Editorial: A decision that leaves the Church in the past

The CofE will have less credibility after the rejection of women bishops

Share
Related Topics

It is 18 years since the Church of England took the decision to break with 2,000 years of Christian tradition and ordain women as priests. Outsiders might have felt that it was, therefore, only a matter of time before some of those priests – who now make up a third of all the nation's 11,000 Anglican clerics – distinguished themselves by their service sufficiently to make the case that they should become bishops. But there has been nothing self-evident about the way the Church has behaved in the tortuous 12 years since the process to allow women into the episcopate was set in train.

To the secular world, the case for women to become bishops is the same as that regarding the priesthood. It is a matter of equality and inclusion. In fairness, most people inside the Church agree, seeing inclusion and equality before God as central values of the Christian gospel. The majority of bishops, priests and lay members of the Church have long accepted that. But, because of the highly cautious structures of the established Church, a two-thirds majority was needed in all three houses of its General Synod to effect change. And that has allowed a recalcitrant minority to prevent the Church from entering the 20th, let alone the 21st, century.

Most of the public have little time for arcane theological arguments from traditionalist Anglo-Catholics about the Apostolic Succession and the fact that Jesus chose only men to be his disciples. (He also only chose Jews which does not appear to have disbarred the vast majority of male Anglicans from the priesthood.) Nor does contemporary society care much for Pauline scriptural exegesis from conservative evangelicals about the headship of Christ. But the unholy alliance between these two groups has effectively scuppered the chances of the Church of England having a role of any more significance in contemporary society than merely officiating at a few state occasions.

That is a tragedy. The British people still look to the Church for spiritual succour in times of national crisis and for moral leadership in times of both affluence and austerity. The outgoing Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, was able to provide such counsel over issues as diverse as the war in Iraq, the global financial crisis, and attitudes to British Muslims. But the bulk of his time in office has been consumed by a vain attempt to hold together a Church of England, and wider Anglican Communion, bitterly riven by controversy over sexuality and gender.

The No vote is not only a blow for Dr Williams. It is also a difficult beginning for his successor, Justin Welby. He has, of course, been spared the problem of a few more disgruntled traditionalists joining the thousand or so Anglicans who jumped ship to join the Ordinariate set up by the Vatican to poach unhappy Anglo-Catholics. But emboldened conservative evangelicals will now fight harder still against same-sex marriage and gay priests. It can only be hoped that Dr Welby holds firm to the principles of inclusion and equality, along with the Christian imperative to love rather than to disdain their fellow creatures, which he has already hinted will govern his approach to the job.

Regardless, 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, the conduct of the nation's foreign policy and how a multicultural society replenishes the cultural capital it inherited from Christianity. On all these, the Church might have much to say. But after yesterday's betrayal of the principles of equality, will anyone listen?

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Cover Supervisor

£75 - £90 per day + negotiable: Randstad Education Group: Are you a cover supe...

Marketing Manager - Leicestershire - £35,000

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager (CIM, B2B, MS Offi...

Marketing Executive (B2B and B2C) - Rugby, Warwickshire

£22000 - £25000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A highly successful organisation wit...

SEN Coordinator + Teacher (SENCO)

£1 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Job Purpose To work closely with the he...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Piper Ryan Randall leads a pro-Scottish independence rally in the suburbs of Edinburgh  

i Editor's Letter: Britain survives, but change is afoot

Oliver Duff Oliver Duff
Some believe that David Cameron is to blame for allowing Alex Salmond a referendum  

Scottish referendum: So how about the English now being given a chance to split from England?

Mark Steel
Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam