russian revolution under perestroika? It took individuals deciding to change from within. Yes, there were persecutions of churches under this particular totalitarian regime, but it still couldn’t find it to lead the change while individuals could.

      1. If you are speaking of Roman Catholicism, I agree.

        However, “religious morality” was at the center of the leveling movement at the start of the English Civil War and was center-most in the American Revolution, and in the Abolition movement.

        And it was center most in the Civil Rights Movement. Martin Luther King Jr. did have a close adviser who was an atheist, (that’s why MLK got called a communist) but King and his many supporters were very religious, and grounded their calls for equality and human rights and integration in the transcendent (see King’s speech on “Rediscovering Lost Values).

        Even many of the leaders of the French Revolution weren’t non-religious. What they opposed wasn’t religion in the general sense, but the oppression and persecution of the Roman Catholic Church which was aligned with the aristocracy.

        Of course various historians disagree. But I think the vast majority of historians do agree that many of the social movements for human rights were based in religious views.

        The difficulty is that most religion oppresses, while only some religion liberates.

        1. having religious beliefs, belonging to a religious institution and doing things motivated by the first two are very different things. It does not follow that because people in human rights movements were affiliated with a religious group that therefore their push to overcome unfairness was motivated by that religious affiliation.

          Of course most in France was Catholic! You had no choice but be so under the monarchy – you were as your king was. But did the church itself rise up and defend the people? The the church priests advocate liberté, fraternité, egalité? No! The people, free from any particular institution did this. As Steve O says, some may even have been bald! Did their lack of hair mean they were more likely to defend people for what was right?

          1. You say,”It does not follow that because people in human rights movements were affiliated with a religious group that therefore their push to overcome unfairness was motivated by that religious affiliation.”

            Well, I can’t speak personally for those in the English Civil War or the Revolutionary War, the Abolition Movement, etc. I’m just going on the many tomes I read and used when I was an American literature teacher. However, if one reads their diaries, articles, etc., one can see that at least for many Quakers, etc, that their hatred of inequality and oppression did come directly from their religious faith. Levi Coffin, Lucretia Mott, John Woolman, and many more.

            And I do know that we religious people who stood for equality and human rights and justice in the 1960’s got it from our religion. A friend of mine in Philadelphia, training to be a concert violinist, went to Washington for King’s march against poverty.

            And I got my opposition to intolerance, injustice, poverty, racism, war, etc. directly from my religious faith.

            I agree that the French Catholic Church didn’t oppose oppression, they were part of it!

            My point was that some liberators did get their sense of equality and justice, etc. from their religion.

            So we’ve had different life experiences and studied different historians, I guess.

            1. Yeah, I just can’t buy it. There is evidence that people are good whether they are religious or not. So, I see those people as good people not good religious people. We (at least those of us who do not suffer from brain pathologies) all respond to mirror neurons. Of course, even mirror neurons may not be enough. The religious tortured people for hundreds of years during horrible things like inquisitions, or witch hunts. Their morbid methods are well documented and their instruments of torture preserved as reminders of a despicable and terrifying time. What changed is not one thing but Steven Pinker argues in his book,The Better Angels of Our Nature that some impetuses of change took place when we started to see people less and less as disposable “others”. One thing that allowed us to empathize with these others was the increase in literacy & the availability of books that talked about the “other” like Uncle Tom’s Cabin. People started thinking that all that church torture and all those nasty punishments of children, soldiers, sailors, regular folk who committed petty crimes like stealing, was bad. It wasn’t religion that did this. The Church was content to keep on torturing. Really, an institution like that had no reason to change.

              Do you think that if you did not have your religion, you would have turned out to be a bad person? You would go off and suddenly be for intolerance, injustice, poverty, racism, war?

              1. Oh and Happy Bastille Day! As bloody as it was (and my white skinned -curses!- bourgeois ancestors fled during The Terror) it brought the West some good stuff!

              2. The French Revolution probably started with the best of intentions but, as you say soon became as bloodthirsty as Stalin and his pals. They set up what was basically a secular religion and destroyed many wonderful old churches and abbeys. I’m not defending the old regime or the RC Church, just saying that there’s good in many of us and evil and bloodlust in all of us.

            2. And I got my opposition to intolerance, injustice, poverty, racism, war, etc. directly from my religious faith.

              Why on earth did you need an outside authority to form your opposition?

