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Women-bishops Measure falls by six votes in House of Laity

23 November 2012

by staff reporters


Aftermath: Dr Paula Gooder, behind Dr Williams, is affected by the result

Aftermath: Dr Paula Gooder, behind Dr Williams, is affected by the result

THE draft Measure for the consecration of women bishops failed to achieve the necessary two-thirds majority in all three Houses of the General Synod, when the vote for final approval was taken after a protracted debate on Tuesday, just after 6.15 p.m.

Although it was carried in the House of Bishops by 44 to 3, with two abstentions, and in the House of Clergy by 148 to 45, with no abstentions, it was lost in the House of Laity. Here, there were 132 votes in favour, 74 against, with no abstentions; the Measure thus fell by six votes. Across all three Houses, 72.6 per cent of Synod members voted in favour of the legislation.

This result came despite strong support for the Measure from the Archbishop of Canterbury and his designated successor, the Bishop of Durham, the Rt Revd Justin Welby.

During the debate, Dr Williams said that he had "no intention of trying to persuade those with the deepest convictions against the Measure to abstain". He hoped, however, that those who were "genuinely uncertain" would "weigh whether in the long run we can defend a system where certain priests are for ever blocked from having their episcopal vocation tested".

He sought to defend the wording of the amended clause 5.1(c), saying that "the word 'respect' means that there is a legal requirement that the convictions of a minority should make a measurable difference."

He also asked Synod members to consider the message that voting against the Measure would send to society: "A 'no' vote would not do anything positive for our mission at this juncture."

Bishop Welby's intervention in the debate was received with long applause. "The ministry of women priests has been powerful in all areas of the Church, except as part of the episcopacy," he said. "It is time to finish the job, and vote for this Measure."

It was also necessary, Bishop Welby said, "to show how to develop the ministry of the Church in a way that demonstrates that we can manage diversity of views without division. Diversity in amity, not diversity in enmity." The Measure before the Synod was "after much discussion with many people, as good as we are going to get".

Bishop Welby said that he was "personally deeply committed - and believe that fellow bishops are also - to ensuring as far as I am able, that what we promise today, and later in the code of conduct, is carried out faithfully in spirit as well as in letter".

"We cannot get trapped into believing that this is a zero-sum provision where one person's gain must be another's loss. That is not a theology of grace." 

Introducing the debate, the Bishop of Manchester, the Rt Revd Nigel McCulloch, had said that, "whatever its imperfections", the legislation could be "made to work". It would "enable the Church of England to flourish" and enable women to exercise the leadership that "a great majority of us recognise as God's gift to this Church". But it would also enable those with "understandable concerns" about the change to continue to have an "honoured place" within the Church.

Canon Simon Kilwick (Manchester), from the Catholic Group on Synod, spoke against the Measure. The debate was not, he said, about whether the Synod was in favour of women bishops in principle, but "about whether this is the right legislation for introducing women bishops". He did not believe that the Measure would be good for the Church of England.

Everyone was "desperate to move on from the sad infighting" of recent years; but the Measure did not provide a "clear way forward", he said. He warned that the formation of the Code of Practice could become "a new battleground", were it approved, with attempts to "improve" the provision for traditionalists in the Code opposed.

Members were then called to speak for and against the Measure, more or less alternately. The Archbishop of York, who chaired the debate, said that he had received 172 requests to speak. More than 100 were called during more than six hours of debate.

The Bishop of Chelmsford, the Rt Revd Stephen Cottrell, sought to reassure opponents that the bishops, the "overwhelming majority" of whom support the Measure, "are committed to making things work. We will be in the dock if things go wrong. We are the ones with the greatest interest in making it work."

The Revd Janet Appleby (Newcastle), who had suggested the amended clause 5.1(c), said: "We are going to make a decision whose future effects we can't predict. . . We need to be reassured that it is possible to remain one Church, despite holding contradictory beliefs. The difficulty is that our disagreements are absolute: either a woman can be a bishop or she can't be. We are walking a tightrope."

The Archdeacon of Hackney, the Ven. Rachel Treweek (London), said that the Measure before the Synod "has created appropriate boundaries to offer space and respect". The words of the Measure "do not now diminish anyone, and respect for theological conviction has weight, and there will be diocesan schemes. I do not believe adequate provision has not been made for those who cannot accept women bishops."

Hannah Page (Church of England Youth Council) said that she was born in 1993, and "grew up in a Church where the ministry of women has always been there. It seems like we have been discussing this issue all my life. Please don't let me wait until I'm 30 to see this pass."

Speeches from traditionalists, and those who sympathised with their position, indicated that few, if any, were convinced that the Measure provided sufficient provision. Dr Philip Giddings (Oxford), an Evangelical who chairs the House of Laity, said that he had voted in favour of ordaining women as priests in 1992 "because it was designed to ensure that those who could not in conscience accept it could remain with us". The Measure before the Synod, however, risked excluding the "dissenting minority" from the future of the Church. The significant point was that "those for whom the provision is intended do not own it".

Emma Forward (Exeter), an Anglo-Catholic, speaking towards the end of the debate, observed that "not one person in the whole debate for whom provision is being made . . . has expressed that this legislation would be good enough; not one person has even come close to saying that would work for them".

Dr Charles Hanson (Carlisle) expressed reservations - also heard from other speakers - about the Code of Practice, which could not be drawn up until the Measure was passed. "We've seen an illustrative draft; we all know that drafts can be changed in every particular before we reach the final version." In being asked to approve the legislation, the Synod was "being asked to sign a blank cheque", which "risks bankruptcy".

The Bishop of Chichester, Dr Martin Warner, one of the few bishops to oppose the Measure, said that he would resist any assumption that a vote against the Measure implied a belief that "women are inferior to men or must be subject to them, or that they do not have the skills and capacity [required]."

Sarah Finch (London) reported there was "an air of dismay" at Oak Hill, the conservative Evangelical theological college, where ordinands expected to be discriminated against because of the "sincere theological convictions" that they hold. To approve the Measure would be an "act of betrayal".

Tom Sutcliffe (Southwark) argued, as an "improbable liberal Anglo-Catholic donkey", that Synod must honour the promises made 20 years ago to those who could not accept women's ministry.

The theological cases for and against women bishops were also rehearsed during the debate. The Bishop of Liverpool, the Rt Revd James Jones, said that he had once held a similar understanding to conservative Evangelicals about the husband's being the head of the wife and God's being the head of Christ. Yet he had come to believe that Christ did not have less authority than God, and was not subordinate to God: "otherwise we would be denying the full divinity of Jesus". Thus, he believed, women were not subordinate to men, and did not have less authority than them.

The chairman of Reform, Prebendary Rod Thomas (Exeter), disputed Bishop Jones's theology. "What we are seeking to do in modelling subjection and headship in the Church is to model the equality we see in God between Father and Son, and also model the subjection we see eternally of the Son to the Father."

Towards the end of the debate, as the time allotted to speakers became shorter, a number of proponents made impassioned pleas. The Bishop of Willesden, the Rt Revd Pete Broadbent, said that he did not understand "the rhetoric of 'we need some more time to discuss this'", given that it had been talked about for the past 20 years.

Christina Rees (St Albans) said that the legislation was "workable entirely", and "good because it does what we mainly want it to do: to open the episcopate to women".

The announcement of the result of the vote was received in silence, following synodical custom. Afterwards, Dr Williams could be seen embracing supporters of women bishops, some of whom were in tears. Other supporters, Bishop Broadbent among them, headed to the pub.

See next week's Church Times for full coverage of the General Synod.

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