Viewpoints: Women bishops - where next?

Rowan Williams and his successor Justin Welby after the synod rejected the women bishops measure. Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams and his successor Justin Welby were dismayed after the Church of England's synod rejected women bishops

As soon as the Church of England's general synod narrowly rejected the law allowing women bishops, there were calls for fresh discussions to enable it to be altered and passed.

Most opponents accept the CofE will have women bishops - but they want those who cannot accept them to still have a place in the Church.

Many supporters of women bishops say they have made enough - and possibly too many - concessions already.

BBC News asked some of those involved in the debate what their core beliefs are - and what they don't want to compromise on.

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Rev Janet Appleby

The media and politicians may be impatient for a quick fix but the Church must not be bounced”

End Quote
The Rev Janet Appleby, diocese of Newcastle

After 12 years of discussion and consultation, the proposal we had before us at General Synod on 20 November was the best possible, given the incompatibility between the beliefs of those on opposite sides of the debate - that women can be bishops or that they can't.

A good outcome would be if we reconsidered our procedures. In particular a careful assessment of how, and by whom, the various decisions were made at several points this year might help us to avoid such a debacle in future.

Sufficient consensus needs to be established beforehand so that a final debate doesn't end up on a knife edge.

We also need to look carefully at the theology and ecclesiology underlying the whole debate.

Janet Appleby

  • Vicar in Willington team ministry
  • Author of the "respect" amendment adopted by the House of Bishops

The media and politicians may be impatient for a quick fix, but the Church of England must not be bounced into cobbling something together which creates more problems than it solves.

We need to remember the unintended consequences of hasty arrangements made through the 'Act of Synod' in 1993 (which made provision for parishes who would not accept woman priests to be overseen by alternative bishops).

Fortunately, God can always bring astonishing and creative good out of the mess we get ourselves into, so I do still hope for a future in which all God's people, of whatever gender, can flourish equally.

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Father Simon Killwick

Traditionalists need the ministry of appropriate bishops”

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Canon Simon Killwick

The vote in General Synod was an entirely avoidable disaster - had the compromise amendment proposed by the two Archbishops in 2010 been included, the legislation would have passed.

That vote was not against women bishops; it was against legislation which failed to provide for the consciences of those who cannot, on religious grounds, receive the ministry of women bishops - a very different matter in a broad and diverse Church.

We need round-table talks now between representatives with differing convictions to reach agreement on fresh legislation which is capable of commanding consensus.

Traditionalists need the ministry of appropriate bishops guaranteed by law, not dependent on a Code of Practice.

Canon Simon Killwick

  • Vicar of Christ Church, Moss Side
  • Leader of the Catholic Group, general synod

These bishops must work in partnership with women bishops, but they must be able to minister in their own right, rather than under delegation.

Fresh legislation could helpfully follow the example of the Church in Wales, comprising two measures, one to provide for women bishops, and the other to provide bishops for traditionalists.

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Rev Dr Miranda Threlfall-Holmes

Women must become bishops on the same terms as men ”

End Quote
The Rev Dr Miranda Threlfall-Holmes, vicar of Belmont & Pennington

This must not be allowed to drag on for another five to 10 years.

I am made slightly more hopeful by the outcry the vote has raised, which shows that the people of England do still care what the Church of England thinks and does.

Those speaking against the legislation called for more provisions for those who want to insulate themselves from women's ministry. But I can't see any way in which more provisions could be made without fatally undermining both the women who became bishops, and the whole office of bishop.

The bottom line in any future negotiations remains the same: women must become bishops on exactly the same terms as men. There must be no suggestion in the law that the Church of England remains ambivalent about the validity of women's ministry or full equality before God.

Miranda Threlfall-Holmes

  • Chair of Watch in the north-east
  • Former chaplain, Durham University

But my feeling now is that, since the compromise package has been rejected, those opposed have demonstrated that they won't in fact accept any compromise. We should now bring forward a single clause measure, simply saying that women can be bishops.

Dr Threlfall-Holmes can be followed on Twitter @MirandaTHolmes

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Rev Hannah Cleugh

It was a painful attempt at a compromise”

End Quote
The Rev Dr Hannah Cleugh, Oxford diocese

On 20 November, many speakers called for "more provision" or "better provision" for those who oppose the ordination of women to the episcopate. Almost no-one said they didn't accept that the Church of England should now have women bishops.

So, how do we write law that will allow women to be bishops on an equal footing as their male colleagues, but also make provision for those who cannot accept their authority or ministry? There is a theological circle which cannot be squared.

The measure that fell six votes short on 20 November was a painful attempt at a compromise, and had received approval in 42 out of the 44 dioceses.

It is hard to see now what compromise might command a consensus with the current Synod, or how it might be "improved" in a way that would not be rejected as too discriminatory.

And many supporters of women bishops are now wondering whether there was ever any point at all in trying to compromise, and are calling instead for a return to a single clause measure that would simply allow women to be bishops.

