Church votes to allow women bishops

// 8 July 2008

For those interested in such things, the Church of England’s ruling body, the General Synod, has voted to allow women to be consecrated as bishops, despite opposition from some 1,300 clergy members of the Church who have threatened to leave the Church. This had already been agreed in principle, but has now been formalised, and the conditions under which it is to happen have been discussed.

A code of practice is to be drawn up stating how those “who as a matter of theological conviction will not be able to receive the ministry of women as bishops or priests” will be dealt with. The details of what will be in this code of practice remains to be seen, but the BBC reports that this is likely to fall short of the controversial “compromise” conditions demanded by traditionalists – the creation of male “superbishops” who would take over spiritual leadership of those who refuse to recognise the authority of their female bishop. Opponents of this measure said that it would effectively create a two-tier system of bishops, with women confined to the lower tier.

The Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams (the head of the Church of England), was against this measure, saying he would be “deeply unhappy with any scheme or any solution to this which ends up, as it were, structurally humiliating women“, a view supported by the 4,000 Anglicans (half of them clergy) who wrote to oppose a two-tier clergy.

The argument against women bishops is based on the fact that Jesus picked only men to be his 12 disiples, and the general biblical teachings of ‘male headship’. Nevertheless, women priests have been allowed since 1992. Traditionalists who oppose women bishops have concerns that priests ordained by women bishops will not be ‘properly’ ordained and lack authority from God. (Trying very hard to keep a straight face here). Just a few short weeks ago I was writing about petulance from Catholic priests – this month, Canon Brandie blustersif we don’t see some provision that offers real ecclesiastical integrity and security, many of us will be thinking very hard about the way ahead“. The Telegraph (sounding pretty cheesed off all round) gives some column inches to the tears of traditionalists and the victim mentality of the Rev Prebendary David Houlding, who complains “We are being pushed by a particular liberal agenda and we are going to have women bishops at the exclusion of any other view“.

More refreshingly, Tory MP and General Synod member Robert Key (who supported reforms) said the church should “stop navel gazing” and get on with its business.

The Church of Wales rejected the same proposal in April of this year, and this is one amongst a number of issues which is threatening the unity of the worldwide Anglican Communion. The most contentious issue is that of homosexuality, which some say will split the Church. Christian Feminist has some interesting views on this:

“This isn’t just a question of sexuality, its also a question of whether or not wealthy white countries […] should be able to tell developing countries what to do […] we cannot win this battle by continuing in fundamentally racist and imperialist attitudes. If the African Anglican Church is to change its mind on issues of sexuality, then African Christians and African LGBT people will have to lead the way. We can give our opinions and assistance to their struggle, but we don’t get to be in charge.”

Update: Zoe Williams on the (traditionalist) bishop who cried during the General Synod debate:

Generalisations are hateful, but to make one anyway, men of a certain age are terrible at hugs of comfort. I can’t help thinking that if you’re going to start crying on the floor of the General Synod in York, you really want a female bishop on hand.


Comments From You

jennifer drew // Posted 8 July 2008 at 6:55 pm

Excellent news that women priests will finally be allowed to become Bishops but I wonder when will the first female bishop actually be consecrated. 1000 years hence perhaps? Passing this decision is one thing implementing it is another.

Just to say contrary to myths there were in fact early female apostles but of course later this fact was deleted because the early christian church had by then become misogynstic.

Anne Onne // Posted 8 July 2008 at 7:30 pm

Wow, the way some people complain, you’d think that they’d intoruced a female-only rule or something.

They also make it sound like the entire Church is against this, and that they are being forced into this by some external eeevil liberal force, rather than the reality which is the fact that many members fo the clergy do in fact, support this. A majority clearly voted in favour.

To be honest, I can’t see what would be so bad about a split. Excellent opportunity to show clearly who supports what, and that way, women and LGBTQ people, for example, can know exactly which denominations and churches value them as people. I’m not all that religious, but if I were thinking about attending a church, their policies on women and LGBTQ people would be at the forefront of what I would look for.

I can’t remember who said it, but religions of all denominations really should stop having to be dragged kicking and screaming into the current century, and start leading. Just how many people will want to attend church if all of us are excluded for one reason or another (being female or LGBTQ, for instance)?

Anne Onne // Posted 8 July 2008 at 7:45 pm

I also thought it worthy to look at Rev. Prebendary David Houlding’s wording:

“We are being pushed by a particular liberal agenda and we are going to have women bishops at the exclusion of any other view”.

For a start, there can be only one of two states; women being/being allowed to be bishops, or women not being/being allowed to be bishops. You can have either one or the other, but you must have one. His complaint that even something so simple as allowing women to be bishops excludes other views masks the fact that there is only one alternative view. That women should not, under any circumstances be bishops. Therefore to pretend that there are many views out there, which are all being ignored by the evil liberals is disingenuous.

There are not millions of different solutions to this. There is either allowing women to be equal, or not allowing them to be equal, and people wanting to keep women in the kitchen should have the guts to admit outright that it’s what they want, and not hide behind some sob story about being forced into it by external parties who ignore all views, when there are only two real choices. The fact is, they’re not complaining because there’s this ‘exclusion of any other view’, but because their conclusion, their side of the coin, isn’t the one everyone else wants.

So far, for an odd two thousand years or so, women have been excluded, with the church excluding ‘any other view’, and that was apparently fine.

Rhona Sweeting // Posted 8 July 2008 at 7:53 pm

Much as I am now an advocate of the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster, I was brought up Church of Scotland and retain some God-bothering views.

Jesus was the ultimate advocate…He did NOT discriminat and as He himself said: “…and if there be any other commandment, it is briefly comprehended in this saying, namely, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.” Discrimination, homophobia, racism et al is the fault of a patriarchal religious system. I think Jesus would be a bit p*ssed off at the state of the world, should He come again…

Here’s a thought about the major world religions:

Christianity – love thy neighbour etc

Islam – all are equal (in fact, according to the Q’ran, women are slightly *more* equal)

Buddhism – all-encompassing

Judaism – matriarchal

Hinudism – all-encompassing

Sikhism – ditto

I welcome this move by the CoE, wholeheartedly (although, let’s be honest, it was a religion made up by Henry VIII to get by the divorce/lopping off heads thing). Let’s apply it. And as for those CoE ‘leavers’ – do you know what? They’ll all die soon, so hey ho.

Sarah // Posted 8 July 2008 at 8:33 pm

Now I remember why I turned my back on Christianity forever.

God is god, wherever you find it. These posturing morons seem to forget that.

Cockney Hitcher // Posted 8 July 2008 at 9:03 pm

To be honest, I can’t see what would be so bad about a split. Excellent opportunity to show clearly who supports what, and that way, women and LGBTQ people, for example, can know exactly which denominations and churches value them as people.

That’s exactly what I think, Anne Onne.

I am sick of the way ‘unity’ is used as an excuse to maintain the status quo and to stop people from criticising it. If the sexists – oh sorry – traditionalists are unable to treat women as people then they can eff off, and I wish egalitarian Anglicans had the guts to tell them so.

Equality is not something that should be compromised.

Torygirl // Posted 8 July 2008 at 9:52 pm

A split would be a poor second to getting people to accept that women are equal, because after all, it’s people that can’t accept that.

There will probably be women bishops soon. It’s relatively recent that women have been vicars and now there seem to be more women than men vicars.

I think this has led to deeper change than just the people leading the services and blessing the bread. I have noticed more female involvement in church in general and a change in the tone of services that goes beyond MU flower arrangements and music festivals.

Eleanor T // Posted 8 July 2008 at 10:52 pm

Ace! I think that’s GREAT!

Maybe now there’ll be another arm to the virgin/whore dichotomy which originated in the church. Now we could have leader, or teacher, or spiritual healer as an option for women… It’s about blinkin’ time and I’m loving it!