            3. And yet so many of those injustices were actively supported (or allowed to exist) BY religions! These religions have been around far longer than the opposition to the injustices, so where does the opposition come from? Answer: secular morality.

          2. Diana, I would be prepared to concede that scripture is morally ambiguous. There is stuff in Scripture that we moderns might concur with and stuff there we would very much want to reject. So I would agree with those who say you can’t simply get your moral code from scripture or for that matter from tradition.
            I Nevertheless think that it would be wrong to suggest that people are not inspired by their religious traditions to do the right thing.
            I made a study of Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s Letters and Papers from Prison for a Master’s dissertation. What I found was a man deeply soaked in the scriptures and the tradition, yet deeply questioning of it as well. He was indebted both the the enlightenment and to his Christianity to resist the evil that was Nazism.
            Yes of course others were inspired by their Christianity to support Nazism, but one cannot read someone like Bonhoeffer and maintain a view that there was a disconnect between his resistance to Nazism and his Christianity.

            1. That is not what is being argued here. What is bei.g argued is that Christianity is the source of good and that those who do good things do so because they see christian.

      1. Second that; it’s an insanely great book.

        To Jerry’s questions: “What I’m wondering is this: is it on religious grounds that they previously prohibited women from these positions? If so, what has changed: did God change His mind, or did someone get a revelation that scripture needed a reinterpretation? Or was it simply the secular tide in society mandating equality of the sexes that finally swept up the church?” Steven Weinberg gave what for me is a definitive answer:

        “Religious readers may object that the harm in all these cases is done by perversions of religion, not by religion itself. But religious wars and persecutions have been at the center of religious life throughout history. What has changed, that these now seem to some people in some parts of the world to be only perversions of true religious belief? Has there been a new supernatural revelation, or a discovery of lost sacred writings that put religious teachings in a new light? No—since the Enlightenment there has been instead a spread of rationality and humanitarianism that has in turn affected religious belief, leading to a wider spread of religious toleration. It is not that religion has improved our moral sense but that a purely secular improvement in our moral values has improved the way religion is practiced here and there.” Facing Up, pp. 255-256

    3. Saying that churches were involved in these movements is not the same as saying that the ideas originated in churches. “Church” is inherently resistant to change – it is enlightened, reason-based thinking which gave rise to these new views of ethics and morality.

    4. There were undoubtedly religious people involved in the anti-slavery movement along with stamp collectors, bald people, geocentrists and wine lovers.

      Why is that religion gets special treatment here and not say a lack of hair as a motivation for doing the decent thing ?

      What we do know however, is that there is no behaviour too vile that some religion can not justify on dogmatic grounds and slavery is right at the top of the list.

      From the Autobiography of Mark Twain, Volume 1, page 212:

      In my schoolboy days I had no aversion to slavery. I was not aware that there was anything wrong about it. No one arraigned it in my hearing; the local papers said nothing against it; the local pulpit taught us that God approved it, that it was a holy thing, and that the doubter need only look in the Bible if he wished to settle his mind – and then the texts were read aloud to us to make the matter sure; if the slaves themselves had an aversion to slavery they were wise and said nothing.

      1. How sad to live during a time, when you might actually think you were inferior because of your race (or gender). Why people, particularly women and minorities, are still affiliated with such organizations is one of the many sad reminders that we (humans) are still far from grownup.

    5. Religions not only promote monasticism, but praise it as one of the highest moral achievements. That is barbaric and infantile that individuals can spend literally years of voluntary solitude wiping clean of any moral duty they have for their fellow human beings.

      Humanity could wipe itself out through *cide and these people would do nothing but meditate. That is the kind of selfish and sadistic morality religion sponsors, possibly the worst.

  7. Isn’t a woman, the queen of England, the titular head of the CoE? If that’s the case, why not allow them in other offices of the church?

    1. Another quote from the estimable “Yes Prime Minister:

      “Sir Humphrey Appleby: The Queen is inseparable from the Church of England.
      Jim Hacker: And what about God?
      Sir Humphrey Appleby: I think he is what is called an optional extra. “

    2. The first boss of the CofE was Henry VIII. He was, IIRC, the “Supreme Head”. When Elizabeth became queen the church wasn’t comfortable with a woman assuming this title, so she was named the “Supreme Governor”. I think everyone who followed was given this title.

      1. And then you get Charles the Loon who styles himself as “Defender of the Faiths”.

        Note the plural.

        Arf and indeed arf.

