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July 11th, 2010
02:10 PM ET

Women bishops vote threatens to split Church of England

The Church of England inched closer to allowing women bishops this weekend, with a vote that traditionalists warned could split the church.

The church's governing body narrowly rejected a measure that would allow parishes that oppose women bishops to have an additional male bishop.

The proposal, floated by Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams (pictured) - the titular head of the Church of England - was an attempt to satisfy conservatives.

Campaigners for women bishops hailed the vote as a victory.

But traditionalists said the ballot "has made it very difficult for those who in conscience cannot accept the ministry for women priests and bishops."

The vote happened Saturday at the General Synod, the three-times-a-year meeting that sets policies for the Church of England.

Williams, who is also nominal head of the worldwide Anglican Communion, proposed the measure along with John Sentamu, the Archbishop of York.

The rejection of the compromise was greeted with a "slightly stunned silence," said the Rev. Miranda Threlfall-Holmes.

"Everyone was aware instantly of how close it was, [with] a slight gasp from everybody, thinking, 'Oh no, we only lost that by the skin of our teeth' or 'only passed that by the skin of our teeth,'" she said Sunday.

The Church of England is probably still a couple of years away from having women bishops. If this week's General Synod approves them, as expected, parishes across the church then have at least a year to consider the matter before a future General Synod casts a final vote on the issue.

Chris Sugden of the conservative Anglican Mainstream movement said the vote showed that conservatives were actually the majority.

"Although this group is portrayed as a minority, those who do not want a winner-take-all, scorched-earth policy, are a majority in Synod," he said.

He denied that the vote was about whether or not to ordain women bishops, saying the Church of England had already decided to go ahead with that.

Instead, Sugden said, the vote was about keeping the church together.

The failed compromise was so "that those who cannot accept women bishops can still be part of the Church of England," he said. "We believe in freedom of conscience, in religious freedom," he said of conservatives.

But he said a split was not inevitable, with two days to go before the General Synod concludes.

"Forty-eight hours is a long time in the life of a synod," he told CNN Sunday. "There is a lot of water to flow under the bridge. A lot of conversations are taking place."

The Catholic Group in Synod, another conservative group, suggested it would continue to fight against women bishops.

"The process in General Synod is not over and we would wish to be involved in the ongoing discussions as to a way forward that includes all loyal members of the Church of England," it said in a statement.

But a campaign called Women in the Church hailed the vote.

"We're tying hard not to use the word victory, but yes it is," said Sally Barnes, a Women in the Church representative.

"You can't have a church where we're all supposed to be one in Christ and then treat women as if it's the faulty half of creation," she told CNN Sunday.

"People don't need protecting against women, it's not a Christian concept. It's not how Christ treated women," she argued.

Under Church of England rules, for a measure like the one proposed by Williams and Sentamu to pass, it needed majority support from three different groups: bishops, priests and lay leaders.

Bishops and lay leaders backed the measure, but priests narrowly rejected it, meaning it failed.

The Anglican Communion - of which the Church of England is the British branch - is the world's third-largest Christian denomination, with about 77 million members worldwide.

It's facing serious strains over the ordination of women bishops and gay priests, and the Catholic Church has reached out to disaffected Anglicans, raising the possibility that conservatives could leave en masse.

- Newsdesk editor, The CNN Wire

Filed under: Anglican • Britain • Christianity • Episcopal

soundoff (131 Responses)
  1. LM

    Oh look, people on one side of mythology arguing with people on another, almost completely identical side of mythology. Who wants to bet that this will end in violence? Everything related to relgion ends in violence.

    If someone were to approach you today and propose the concept of religion as it has existed throughout human history, you'd laugh at them for having such a silly idea.

    July 12, 2010 at 11:16 am |
  2. cmc

    And people wonder why many find organized religion to be outdated? Probably because many of their policies are from the Dark Ages. I know a family who attends a church in Texas. Their church has 2 or 3 male preachers and a female preacher. One day, my friend sat behind a couple and when the female preacher was introduced by the male preacher as going to give the sermon of the day, the man in front of her looked at his wife and said "let's go" and they left. Disgusting.

