Friday, November 23, 2012

Atlantic Article on Women Bishops in C of E

Mollie Z. Hemingway

When the Church of England narrowly defeated a measure to allow women to be appointed bishops this week after a dozen years of legislative effort, many observers were surprised. After all, the group has ordained women as priests since 1994—what's the big deal with letting female priests become bishops?

The answer helps explain why the measure failed. The Church of England is known for the graciousness with which it accommodates minority theological opinions. Since the 1990s, parties that disagreed about female ordination merely had to tolerate each other's presence. Female bishops, on the other hand, would hold significant ecclesial and sacramental authority over everyone in the church, even over the minority who believe that female ordination is a theological impossibility. Mere toleration would no longer be possible.

Legislation in support of women bishops was debated by the church this summer, with a focus on whether to protect that group that views female ordination as invalid. Bishops asked members to trust that the Church would respect opponents of the change, even while some proponents of the legislation opposed protections. Traditionalists and their sympathizers doubted these pledges, remembering that promises made to opponents of female ordination in the 1990s were subsequently broken: They were told that there would be no damage to the careers of clergy who viewed female ordination as invalid, for instance. A simple look at the vote in the House of Bishops this week (44 for, 3 opposed) tells a different story.

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