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. G Romarez

    I don't think that this story was actually made light of, There was one fact that was questionable, but I don't think it made much of a difference.

    I believe in NDE's. I don't think its a brain function anonolmy at all. I know of too many people that had these expieriences. I worked in a hospital once, and you would here alot about things like this.

    October 27, 2010 at 1:19 pm |
  2. If You Dare

    Here is a story worth reading, confirmed by doctors present!

    But during "standstill", Pam's brain was found "dead" by all three clinical tests – her electroencephalogram was silent, her brain-stem response was absent, and no blood flowed through her brain. Interestingly, while in this state, she encountered the "deepest" NDE of all Atlanta Study participants.

    Some scientists theorize that NDEs are produced by brain chemistry. But, Dr. Peter Fenwick, a neuropsychiatrist and the leading authority in Britain concerning NDEs, believes that these theories fall far short of the facts. In the doc-u-mentary, "Into the Unknown: Strange But True," Dr. Fenwick describes the state of the brain during a NDE:


    This person was totally braindead, so no activity existed in the brain. Yet, she saw her operation down to a new tool being used on her during surgery. Read if you dare, about the afterlife she expierienced.

    October 26, 2010 at 7:32 pm |
    • HotAirAce

      And here is the counter story where it appears the Pam Reynolds story, and others, are debunked:


      October 26, 2010 at 8:00 pm |
  3. TruthSpeaksOut

    @CatholicMom who says
    And so, if you reject the Catholic Church and Her teachings, and reject the Pope as Vicar of Christ, then you reject the Bible also.
    Yes, atheists, I know you will have to interject here, but this is for non-Catholics who want to be preachers, especially women. [If you are a Catholic woman and think you want to be a priest and think you should be able to be one, you are non-Catholic…] Well, ok, atheists, you are non-Catholic, too!
    We are all supposed to uphold the Truth and speak it when ever asked about our faith but we all do not need to be priests to do ‘our’ part.

    So, are you saying all the other people who love God and get saved, are rejecting the bible because they don't believe in the Catholic teachings, and that the Pope is the God on earth?
    Based on the writings of the Catholic Church?

    Pope Eugene IV, Council of Florence (ex-Cathedra and infallible):
    “The Holy Roman Church firmly believes, professes and preaches that all those who are outside the Catholic Church, not only pagans but also Jews or heretics and schismatics, cannot share in eternal life and will go into the everlasting fire which was prepared for the devil and his angels, unless they are joined to the Church before the end of their lives; that the unity of this ecclesiastical body is of such importance that only for those who abide in it do the Church’s sacraments contribute to salvation and do fasts, almsgiving and other works of piety and practices of the Christian militia produce eternal rewards; and that nobody can be saved, no matter how much he has given away in alms and even if he has shed bl-o-od in the name of Ch-ri-st, unless he has persevered in the b-o-s-o-m and unity of the Catholic Church” (“Cantate Domino,” 1441, ex cathedra).

    The last line of the 1302 ad Bull Unam Sanctam... Issued by POPE BONIFACE VIII states; we declare, we proclaim, we define that it is absolutely necessary for salvation that every human creature be subject to the Roman Pontiff. -UNAM SANCTAM (Promulgated November 18, 1302

    If you are, I submit to you:
    Those were drawn by men, and furthermore are full of lies. Jesus Christ is the only one you need to go thru for Salvation, not the Pope He is not God.

    All blasphemey!


    October 25, 2010 at 8:21 am |
    • TruthSpeaksOut

      CatholicMom? Hello? LOL No answer/comment?

      October 26, 2010 at 7:13 am |
  4. dcj

    I am a woman. I disagree with a woman being in power in the church. Not because we are second rate citizens or because we are being repressed, but because the bible says we shall not be in authority over men. I CHOOSE to be submissive. notice the bible always says submit, never subjugate.

    July 12, 2010 at 10:41 pm |
    • peace2all


      1)Islam-–Literally means 'submission'.....and a muslim is one who 'submits' to Allah. So, you have that in common with the muslims...

      2)Religion in general---Why should men be the 'only' ones getting to spout off a bunch of nonsense about a mythical god, based out of a book.... I firmly believe in allowing WOMEN the same right of delusional speach....

      July 14, 2010 at 1:40 am |
  5. Brad Smith

    The Supreme Governor of the Church of England is a woman! God save Her Majesty the Queen!!!

    July 12, 2010 at 8:57 pm |
    • Thorrsman

      Yes, God shave the Queen!