    July 12, 2010 at 11:16 am |
  3. john316

    Wait till the people wake up and realize that the churches need to be taxed, like the large corporations they are. Then we will see some progress. In the meantime....the ultra conservative zealots can form a website called "haters hang on"......."for as long as we can".....similar to the Southerners who fought so hard against integration...

    July 12, 2010 at 11:14 am |
    • Veritas

      So then do we tax ALL charitable and non-profit organizations? That's what the overwhelming majority of churches are – non-profit organizations who do charitable work.

      July 12, 2010 at 11:18 am |
    • verify

      Veritas: "That's what the overwhelming majority of churches are – non-profit organizations who do charitable work."

      No, churches are religious worship organizations which also do charitable work (which is commendable).

      The charitable auxiliaries could be audited separately and remain tax free, but not the worship-related branches. Providing food, clothing, shelter, medicine, etc. for the needy would be deductible; but not provisions of Bibles, crosses and other religious materials.

      July 13, 2010 at 4:20 am |
  4. NorCalMojo

    The split is LONG overdo. This threat is getting old. The traditionalists need to split off or shut up.

    July 12, 2010 at 11:13 am |
  5. Fuyuko

    I don't believe god cares who his priests are. most of the stuff in the bible is just man's interpretation about what god wants. we will never know god's true feelings until the afterlife.

    July 12, 2010 at 11:07 am |
    • Jack

      I used to think that, but after some HONEST searching, I found that it wasn't true. People who say these things are either hostile to God or they've been brainwashed by those who are.

      July 12, 2010 at 11:09 am |
    • cmc

      So, Jack, why was it necessary to put out a New Testament? Did God get it wrong the first time? Do you honestly think God cares about who eats shellfish and who wears polyblend fabrics?

      July 12, 2010 at 11:24 am |
  6. McCluck

    Ugh. Sometimes you have to change your views as the times change.-and unless you still believe that the earth is the 6000 year old center of the universe, you should have no problem admitting that the church can be wrong. Do you want your church to become as outdated as it should be IMO?-it seems that some people do...

    July 12, 2010 at 10:59 am |
  7. Andy

    I love the part of the bible when the Virgin Mary promises to give her first-born child to the Angel Gabriel if he can spin all the straw into gold.. I just love the part when she guesses his name right and his splits himself in two! It's inspired!

    July 12, 2010 at 10:58 am |
    • Veritas

      Obviously that's not in the Bible. But your mockery reveals your contempt and disregard for the Bible, which leads me to wonder why you bothered reading the article and commenting on it in the first place... unless you just wanted to stir up trouble and try to provoke people.

      July 12, 2010 at 11:17 am |
  8. Preacherman

    The Bible is a patchwork of amendments. The New Testament is an amendment to the Old Testament. Judiasm rejects the New Testament but Islam critiques the New Testament. I think in this day and age, we need some amendments to the New Testament that are inclusive and user friendly for believers. The Bible was written by human beings, so let's not pretend that the writers were infallable.

    July 12, 2010 at 10:56 am |
    • Jack

      You have absolutely no idea what you are talking about. But one day you will stand before Christ. The book of Revelation (given to us by an Apostle who related the revelation GIVEN TO HIM BY JESUS CHRIST. It says that the Lord Jesus' voice is like many waters. So, if you think you can argue with Niagra Falls, you're fooling yourself. And in that revelation, Jesus also said that "whoever adds to or takes away from the words of that book, will suffer the plagues of that book." You're in for a very rude awakening that you will not be able to avoid.

      July 12, 2010 at 11:07 am |
    • LM

      Hey Jack, care to provide some evidence for any of that? And "because it says so in the bible" is not evidence. Nor is "you have to have faith," or "God told me in a vision" or dream, etc.

