The Church of England’s stained-glass ceiling
For the 80 million cohorts of the Anglican church around the world, the Church of England’s enigmatic vote to deny female clergy the opportunity to serve as bishops is curious and strange. It makes no sense.
The results of the Nov. 20 vote by the General Synod, the church’s legislative body, is also to varying degrees a puzzlement, embarrassment and outrage for legions of churchgoers, including the spiritual head of Anglican church, the archbishop of Canterbury, the Most Rev. Rowan Williams, and the head of the British government, Prime Minister David Cameron. The Anglican church is designated as the official religion for England, though that hardly means anything as far as church attendance, which is imploding along with that of mainline churches in the United States.
The vote was a curiosity itself. Approval of the introduction of female bishops required two-thirds approval in each of the three chambers of the synod. The bishops strongly approved it, as did the clergy. The required two-thirds fell a handful of votes short among the laity, the delegates representing the parishioners in the pews.
No one has stepped forward to offer an explanation for this Edwardian retreat into another time. A third of the clergy in England are women. The vote is at odds with the movement of the broader faith, and domestic laws and public opinion.
The Anglican church elsewhere around the world moved on long ago. Women have been ordained in the U.S. since 1977. In 2006 Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori was elected as the first female Presiding Bishop in the history of the Episcopal Church. Also a first in the Anglican Communion.
Williams, set to retire from his post, had a blunt response in a New York Times story: “Whatever the motivation for voting yesterday, whatever the theological principle on which people acted and spoke, the fact remains that a great deal of this discussion is not intelligible to our wider society.”
As noted by the female member of Parliament who coined the stained-glass ceiling line, it is vital the church “is led by the very best, not just those who happen to be male.”
Achenblog by Joel Achenbach
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