Paul // Posted 9 July 2008 at 5:21 am

A Lie by The Great Liar.

Jesus’ best friend was a woman prostitute who was about to be stoned to death. He saved her. Jesus had many opportunities to choose apostles. He chose men.

One need look no further than Mary to see the high regard every Catholic has (or should have) for women. Mary, the mother of the human God. When the young Jesus was with the rabbis “about his father’s work” even He obeyed his mother and went home with her. We ask Mary to help us because Jesus listens to his mother — as we all should.

Men and Women both created by God — both equal in dignity. God loves them both equally.

The Anglicans are being confused by The Liar who fools them into believing the Truth can change. The Truth cannot change. Truth is perfection. That which is perfect does not, can not, will not change.

The act of attempting to ordain women priests and bishops is futile at best and deceiving at worst.

Futile because saying the words of ordination does not make it so. Any act of ordination or consecration must be done validly and in the correct form. The attempt by the Anglicans is invalid as the Anglicans are excummicated by the willful act of sinful Pride by King Henry VIII. No authority. The form is incorrect because it is woman. Anglicans may as well be attempting to ordinate a lump of coal — they will utterly fail.

Deceiving because it fools people into thinking the Truth can change to “suit the times”, to sooth the public rancor. It is a lie that the Truth can change. The deception results in people following The Liar and that leads to Death.

Do not follow The Liar, it doesn’t want you in heaven. The Holy Trinity wants you in heaven. The Catholic church wants you in heaven. Follow the Catholic Church and its irrevokable, unchangeable Truth.

Cockney Hitcher // Posted 9 July 2008 at 8:49 am

A split would be a poor second to getting people to accept that women are equal, because after all, it’s people that can’t accept that.

Of course it would be ideal for everyone to just believe that women are people, but waiting around for another 100 or so years for everyone to accept that is a far worse option that splitting.

Treating women as full people should be more important to any egalitarian-minded person than making sure the feelings of ‘traditionalists’ aren’t hurt.

Lynne Miles // Posted 9 July 2008 at 9:44 am


So far as I can tell, there are two paths that adherents to organised religions based on sacred texts can choose:

1. Consider the holy text as a set of guiding principles which are to be considered in context – a moral guide to perspectives and attitudes rather than a set of hard and fast rules. So (for example) we can consider biblical teachings on homosexuality were based on societal norms where such things were inevitably clandestine and outside of ‘normal’ heterosexual marriage relationships, inevitably involving deceit and infidelity because no other viable option was available. To translate into modern times, I’m going to quote Bishop Andrus in full here:

It is important for the Church to look for and support the same things in all relationships: fidelity, mutuality, honesty, love. And it is incumbent on the Church to seek to support couples – be they heterosexual or same-sex – in the cultivation of these virtues in their relationships. When it is true that candidates for ordination are in relationships then the same criteria should be used by the Church regardless of sexual orientation, so we would be looking at all ordination candidates in the same way. Are the virtues of fidelity, mutuality, honesty and love in evidence in this person’s life with respect to his or her committed relationship? That is more important than the gender of the person who is in the committed relationship.

2. To consider the holy text as a given, not open for contextual interpretation but to be followed as the explicit and direct word of the Lord. Which strikes me as perfectly fine, except I’d like to see those people who believe this sticking to all the crazy Leviticus and Duteronomy rules about not wearing shirts made of more than one fibre, not having sex with women who are having their period, not sowing fields with more than one type of crop, killing any member of your family who doesn’t believe in God or, indeed, killing anyone of a different religion.

My own view is that those who are prepared to relax the self-evidently antisocial and vengeful rules of the Old Testament but insist that we must adhere strictly to other elements – like women bishops or homosexuality – are already just cherry picking the bits of the bible that they like, and are therefore being hypocritical in the extreme.