      July 12, 2010 at 11:21 am |
  9. Jack

    The problem with the Church of England is that they seem to have forgotten that the Kingdom of Heaven is ultimately not a democracy but, in fact, a Kingdom. And in that Kingdom, the Lord Christ has said that "man is the head of woman, Christ (God the Son) is the head of man and God (the Father) is the head of Christ." The Lord Christ requires a man to rule his own household well before he can become a leader in the church. If, therefore, a woman is not to be the leader of her household, how then should she be the leader of the church? Anyone who would argue with this, man or woman, is in rebellion against God and not man. And if they persist, they will incur a strict punishment from God Himself that they will in no way be able to thwart.

    July 12, 2010 at 10:54 am |
    • McCluck

      So the earth is 6000 years old, condoms are evil, and you should let someone drown on sundays as not to do work as well huh.

      July 12, 2010 at 11:05 am |
    • Grandis

      Jack,
      Your angry, closed-minded diatribe is not compassionate, and it is also full of self-important pride. Neither of these characteristics speaks well for one who claims to speak for Christ. This dogmatism will damage the church and drive others away from Christ. It is difficult, but necessary, to swallow your vain pride – if you truly want to reach others for the Lord. If you simply want to vent your anger and puff up your pride, continue as you are doing. Written by a humble, but concerned, brother in Christ.

      July 12, 2010 at 11:22 am |
    • ybs

      "Anyone who would argue with this, man or woman, is in rebellion against God and not man."

      OK, I'd have no problem saying "Fak god!" and religious sheep should not have a problem! Because, who are they to judge me/others!

      So, again... fak god & keep your religion to yourself - none of these "In god we trust" & "So help me god" crap!

      July 12, 2010 at 1:49 pm |
  10. Sue

    RELIGION--a crutch for the weak minded sheep.

    July 12, 2010 at 10:42 am |
    • neoritter

      Self-induced ignorance – the crutch of a person who can't face the truth.

      July 12, 2010 at 10:48 am |
    • Greg

      Wow Sue, ewe are in for a big surprise! 🙂

      July 12, 2010 at 11:02 am |
    • Jack

      "All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God." Romans 3:23

      "But the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Jesus Christ our Lord." Romans 6:23

      "All like sheep have gone astray, each to his own way, but the Lord has caused the iniquity of us all to fall on Him." Isaiah

      "I am the way, the truth and the life. NO ONE comes to the Father but through Me." Jesus

      "Tetelestai!" (Greek word that means "It is finished, the penalty of our sin is paid in full.") The last words of Christ on this earth.

      "That if you confess with your mouth, Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you shall be saved." From Romans 10:

      "For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord." Ephesians 8:9, 10

      If being weak minded means that I trust Christ as my crutch to take me to heave (and much more than a crutch) than I would rather be weak minded than to be strong like Sue... and spend eternity in Hell.

      "Blessed are the poor in Spirit, for theirs (and theirs alone) is the Kingdom of Heaven." Words of the Lord Christ from His Sermon on the Mount.

      Remember, over 500 witnesses saw that Jesus Christ had risen from the dead. His tomb was sealed with a huge bolder and guarded by a contingent of Roman soldiers who were under penalty of death if they allowed the body to be stolen, and yet, neither the Pharasees nor the Roman leaders could prove that Jesus did not raise from the dead, nor did they even try.

      July 12, 2010 at 11:03 am |
    • Grandis

      To both Sue and Andy –
      What inner anger drives you to inject your atheism into this conversation? Can you not tolerate the idea that others believe differently than you? Is your arrogance so great? Must you ridicule what you do not understand? Must you insist that others believe what you believe? Isn't your action here the same thing atheists continually accuse Christians of doing – attempting to force their own beliefs on others?

      July 12, 2010 at 11:07 am |
    • McCluck

      Yes Jack, and the hobits threw the ring into the fire at mordor. That is written in a book too so it must have happened.

      July 12, 2010 at 11:08 am |
    • Jack

      Oh common. You've committed intellectual suicide, or in other words, you're dishonest. You know the Hobbit was written as fiction. However, the Bible has never been called fiction. You can't have it that way. If you want to be honest go read a book called "Evidence that Demands a Verdict" by Josh McDowell. It compiles the overwhelming evidence for the authenticity of the Bible. No other book of antiquity can hold a candle to it. Of course, I know that you won't because your real problem is not intellectual, but that you're hostile to the moral claims of the Bible, which say that you and I are ruined in sin without Christ and that we need to repent and turn to Him. You simply don't want to know that you're wrong because you are proud and you love the darkness. That's what it really comes down to.

      July 12, 2010 at 11:16 am |
    • McCluck

      "You simply don't want to know that you're wrong because you are proud and you love the darkness. That's what it really comes down to."

      Oh i see. I love the darkness....

      Ill make this simple. The burden of proof is on you to prove that your bible is enspired by a magical being. To me it is a collection of stories. Many of which are entirely fiction. -So i am happy with my comparison to a fictional book. You committed intellectual suicide as soon as you decided to forgo logic and accept the huge circular argument that is christianity.

      If you still believe that the bible is not fiction:
      It only takes one fictional account to make your book a work of fiction. Unless you are a creationist you would accept that the bible cant be taken word for word.-in other words its fiction. If you are a creationist, then i am done with you.

      July 12, 2010 at 11:30 am |
    • McCluck

      Also jack, if this book you speak of gives proof to the authenicity of the bible then faith would be a thing of the past as it would not be needed.-There would be evidence for god and for christianity. Since it is impossible to prove god exists or does not exist, this book is likely a complicated series of circular arguments.

      July 12, 2010 at 11:42 am |
    • Lee

      Spoken like an open minded, non judgemental liberal, eh? You are just as closed minded and untolerant as the rest of us. Bigot, plain and simple. Thanks for showing your true colors for all to see.

      July 12, 2010 at 11:50 am |
    • McCluck

      I am only open minded to real things, sorry. I may be judgmental to those who believe in fairytales and then try to force their fairytale values on me. Politicians make laws based on their (sometimes religious) beliefs, as well as cater to the religious. Our laws reflect those religious values even though they are unjustified in my opinion. Instead of calling me judgmental i would prefer to call it defensive since i am only defending myself from the unjustified religious influence on my life. If religion had no influence outside of spirituality and was truly separate from all other aspects of life, I would have nothing against them.

      July 12, 2010 at 12:06 pm |
  11. MikeyD74

    well at least the preists will have something to molest other than alter boys

    July 12, 2010 at 10:27 am |
  12. MoodyMoody

    Does anyone else see the irony that the true head of the Church of England is a woman (Queen Elizabeth II), yet the church has a problem with women bishops?

    July 12, 2010 at 10:27 am |
  13. kim

    People wonder why church membership is dwindling. If half of the population is excluded or made to feel inferior, why would they attend? People are waking up to the fact that the church is man-made, not from God.

    July 12, 2010 at 10:26 am |
    • CatholicMom

      Jesus Christ founded the Catholic Church on Peter as the first Pope.

      July 12, 2010 at 11:11 am |
    • LookBothWays

      @ Mom. You might want to dust off your bible. Peter was not ordained Pope by Jesus, or even Bishop. He was ordained as a leader of the church. It was man, not God, who assigned these titles to him. ""Thou art Peter and on this rock, I will found my Church," The rock in question was his confession of faith, not his ability to lead man.

      Furthermore, nobody is elected "Pope" but they are elected to the Holy See, Bishop of Rome.

      Nobody knows less about Christianity than Catholics.