      July 12, 2010 at 9:07 pm |
  6. Gil T

    @ Veritas
    Ron’s reference is a general one, but not inappropriate. The “out-of-context” charge is an old shoe, but its one-charge-fits-all use is not about to be retired any time soon. Yes, Jesus did treat women equally as did Paul do for that matter. Our culture-driven theologies, ideologies, etc, confuse then infuse that confusion for equality for sameness or oneness. A man and woman as husband and wife are one, according to scripture, but that is not to say they are the same or to say one is better than the other.
    I encourage you conduct a similar search as you demand of Jack on Jesus said anything to the effect of women as priests, bishops, etc. That a man-made organization with (presumably) good-intentions has had women bishops ordained ought not be mistaken as bearing the authority of scripture.

    July 12, 2010 at 2:12 pm |
  7. Gil T

    @ Bucek
    My reference to the OT was not to cite it as a binding authority on the church, but to draw the lessons for our learning. (Rom 15:4) Your speculation as to the exclusion of women (busy caring for family) from the ancient pattern of the Levitical priesthood is significant and says much about your approach to the subject in question. Clearly, the NT as written by the apostles and writers under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit is the authoritative source for the church.

    Paul never met Jesus? I draw your attention and refer you to Acts. Then, review what you suggest on Paul, an apostle inspired by the Holy Spirit, contradicting himself. Is God a God of confusion? (I Cor 14:33) What you do not suggest but intimate is the current trend of positing Paul against Jesus. Following Jesus’ welcome and engagement of women in “conversations” as a guide or authority for the role of women in the church is quite a stretch. You say we (meaning, me) miss the big principle, but I have cited the OT principle regarding priests and drew its application to the NT church. Here’s one of those simple commandments from Jesus: If you love me you will keep my commandments.

    July 12, 2010 at 1:15 pm |
    • Bucek

      @Gil T
      If you agree the OT is not a proper site for binging authority, then help me understand what Lessons you are trying to have us draw from it. You make a vague assertion about lessons, but I'm not following what you mean. Yes, my reference to cultural role assignment in the ancient middle east as a possible reason for excluding women from the priesthood indeed indicates my approach to this issue– realities of 3000 years ago dictated cultural roles and social norms and survival for the Hebrew tribes. As realities change, cultural and social mores change and thus roles change.

      Paul never met Jesus. Paul came along and had his spiritual experience and conversion 20 years after Jesus died. What lesson are you trying to point me to in Acts? If you are trying to suggest the infallibility of anything found in a modern bible, just say so. I am always immensely suspect of people who dodge a discussion of the inconsistent statements that occur throughout the bible with a catchall misdirection with the assertion that every statement is divinely true. Ok. Then Women should be priests and women should not be priests. It is all true. it is all written. Everyone of us is entitled to interpret the meaning of these passages as we think God is making them clear to us or point to verses hither and yon to support our assertions. But when our interpretations are diametrically opposed and our biblical supports are contradictory, would you be willing to address my central tenet that Jesus shows us how to resolve conflicts like this– love God, love your neighbor, and everything else will follow from there.

      You don't like my use of the term "conversations". Jesus conversed with people from all walks of life, all ages and genders and social ranks. He invited questions and posed his own. He listened and he talked. It was all his way of teaching and leading by example. SO, if we call it "teaching" instead of "conversing", would you agree that Jesus openly welcomed women to his school and taught them along with the men? This is Jesus leading by example. He welcomed women. ANd in Luke 10.38-42 we see where Jesus specifically eschewed the traditional roles for women in Jewish society and said it was a better choice for a woman to choose to be alongside the men in actively participating as he carried out his ministry [rather than listening passively while serving the food to the men 🙂 as Martha suggested that her sister Mary should be doing.]

      I think I am being pretty clear in my assertion that Jesus words and Jesus example tell us all we need to know in this current debate about women as priests. If God calls women to the priesthood, who are we to stand in the way? If a woman says she wants to teach Christianity and be a Christian leader, is it "loving your neighbor" to try to deny her that calling, to try to silence the voice of Jesus speaking through her? Yes, I assert again that all the biblical proof-texting is missing the bigger picture– Jesus was loving and inclusive. Be loving and inclusive.

      July 12, 2010 at 6:03 pm |
  8. McCluck

    I saw this bumpersticker the other day....it makes me giggle.