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Canon Chris Sugden

The authority of women bishops would not be diminished by sharing with a male bishop”

End Quote
Canon Dr Chris Sugden

People did not vote against women bishops, but against this particular measure.

The real question is whether a bishop is a monarch or whether there can be plural and collaborative leadership. All bishops have equal authority in their own sphere of ministry.

The authority of women bishops would not be diminished by sharing their authority with a male bishop, since all would have to so share.

We have offered varieties of this solution many times. People need one where in conscience they can accept the authority of the male bishop in whose jurisdiction they serve and they need some such conservative bishops to be appointed following an agreement.

Canon Chris Sugden

  • General synod member for Oxford diocese
  • Secretary of traditionalist Anglican Mainstream

Traditional progressives, rather than slavishly following tradition, hold that faithfulness to the Biblical teaching is the only ground for challenging injustice, poverty and oppression.

They look for an arrangement which secures their future in the Church of England as a legitimate Anglican position and which provides a regular supply of ordinands accepted for training, ordination, deployment and appointment to senior posts and the office of bishop.

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The Reverend Stephen Kuhrt

There cannot be further concessions to opponents”

End Quote
The Rev Stephen Kuhrt, vicar of Christ Church, New Malden

What happens now is difficult.

The House of Laity is clearly unrepresentative of those it is meant to represent, with lay members of the Church of England being, like its bishops and clergy, overwhelmingly in favour of women bishops.

The next elections for General Synod in three years' time may well turn into a virtual referendum on the issue, meaning that a very different House of Laity will surely be elected.

It is vital for lay people in the Church of England to wake up to their responsibility to get people elected to General Synod who will properly represent them.

The Rev Stephen Kuhrt

  • Chair of evangelical group Fulcrum, which supports women bishops

What there cannot be is any further concessions to opponents beyond those contained in the measure just rejected.

It is impossible to go further than the legal requirement for respect to be shown to opponent's convictions without ending up with women being established as semi-bishops rather than full ones.

Opponents of women bishops need to wise up to this if they are not to end up with the single measure that many now want and which may well be best.

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Pete Myers

Monarchical style bishops could become team ministries”

End Quote
Pete Myers, Church Society and Together 4ward

Parishes could opt in for oversight from an alternative bishop with authority in his own right. Or through some kind of 'society' monarchical style bishops could become team ministries, a change already introduced at the parish level.

Like the majority of Anglicans worldwide, we believe Jesus positively affirmed the distinct identities of men and women in the church.

But in the spirit of charity and compromise, evangelicals and Catholics were prepared to say "yes" to women bishops at least twice in the last two synods.

And there were many other helpful avenues that were shut down early.

Pete Myers

  • Council member of evangelical Church Society
  • Co-ordinator of Together 4ward campaign

The legislation was stalled by a minority group unhappy with any provision at all for traditionalists.

The vast majority of the Church of England want women bishops, but also want fair provision for us. So if we must change a 2,000 year old institution by introducing female bishops, please can we do so in a way that still allows classical Christianity to flourish?

Pete Myers can be followed on Twitter @PeterDMyers

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Most Rev Eliud Wabukala

I am heartened that the Church has stepped aside from the path of the US Episcopal Church”

End Quote
Archbishop of Kenya Eliud Wabukala

Although I realise many will be very frustrated that the Church of England's General Synod failed to pass legislation to admit women to the episcopate by such a narrow margin, I believe that this result will come to be seen as a positive turning point.

The key issue at this stage was the maintenance of proper safeguards for those who as a matter of theological principle could not accept such a fundamental change.

I am therefore heartened that the Church of England has stepped aside from following the path of the Episcopal Church of the United States which has progressively marginalised and excluded those who seek to hold to historic Anglican faith and order in good conscience.

Now that legislative pressure has been removed, it is my prayer that there can be a period of calm reflection in which the biblical understanding of calling, for both men and women, will be prominent."

The Most Rev Eliud Wabukala chairs the Primates Council of the worldwide Fellowship of Confessing Anglicans (Gafcon)



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  • rate this

    Comment number 507.

    It is a strange brew; a church born out of the lusty loins of some dead king, then two or three centuries as an arm of state conformity, and of late the wonder that we are all equal - it is magic. No wonder some women are clamouring to join its magic circle.

  • rate this

    Comment number 506.

    I can't understand the people who are saying that voting against women bishops has lost the CoE's credibility.

    Surely the CoE had already lost any credibility it had left when it went against scripture and allowed women to become ministers in the first place?

    I have no idea why someone who was against women ministers would still be a part of the CoE in the first place.

  • rate this

    Comment number 505.

    I think that you're being deliberately provocative, or are quite mad.
    What alternative galaxy do you live in?
    When men were men, and the church ran things, we burned old ladies as witches, used ducking stools and had ordeal by fire. Your comments are bizarre, and really have no place in a fair society - although you obviously don't see that as being so because of your beliefs. ODD

  • rate this

    Comment number 504.

