Church of England 'commits suicide' over women bishops
Bishops, politicians and media commentators are shocked at laity's backward step
CONDEMNATION is raining down on the Church of England this morning following the failure last night of the General Synod to approve the ordination of women bishops by enough votes.
The measure was passed by a two-thirds majority in the House of Bishops and House of Clergy. However, the House of Laity - the unordained, ordinary members of the Church - could only manage 132 in favour to 74 against, a margin that fell short of the two-thirds majority required for women bishops to be approved.
The defeat leaves the Church of England bitterly divided, and the bishops will meet this morning to "consider the consequences of the vote", according to a spokesperson.
The vote is a blow to the Right Reverend Justin Welby, the Bishop of Durham who takes over as Archbishop of Canterbury next year. He had spoken out passionately in favour of women bishops, but last night he made his disappointment known. "Very grim day, most of all for women priests and supporters, need to surround all with prayer & love and co-operate with our healing God," he tweeted.
The outgoing Archbishop, Rowan Williams, was also an advocate of women bishops. He said: "Of course I hoped and prayed that this particular business would be at another stage before I left... It is a personal sadness, a deep personal sadness that that is not the case."
But why did so many lay representatives vote against the wishes of their leaders, the bishops and clergy? Lizzy Davies in The Guardian explains that many in the pro-women bishops lobby believe the laity "has become more dominated by special interests - often conservative ones – since the vote to allow women to become priests in 1992".
She quotes Tony Baldry, the Conservative MP who speaks for the Church in Parliament: "I think what has happened over the last 20 years... is that the representatives of the General Synod have become more representatives of tribes of the Church of England. So, Anglo-Catholics and evangelicals... come here to represent their own tribal loyalty rather than the Dioceses they represent."
Media commentary is almost universally condemnatory of the rejection of women bishops.
"Yesterday was a sad and shameful day for the Church of England and therefore for the country of which it is the established religion," says a Times editorial. The paper places the blame on a "small but highly motivated group of fundamentalists more interested in factional organisation, textual analysis and strict orthodoxy than in the real world" and Rowan Williams, whose "leadership was too cerebral, too absorbed with his own intellectual anguish" to prevail in this, "his great test".
The Independent believes the Church has lost some of its moral authority at a time when its voice is needed most. "Yesterday's vote can only mean the Church's voice will have less credibility in areas where its contribution ought to be welcomed - be that on banking reform, the ethical behaviour of big business, fairness in public spending cuts... On all these, the Church might have much to say. But after yesterday's betrayal of the principles of equality, will anyone listen?"
The Guardian's Andrew Brown calls yesterday's Synod debate "a ghastly mixture of tedium and bad faith". He adds: "I think I have just watched the Church of England commit suicide. It was a very long and very boring process...
"One speaker said, as if it mattered: 'I don't believe that this is legislation that will allow the world to look at the Church tonight and see Jesus Christ'; and no one pointed out that back on planet earth, the world will look at the Church today and say: 'Jesus Christ!'"