      July 12, 2010 at 11:58 am |
    • CatholicMom

      LookBothWays,
      so you don’t like the word POPE very much…. Peter wasn’t just a ‘leader’ as in ‘one of the leaders’ but THE ‘leader’ of all the Apostles… as in POPE. Do you like the word Trinity? [it is a CATHOLIC word… so that might upset you also?]

      July 12, 2010 at 4:45 pm |
  14. Nick2

    Dear Mark Walker, the Anglican church is not protestant, never was and never will be. It is catholic in all but name and a couple doctrinal differences – scarcely unchanged since Henry the 8th fired the Pope.

    July 12, 2010 at 10:23 am |
  15. OpinionAplenty

    I don’t understand why some people feel threaten by a woman becoming a bishop. The deciding factor on who should lead the flock should be how decent and faithful that person is, regardless of their gender. (This is true for other religions as well.) God only knows we need SOMEONE to help humanity out of this cycle of hate and destruction now more than ever. Catholic church shouldn’t limit their search to just men…AND this has nothing to do with being politically correct, but it has everything to do with picking the right person for the job.

    July 12, 2010 at 10:19 am |
  16. Nick2

    I went nearly all my boyhood to episcopalian (anglican) schools. I was very well educated in the arts, sciences and theology. However, although I have not rejected the notion of a supreme being, I reject wholeheartedly the bureaucracy of all organized religions. I do admit I enjoy the theatrical aspects of a high church service, but rather in the same way as Grand Opera. Frankly, the argument over women versus men serving as priests is trite, silly and nothing to do with a belief in God. Why shouldn't women also wear those flowing robes and administer ritual to the masses. Choose your poison whatever gives you happiness. However to put another human being between you and whatever may be supreme to human life, is coercive and myopic – appealing perhaps to the need for power and control, or ignorance in the case of the congregation.

    July 12, 2010 at 10:19 am |
  17. Brian

    Women preaching love and forgiveness?!? NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    July 12, 2010 at 10:17 am |
  18. Lloyd Piercey

    Media or whoever keep referrring "Angilcans are going to the Catholic Church" Anglicans are a Catholic Church. We've two "Catholic Churchs" They're the Roman Catholic and Anglo-Catholic churchs. Yes! Anglicans aren't protestants either!

    Please make your necessary corrections!!

    July 12, 2010 at 10:15 am |
  19. Jane

    Speaking as a woman, I'll never be a member of an organization that puts men in a position of authority over me for no other reason than because he has different genitalia. And the argument that I should accept my lower status because I'm able to bear children is essentially equating me with my uterus. I'd like to think I have more to offer than to serve as an incubator.

    July 12, 2010 at 10:13 am |
    • CatholicMom

      That is the kind of thinking that throws Motherhood under the bus............or should I say, the baby?

      July 12, 2010 at 11:06 am |
    • Jane

      If not wanting to be defined by my uterus means that I'm "throwing motherhood under the bus", then I have to say: go bus.

      July 12, 2010 at 11:27 am |
    • Gil T

      @ Jane
      Simply put, a view which asserts one’s human gender and anatomy cannot be a disciple of Jesus, because no one becomes a disciple to serve without first being crucified, that is, dying to self.

      July 12, 2010 at 3:25 pm |
    • Jane

      @Gil T
      If that's the case, then how can it possibly matter if a bishop is a man or a woman?

      July 13, 2010 at 2:58 am |
    • Gil T

      @ Jane
      What matters foremost is when the individual puts family, one’s own life or any condition (such as gender) as terms for obedience, of being crucified, or as you state it, being a part of any organization. In the context of the discussion that organization is referred to as the church. Secondarily, would be the matter of learning and receiving the instruction from scripture, not a man-made organization, as to the roles of the priesthood of believers in the church.

      July 13, 2010 at 2:32 pm |
  20. gg

    Thank you for flying Church of England. Cake or death?

    July 12, 2010 at 10:13 am |
    • Grondahl

      Excellent reference. +1

      July 12, 2010 at 10:32 am |
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The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.