    The reality is that whatever happens with regard to women bishops being appointed to the C of E, the unstoppable rise of Islam will simply mean that the whole issue will ultimately become irrelevant, as Christianity gets increasingly marginalised in this country over the next century,
    and is ultimately banned when the imams finally take control.

  • rate this

    Comment number 503.

    Who really cares ,,People have more important problems going on in there lives. As far as I can see its a little private club for both men and women who should find more productive things to do with there live

  • rate this

    Comment number 502.

    Equality of opportunity is a moral issue on which the church should have been leading, as it did on other great areas of social reform, but instead we’re trailing and now seem to be trying to be the last bastion of chauvinism. The church should be ashamed. Those who fear change should grow up. People should be appointed to roles on the basis of their ability, not gender prejudice.

  • rate this

    Comment number 501.

    All religious groups need to make a decision.

    Either accept to abide by the spirit of Equality for all or to remove themselves from involvement in public life including politics and broadcasting etc.

    As it stands those who choose not to treat everyone as Equal cannot claim to be engaging in Britain's diverse culture and should not be permitted legal privileges such as charitable status.

  • rate this

    Comment number 500.

    No religion should have any exceptions from the Equality Act.

    The current situation means some people can be treated less favourably than others and this cannot form the basis of any faith.

    An overdue amendment to the Act would sort this nonsense out for once and all.

    Especially when the head of the CoE is our Queen!

  • rate this

    Comment number 499.

    'I have no sympathy for women wishing to become bishops. The bible doesn't say that Women are equal to men. Found your own religion if you are so desperate'

    You do realize this is the 21st Century right? That women were given the vote in 1920 right? See Galatians, the Bible contradicts itself on every matter. As an agnostic, this is an important issue because it is clear sexual discrimination.

  • rate this

    Comment number 498.

    The problem here is that we’re not talking about changing the dress code down the local snooker club --so the p.c. stasi are having a problem this time running rough shod over an institution nearly 500yrs old based on a belief system over 2000yrs old

  • rate this

    Comment number 497.

    Hijack: Why is there no "your comments" for the Leveson inquiry? Doesn't the BBC want the public to "Have their say"??

  • rate this

    Comment number 496.

    Oh dear oh dear . . . ..

  • rate this

    Comment number 495.

    Everybody totally misses the fundamental point:

    There is no answer to the question of whether God's Church should have women Bishops because there is no Biblical place for Bishops in the Church.

    Until the CofE goes back to Biblical theology and realises that only Christ is our Priest, we will continue to waste time having these fruitless arguments.

  • rate this

    Comment number 494.

    I believe in a creative power, but don't know what it is. To actually give it a name or say it looks like me, did we ever really leave the dark ages ? Blind faith, isn't faith it's the hope of promises religions make. Radicals blow themselves up in acts of war, knowing ???? they are martyrs. GOD whatever you are, help us rid ourselves of this religious nonsense.

  • rate this

    Comment number 493.

    Lillith tempted Lucifer, who was susceptible to her charms. Then she taunted his inadequacies to the power of God & His love of the man he had created. Lucifer tempted Eve as a serpent to break Gods law. She - Lillith became the mother of all demons. Eve became the sin of lust, and the downfall of man. Great stories, 21st century - some actually believe. That story is truly remarkable.

  • rate this

    Comment number 492. dare you win or sometimes lose

    Anthropologically speaking male led and male voiced religions have been around in one guise or anther for around 3000 years, remember to include Eastern and western religions, but before that most religions were matriarchal in nature, or at least sought to balance the male and female, somthing that Christians, Jews and Muslim's do not seem to like doing?

  • rate this

    Comment number 491.

    Isn't the whole point of religion creating / maintaining male dominance. Maybe 2000 years ago the lads realised the lasses had too much say at home, best put em in their place. Who created the fall from grace - a woman. Not just Eve but Lillith, in demonology the first woman created for Adam, he wasn't interested. Saying should read " fury had no hell, til a woman was scorned "

  • rate this

    Comment number 490.


    You are right, but both were still baptised Anglicans, and to re-focus; so the Beebs god like moderators do not start removing our comments based on relevance to topic.

    The Queen could force women bishops on the CoE, she will not as the CoE and greater Anglican churche’s i.e. CoS , are tide to No:10 by institution and this would threaten to over turn the political status quo.

  • rate this

    Comment number 489.

    488. Matthew

    I know Wikipedia isn't 100% right but it claims Clement Atlee and Jim Callaghan were agnostic so they may count as 'someone of science becoming PM'

  • rate this

    Comment number 488.

    4 Minutes ago
    To correct my previous, the PM has to be an Anglican, due to the Queen being the defender of the faith, “see reformation”, the CoE has welcomed any PM as one of its own, so long as there Anglican, what about the a catholics or a person of another faith or someone of science becoming PM, this will not happen till the CoE gets out of no:10?


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