  8. Church officials emulate the capricious god(s) they serve. CoE and Vatican councils are like hidebound Olympians, only they are not gods, but humans borne of the DNA we all posses, without specialty for transcendent knowledge. But this continued, long slow process of civility is a breath of fresh air. May their dogmas reflect the wisdom of reason and may they bifurcate until they self-annihilate.

  9. We’ve already seen some Episcopalians (the US equivalent of Anglicans, for those unfamiliar) split from the Episcopal Church US and join dioceses in such lovely places as Nigeria over female bishops and gay bishops – it will be interesting to see how this plays out in England.

    1. Our lot are likely to join the catholics. They already have a special branch of the catholic church which allows them to remain married if they decide to transfer.

    2. it will be interesting to see how this plays out in England.

      Do you want me to arrange a deck chair, binoculars and popcorn in somewhere like Berwick-upon-Tweed?
      Yes, it’s going to be amusing. We can probably anticipate dome half-time entertainment from the Wee Frees and other signed-up representatives of the lunatic fringe.

  10. Over lunch today, my wife happened to mention one of our favorite English words, and I was lamenting the lack of opportunities to make use of it. Then I get back to work and find this post, and (lo and behold) an opportunity presents itself:

    Little did women know that they would some day be declared episcopable* by the C of E General Synod.

    * Episcopable: an archaic term meaning “capable of being made bishop”. Also a great tongue-twister.

  11. They have been arguing about the interpretation for some time. The last time round the bishops etc voted in favour but the lay members, which was stacked with those of evangelical or anglican-catholic persuasion went against.
    This time the lay lot got taken back by the more moderates.

    I was listening to a discussion on the radio at lunch and the woman they found to argue against the women bishops was fairly entertaining. Actually pointed to Genesis as justification with the women created as helper line.
    She was kind enough to mention that it was only in the church which it applied not secular business although she didnt explain why the rules vary.
    Also went for the it applies in marriage which left the interviewer a bit baffled.

    1. Actually the laity was not “stacked”. They voted in favour by 63% but unfortunately, a two thirds majority was needed.

  12. Just in time now that the church is losing millions of members. The women can clean up the messes the men made, tidy up the church buildings for the real estate agents, then close the doors forever and go out and have a drink for Ladies Night at the pub.

  13. “What I’m wondering is this: is it on religious grounds that they previously prohibited women from these positions?”

    As Prof. Dawkins might put it, perhaps they were “vouchsafed” a revelation. (Well, most but not all of them.)

  14. FWIW, this year the head of the (former state) Church of Sweden became a woman. Until 2000 or so, there were conservative bishops that blocked female bishops.

  15. “What I’m wondering is this: is it on religious grounds that they previously prohibited women from these positions? If so, what has changed: did God change His mind, or did someone get a revelation that scripture needed reinterpreting? Or was it simply that the secular tide in society favoring equality of the sexes finally swept up the church?”

    People tend to interpret scripture to fit their views, not the other way around and this process is aided by the fact that the Bible is ambiguous on the subject at the best.

    In the earliest church as described by Paul in the genuine Pauline epistles, the idea of “bishops” is completely absent. He does talk about various people prominent in the church and even apostles. Some of these prominent people and an apostle named Junia are women (Romans chapter 16).

    Later writers sought to roll back this egalitarian view and impose a more hierarchical and patriarchal church. This is evident, for instance, in the pastoral epistles (attributed to Paul, but all forgeries).

    In summary, scripture gives a confused and contradictory message which allows everybody to read into it what they like.

  16. You see, God changed His mind on this, so he caused a majority of the minds of those in the General Synod to change: God DOES change peoples’ minds, you know; why, when Moses asked Pharaoh to “let his people go”, the Pharaoh was ready to do so, repeatedly- however, it says, “But God harden Pharaoh’s heart” (this was so God had a good excuse to send the plagues on Egypt, ’cause He didn’t like them, anyway).

    In this case God said, “I’ve decided that female bishops are OK; however, in the case of parishes whose male members don’t like this, I’ll change my mind BACK, just for them.”

    When I lived in Northeast Missouri, there was a fairly-large Amish population near us: when they first started coming into the area and buying land, their spiritual “leader” (I forget the proper term for it) said that it was OK to use chainsaws to build houses. Of course, they built his first and, when they were done, he announced that he’d re-examined the scriptures and decided that now it was NOT OK!

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