    "Don't Pray in My School, And I Won't Think in Your Church"

    July 12, 2010 at 12:36 pm |
  9. moi

    Get this straight, everyone: "woman" = noun, while "female" = adjective. There is no such thing as a _woman_ bishop (or firefighter, teacher, doctor, etc.). There *is*, however, the grammatical possibility for a _female_ bishop to exist (female firefighter, female doctor, and so on). I don't know why this is so hard for everyone to understand. One would never use a phrase like "The man bishop" or "the man doctor."

    You can at least practice _grammatical_ gender equality.

    July 12, 2010 at 12:22 pm |
  10. ybs

    All religions are one big pile of dung! The biggest one are those that could only do good in the name of god/religion!

    People seek comfort in horoscopes. So, don't expect people to pull their heads out of this pile of dung!

    Besides, where else one could subjugate others without repercussion?

    July 12, 2010 at 12:10 pm |
  11. Gil T

    @ JohnM
    Here’s news for you: You are equally privy to that information. Like Sir Craig in this thread your serving of sarcasm is no cover for your ignorance. You are privy and you are welcome to jump into a subject you neither agree with or are uninformed about, but your sarcasm and the knowledge you display would suggest you would spit in the wind.

    July 12, 2010 at 12:04 pm |
  12. ItIsI

    GOD = The Creator of All Things, correct?

    Not just one book (The Bible), but all books. Otherwise your GOD is not the Creator of All Things..and not much of a God at all.

    Also, The Bible Specifically states that All Men are born into sin with the exception of JC. JC did not write the bible, therefore a group of sinful men did. So at Best it is a book written by sinners....but inspired by GOD....

    July 12, 2010 at 12:02 pm |
  13. StevieBoy

    And so I wonder how far away they are from accepting a gay priest or bishop??? HA HA HA!!!! What a stone-age bunch of non-thinkers!!!

    July 12, 2010 at 11:55 am |
  14. Realist

    At least femal priests won't be buggering the childern

    July 12, 2010 at 11:48 am |
  15. Vicki

    If the Anglican church can not accept women as Priest or Bishops, then they should rejoin the Catholic communion. Best thing the Episcopal Church did in America was to allow women to serve as Priest and Bishops.

    July 12, 2010 at 11:46 am |
  16. DD

    Haha there ya go. It's all Henri VIII's fault.

    July 12, 2010 at 11:41 am |
  17. robli143

    Besides his six wives (two which he had beheaded) Henry VIII is also remembered for his role during the English Reformation that made England a Protestant nation – the modern day Church of England considers itself to be both catholic (little "c) and reformed.

    Henry did not FIRE the Pope; he was excommunicated from the Roman Catholic church and set himself up as the head of the Church of England. While he still clung to his faith's Catholic foundational teachings, Henry did change ceremonies and rituals and made it hard on the monasteries in England.

    Wiki says – Henry VIII wanted an annulment of his marriage to Catherine of Aragon so he could marry Anne Boleyn. Under pressure from Catherine's nephew, the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V, Pope Clement VII refused the annulment. Eventually, Henry, although theologically a doctrinal Catholic, took the position of Supreme Head of the Church of England to ensure the annulment of his marriage. He was excommunicated by Pope Paul III.

    July 12, 2010 at 11:38 am |
  18. relians

    for all you "religious" people, the commandment is "thou shalt not kill". it didn't say, thou shalt not kill other men, or women, and animals are ok, it says don't kill, anything. so don't step on any ants......

    July 12, 2010 at 11:34 am |
    • robli143

      It isn't wise to try to put words in God's mouth. God was commanding people on how they should treat Him and other people. It clearly doesn't say Thou shalt not kill anything – and since He was writing it Himself on stone, God could have said it exactly so, if that is what He wanted to say. He gave us dominion over animals; He gave people animals for food and gave us prayers to bless and sanctify what we eat.

      July 12, 2010 at 11:43 am |
    • McCluck

      He was simply pointing out that the bible is not to always be taken literally. Yet most still cherry pick what is to be taken literally and what is just a story or metaphor written with the intent to send a message.- since there is no way to tell, it is moronic IMO to think that an argument based on this logic holds any water.-no what kind of christian you are.

      July 12, 2010 at 11:53 am |
  19. Gil T

    @ Ellid

    Giving equal or more value to what scripture does not say or Jesus did not do is to effectively mute what it does say or what Jesus did do. Your appeal for what is "past time" and supposed advances issues from that same approach to the scriptures as authorative.

    July 12, 2010 at 11:30 am |
1 2 3
About this blog

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.