Yes, I know that the official Christian line is that the Old Testament was overwritten by the birth of Christ and the New Testament (which is what distinguishes them from the other Abrahamic religions), but that doesn’t stop them teaching the Ten Commandments or the creation, so I still say they’re cherry picking). Ultimately those who choose to ignore some bits of the bible in their own behaviour whilst insisting that others must follow certain other bits are acting on their own initiative, not under any direct scriptural instruction and are therefore valid targets for personal criticism (as opposed to the institutional criticism I believe that the religion as a whole is a valid target for).

Sabre // Posted 9 July 2008 at 9:48 am


Oh dear. Comparing a woman to a lump of coal? I hadn’t fully realised that a penis was vital to the ‘correct form’, silly me. Kind of goes against your earlier statement of men and women ‘equal in dignity’, when you compare women to inanimate objects doesn’t it?

So in your view, should we only listen to women who fulfil the role of ‘mother’? Is the choice for women either mother or prostitute (just waiting to be saved by a good man, naturally)?

Saranga // Posted 9 July 2008 at 2:26 pm

Sarah said:

“God is god, wherever you find it. These posturing morons seem to forget that.”

Hear hear!

Torygirl // Posted 9 July 2008 at 8:57 pm

Jeez… And such a lot of the Bible has been lost in translation and transcription and politically determined by men who has always have had a vested interest in maintaining the status quo.

But only The Fool overlooks that…

Shea // Posted 9 July 2008 at 9:50 pm

“Jesus’ best friend was a woman prostitute who was about to be stoned to death.”

It wasn’t a prostitute that Jesus saved from stoning -it was an adulteress.

“Jesus had many opportunities to choose apostles. He chose men.”

We don’t actually know this. So much of what Jesus preached (if indeed he existed at all) has been lost or used to further the political agenda of the founding fathers of the church (who seem to be a fairly misogynistic bunch). For all we know there were many women apostles but they may have conveniently been written out of the Bible.

You have also made it clear that you think the Anglican church does not have any legitimacy, therefore does it matter who it consercrates if it is not “God’s true religion?”

I think there is a supreme irony in the fact that the structural and social inequality of 2000 years ago is still being used to hold women back.

I also agree with Lynne Miles, either you take religion as a guide, and if you believe men and women are equal, then you can have no reason for not supporting women’s ordination or you follow the Bible to the letter- no pick and mixing about it.

Personally, if men, women or lumps of coal choose to believe six impossible things before breakfast then so be it, they are all equally bonkers and deserve equal recognition.

*the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster* love it!

Though I am a Jedi myself ;-)

Paul // Posted 10 July 2008 at 9:02 am

Ms. Miles,

Not two paths — that would imply The Truth — Perfection, can change, can deviate. To suggest “adherants to organized religions” implies even more paths. Further confusion. Further deviation from the Unchangable Truth. There is only one path.

The Church welcomes all. All who are validly baptised enters the Body Of Christ. By willful acts of sin we reject God. God hates the sin — and we all have sin. Every one of us. Whether it be lifestyle, envy of women, envy of men, thievery, permissiveness, all of it. Sin. Still, God loves the sinner, regardless of the sin. In the end, no sin is greater than God’s mercy. I pray for our sisters and brothers who may be led astray.


Not comparing woman to a lump of coal. It is you who say it. Please substitute a non-male or object of your choice. The result is the same. No ordination. No bishop.

Mary Magdelene was a prostitue. Prostitution is a sin. Jesus loved her. He died for our sins including hers. She was the first to see and recognise the risen Jesus. Men didn’t recognise him, at first. The importance of women to all of humanity cannot be underestimated: Mary the Mother of the human God, Jesus. God chose her above all. God didn’t choose a man. How noble it must be to be a mother.

Saint Catherine of Sienna

Saint Teresa of Avila

Saint Therese of Lisieux

The list can go on and on of heroic, saintly, Catholic women. Doctors of The Church. Martyrs of The Church. Thank God for woman, for without woman, neither woman nor man would go to Heaven. Mary, a woman, a mother, in a selfless act that supercedes *everthing* that earthly men have done or ever will do has served us all a chance for eternal joy.

God bless you.

SynodFeminist // Posted 11 July 2008 at 10:34 am

I’m actually a member of General Synod – have been for 3 years – so was present at the debate on Monday. One of the most inspiring moments was the final speech, by the Bishop of Liverpool. He said that having reflected on the service for consecrating bishops in the Book of Common Prayer ordinal (1662, don’t get much more traditional that that in the CofE!) he has concluded that being a bishop is primarily about feeding the body of Christ (ie, the church). He also observed that the first person to feed the body of Christ was Mary, Jesus’ mother, who fed the the literal body of Jesus – even before he was born. So, effectively, the first person to exercise an episcopal function was a woman… So it is absolutely the right thing to do to enable women to be bishops. He did also say that those who cannot be fed by a woman shouldn’t starve.

In general, it was very interesting how much people resisted the idea of a ‘secular’ agenda of gender equality – ‘this is not about discrimination’ the Archbishop of York and many others said. I really don’t understand this! Although, it’s nice to be told that by a legally exclusively male leadership body…

By the way, even if you’re not interested in the church, the fact that the Church of England is an established church makes it of interest – bishops sit in the House of Lord, so these decisions have an impact on the way our country is governed.

Torygirl // Posted 11 July 2008 at 2:00 pm

No Paul, YOU compared a woman to a lump of coal – and for that matter, comparing a woman to ANY inanimate object is no less offensive.

The point, really, has to be whether people want the church to survive or not.

God bless you, Paul.

Rachel // Posted 14 July 2008 at 7:30 pm

I’ve been linked by the F word, life is now officially complete! Also, in terms of female ministry, the Church of England isn’t really representative of the rest of the protestant church as far as I’m aware. The Church of Scotland has had female ministers for 40 years, and the Salvation Army and the Pentecostal Church have had female leaders since they began.

I’m glad the CofE has finally got around to electing female bishops, but for me, the level of pointless, unbiblical (in my opininon) hierarchy within their church structure is still fundamentally flawed.

Ron Perry // Posted 22 July 2008 at 6:05 pm

I am a member of DNC Houldings Parish (both of his Church Wardens are Women)

When Christ stood trial you could not see his Disciples for Dust, like cringing cowards they hid in fear,”And they even witnessed him raise the dead, and cure the sick” even his chosen Disciple Peter denied him, and one even betrayed him. And yet it was the Women who stood by him, a non disciple who took his body and buried it, and it was to a Woman he first appeared. So much for the moral authority of the traditionalists. The truth is that without the Ladies of the Church of England the whole edifice would come tumbling down. Homosexuals are nothing but Women trapped in a Mans body, and it that respect we have always had women priests and women Bishops, it is a Paradox but non the less a relevant one. Priests like David like to go on about dotting the eye’s and crossing the T’s, ignoring the bits of the Gospel that point to the truth. Christ said Love one another, and to forgive 7X7, so we should welcome Gay members for they are but trapped in a body they had no choice about, and they in turn should accept women Bishops, for the Gay lobby have more in common with women clergy than they do with Male clergy. As a member of the Anglo Catholic wing I find it rare to come across a heterosexual priest,or a masculine priest.We are all Gods creatures and we should welcome all of our fellow Christians male or female into the Church and into every office. To subscribe to an ancient Jewish tradition where a single Woman could be executed for talking to a man is no excuse for excluding them in enlightened times. Jesus himself would have been more than aware of the trouble he would have invited, by having married or single women in his inner group. Like todays priests the male disciples would have been up in arms. If those in the Anglo Catholic wing and the SSC want to join Rome then there is nothing stopping them, but I doubt that many of them would be tolerated for a second. The Roman Church is totally Homophobic. and recently stated that Church of England priests are not real priests, have no authority to give communion etc,

even ‘General (waste of time and money) Synod’ could not make it up.


Laura // Posted 22 July 2008 at 8:13 pm


While I appreciate your more liberal approach to Church membership, I hardly think referring to gay men as “women trapped in men’s bodies” is particularly accepting of men who love and are attracted to other men.

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