In rather surprising news, the Church of England rejected the cause of female bishops this week:
The Church of England's governing body blocked a move Tuesday to permit women to serve as bishops in a vote so close it failed to settle the question of female leadership and likely condemned the institution to years more debate on the issue.
The General Synod's daylong debate ended with the rejection of a compromise that was intended to unify the faithful despite differing views on whether women should be allowed in the hierarchy. But backers failed to gain the necessary majority by six votes.
"There is no victory in the coming days," said Rev. Angus MacLeay. "It is a train crash."
The defeat was a setback for Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, who retires at the end of December, and his successor, Bishop Justin Welby. Both had strongly endorsed a proposed compromise that would have respected the decision of those who objected to the ordination of women bishops.
Instead of ending decades of debate on the issue in the church, the narrow defeat opens the church, which has around 80 million members worldwide, to further years of internal discussions. It also forms an uncomfortable backdrop to the start of Welby's leadership. He is due to be enthroned in March.
Passage of legislation to allow women to serve as bishops must be approved by two-thirds majorities in the synod's three houses: bishops, priests and laity. Some took heart in the fact that both the bishops and the clergy voted overwhelmingly in favor. But among the laity, the vote fell short, with 132-74.
On his blog, Standing on My Head, Father Dwight Longenecker provides background on the decision here and on the divisions within the Church of England here.
In the former, he notes:
The crisis in the Church of England occasioned by today’s rejection of women in the episcopate is likely to be long, drawn out and bitter. The liberals have campaigned for women bishops for twenty years. The majority of bishops and clergy voted in favor of the measure. It lost in the House of Laity by only six votes. The rest of the British people don’t understand the fuss. They’ve had women priests for twenty years in the Church of England and for most people this is simply a common sense question of equal rights for women.
. . . the negative vote may well have even more serious implications for the freedom of religion in England. If the Members of Parliament decide to over rule the General Synod there may be a constitutional crisis involving the established status of the Church of England and a crisis over religious freedom which will tumble over into serious implications for the relationship between the state and other religious bodies like the Catholic Church.
And in the latter:
The divisions between Liberal, Anglo-Catholic and Evangelical are, in many respects, only superficial and historical. The real division is between those Anglican Christians (no matter how they dress or worship) who believe that the Christian faith is a revealed religion, established by God and therefore unchanging, and those who believe the Christian religion is a human construct developed out of the circumstances of a particular historical and cultural setting.
Those who believe the Christian religion is revealed by God supernaturally also believe that the Church is essentially not of this world. They exist in this world to challenge the ways of this world. They are not supposed to be conformed to the world, but to be transformed. Those who believe that the Christian religion is revealed by God for the eternal salvation of souls see this world as needing repentance and forgiveness and salvation. They don’t mind if the world rejects them. They expect that. When asked to compromise the faith and change the faith to adapt to the world they assume the martyr’s stance. “Offer incense to idols? Bring on the roaring lions, the coliseum and the crowds.”
The second category of Christian are those who believe the religion is a human construct. They think it is the result of certain historical and cultural conditions and accidents. As it was produced by a cultural context, so Christianity has always adapted to the culture in which it finds itself. They see this as a good thing. This is their method of evangelization. They follow the lead of the current cultural climate because they see that as the way of being relevant and connecting with the people in their culture. They do not view the world as full of souls to be saved so much as a wayward child that needs educating and a little bit of discipline in order to reach his full potential. Christianity is for them, a method of personal growth and a system for societal change. It is for them more of an ideology than a theology.
Father Longenecker sent me a copy of his new book, Catholicism Plain and Simple for my review, an I'll post it here, of course. I already love the cover, with one of Rembrandt's portraits of Jesus. Looks like perfect reading for the Year of Faith. From the Introduction:
This book presents the basics of the Catholic faith in simple, straightforward language. You will not find here complex philosophical arguments, insider churchy talk or complicated theological language. I have avoided hi-falutin' references and obscure quotations. There aren't any academic notes or quotes in Greek, Latin and Aramaic. This is meat and potatoes religion. This book does not answer all the questions or make all the arguments. It simply starts by explaining why we believe God exists, and then goes on, step by step to explain who Jesus Christ is, what his life and death mean and how the Catholic Church came about. It explains what it means to be a Catholic and how one lives the Catholic faith. This book is an excellent text book for someone who is in RCIA or confirmation class. It also provides an excellent back-up and refresher course for Catholics to know their faith better.