“Let Your Women Keep Silent In The Churches”


Last week, the General Synod of the Church of England rejected a measure to allow women bishops, a decision determined by the failed super-majority vote (132-74) in the House of Laity. This was despite 72% overall Synod support for the revision. Vicar Jeremy Fletcher reflects on the vote’s impact on his ministry:

I have an Associate Vicar and two curates. All women. I am Rural Dean of Beverley, which has a majority of female incumbents and retired clergy. It is only a tiny minority of clergy who will become a bishop…and they need their head examining if they aspire to be one. I’ve worked in a bishop’s office. You don’t want to be one. But this vote pats ordained women on the head and says ‘there there. You’re good for some stuff and not others. Leave it to the men.’ I will affirm, and help, and pray, and mentor and serve and everything else. But, for some years to come there are places I can go that my female colleagues can’t, and that is very bad, and I can’t say any more. Feelings are feelings, but God I feel awful.

Meanwhile, Joan Smith points out that women were instrumental in bringing down the revision:

Voting figures show that 33 of the 74 General Synod lay members who voted against the measure were women, most of them conservative evangelicals or members of the church’s Anglo-Catholic wing. They had the support of another 2,200 women who signed a petition opposing reform.

Pondering their motivations, Smith recalls anti-suffragette Mrs. Humphry Ward:

Ward had so internalised the notion of power as male that she couldn’t see the difference between wanting equality and wanting to be a man. I suspect a similar confusion lies behind the synod’s vote, at least on the part of lay members who fear that women would lose their femininity if they became bishops.

Noting that the revision’s defeat was due largely to “stealth” grassroots organization by conservative evangelicals, Jane Kramer analyzes the political implications:

Until last week, neither the Queen nor the Parliament has had to consider the elevation of women bishops—for the simple reason that no Synod had reached the stage of producing a canonical revision to that effect. The difference today is that a revision was produced and rejected before it left the Synod floor—which meant that an arm of the state had pointedly defied the state’s law against discrimination. …

No one knows what will happen now. Parliament does have the legal right to introduce a new bill that no one can contest. There are already calls for the disestablishment of the Church of England; this won’t happen, but there is some chance that its bishops will be asked to leave the House of Lords, at least until the Church accepts its obligations under the country’s anti-discrimination laws.

(Photo: Reverend Marie-Elsa Bragg hugs Reverend Angie Nutt after leaving Church House on November 20, 2012 in London, England. The Church of England’s governing body, known as the General Synod, has voted against allowing women to become bishops. By Peter Macdiarmid/Getty Images)