Why You Shouldn't Give Up on the Church of England Just Yet

The vote against female bishops was ludicrous and archaic, but there's a whole new generation of priests rising in the ranks, who are not only completely-pro women, but are also a bang-up bunch of hilarious, intelligent new leaders.
Publish date:
November 29, 2012

Last Tuesday a vote effectively decided that women would still not be allowed the opportunity at this time to become bishops in the Church of England. 124 votes Against beat 322 For.

This system will have explained to me by someone who knows about politics and shit, because frankly I have always believe 322 to be higher than 124, but apparently not. I dunno, numbers eh?

The result disappointed and indeed devastated many Christians, not least because a massive 42 out of the 44 dioceses had supported the draft legislation, which was approved by the House of Bishops in May of this year.

For me, the most interesting and saddest part of this whole debacle is that it was the members of the laity (that's the people what go to church and not the people what do church, who are clergy) who cast the negative votes

This weekend I was at the Christening of my beautiful goddaughter (ex-theology student, remember?). I have a whole group of friends who have either recently become ordained or who are going through the whole business and I really didn’t expect to be in a room with so many dog-collars that WASN'T a tarts and vicars party. Such is the hand life deals.

So, with my best “serious investigative type” face on (sort of a slightly squinty frown) and a plate of twiglets and crudites in hand, I bundled a couple of priestly types into the corner and asked them to explain the whole business to me.

It strikes me that the process of electing the members who vote on behalf of the laity is rather a convoluted one, with a member voted in from a parish, and from there to a diocese, and so on, in a sort of Russian doll affair. ….I think. I got rather lost and distracted by my twiglets.

Anyway, what I took away from this conversation was the feeling that an overwhelming number of “conservatives” were elected into the members of the laity who cast the vote on behalf of the parishes. Which helps to explain the negative vote.

One of my Priestly buddies summarised the feeling among the Church members beautifully for me:

“The failure of the Church of England to recognise the equal ministry of women and men as bishops exacerbates the myth, promoted by certain Christian groups, that to be a Christian man or woman means being party to a world view which seeks to define gender relationships through a lens of dominance or submission, rather than through God's grace, compassion and equality.“

I think he's getting confused with my last article at the end there, but I get his point. I think this is probably true to an extent, the idea that women can't be leaders within the church is one generally held by “conservative” Christians.

But, however much I blame “conservatives” frequently and vehemently for me fleeing from the church several years ago, we can’t place the blame squarely in their sweaty little laps this time.

After all, the Anglican Church of Southern Africa has just ordained their first Female Bishop, Bishop Ellinah, in Swaziland, which according to the Daily Telegraph “hath more conservatives per square hectare than Dorking”.

And anyway, there are many Christians who hold “conservative” views (a concept which in itself is incredibly difficult to define) but 42 out of the 44 diocese voted PRO women, and however you look at that, it's a pretty darn supportive majority.

After the vote, once I finished rolling my eyes, swearing callously and re-tweeting the most bitter and catastrophising tweets I could find, I thought again about what this meant for the Church of England.

I thought about all of the friends I've grown up with who are now leaders in this church, and you know what? While the decision is a horrible blow and, quite frankly, something that should not even be up for debate (women leaders?! HAVEN'T WE DONE THIS?!) some of what we are seeing here is really, incredibly, a little bit positive.

Sure, the measure didn't go through, and that is, as I say, devastating, not to mention archaic and ludicrous and all that business.

But as with so many things, it seems to be the privileged minority ruining it for the proles - 42 out of 44 diocese wanted the measure to be passed. The majority simply weren’t represented in the vote.

One of the many discussions that took place on Sunday was around the worry that the Church of England isn't relevant any more, and when there are issues like this in debate, it's difficult to argue otherwise.

But, looking around that Church on Sunday I wasn't struck by how old and fusty it all was, and how out of touch everyone seemed, but by how many people were just furious about the whole thing.

Looking around at all those people, I realised that there is a new generation of priests rising in the ranks now, who are not only completely-pro women (some of them ARE women), but are also a bang-up bunch of hilarious, intelligent, piss-heads new leaders.

And for that, the Church should be very, very thankful.