Tuesday, 18 October 2011

Church of England women bishop plan passes key threshold

The proposal to approve women bishops for the Church of England has just passed a key threshold: of the 44 diocesan synods, 28 have already approved the proposal - comfortably more than the half of the total (i.e. 22) that were required, with 14 votes still to come.

While approval at this stage may well have been expected, there are two features that particularly interest me. One is the sheer scale of support, and the other the very clear rejection of a compromise motion, to assuage the male hardliners who simply cannot countenance serving under a woman.

The sheer scale of the support thus far is impressive: 28 synods have voted in favour, and just 2 against. In most of these, support has come from all three houses of bishops, clergy and laity, and frequently by huge margins. The dire warnings of a seriously divided church, and the probability of a serious schism, are unfounded. The dissenting voices are few. When they see the scale of their defeat, most will learn to adapt. Some no doubt will choose to leave, or seek allegiance to an alternative hierarchical  structure - but they will be few.

The compromise motion, recognizing the inevitable victory for the proposal, aimed to sugar the pill for conservative male clergy by providing for alternative structures whereby dissenting male clergy could avoid reporting to female bishops, by working instead with a parallel structure consisting exclusively of men. This is obviously insulting to women, and has been roundly rejected. Just 6 of the 30 votes so far have supported the compromise. That is, 24 have rejected it - already more than half. The compromise cannot reach the minimum of 22 required.

Although it is clearly supported by a majority of the dioceses, this was just one (important) landmark along the way. The proposal still has some way to go. Next, it will have to be approved by the full national synod, with parallel votes in favour required from each of the three houses - of bishops, clergy and laity. The scale of support at diocesan level, coming generally from all three houses, should make passage at this next level pretty  much a formality. Thereafter, it will have to go before the British parliament.
Legislation to introduce women bishops into the Church of England has moved a step closer, according to supporters.
So far 28 out of 30 of the Church's regional councils, the diocesan synods, have voted to endorse the legislation.
Having been backed by most of the 44 diocesan synods, the measure will return to the General Synod next year.
A further motion with extra concessions for Anglicans who cannot accept women bishops has been supported by just six diocesan synods.
The Church's national assembly, the General Synod, may vote finally on the legislation next July.

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