Oh dear, Church of England. So close, and yet so far.
For those who have been outside the loop or just generally have a disinterest in matters of the church, the general synod of the Church of England has controversially voted against allowing women bishops in the Anglican Church. Despite the support of the Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, the bill fell six votes short of being passed. Those against the bill said they opposed it on the basis that the Bible teaches only men can lead the church and that allowing women bishops would only increase the divide with the Catholic Church at a time when unity is needed.
These arguments against the bill make no sense.
For a start, I think the Anglican Church has pretty much been ignoring St. Paul on the matter whether women can lead a church for about 450 years. Why 450 years? Well, more like 454 to be exact, because 454 years ago Elizabeth I was crowned and declared Supreme Governor of the English Church. She was a woman leading the church (you can’t count her elder sister Mary who repudiated the title). In fact, since 1558 there have been several women proclaimed Supreme Head of the Anglican Church. Mary, Anne, Victoria – we even have one now! Another Elizabeth! So how can members of the clergy justify refusing to allow women to be bishops when they are in a church which has a female leader? If they are that annoyed by the idea of women in power in the church, then why are they employed by the Anglican Church?
On the matter of increasing unity with the Catholic Church… again, I think that ship pretty much sailed 454 years ago. We broke from Rome in 1533 and the major doctrines of the Anglican Church were dictated by the religious beliefs of Elizabeth I, who was excommunicated by the Pope for her troubles. The Anglican Church has been clearly different and separate – you might say divided – for almost five hundred years. Why the sudden desire to be united with Catholicism? The Anglican Church, whether you’re religious or an atheist like me, ought to be something we should have a certain amount of national pride for. This is our own uniquely English church; forged from one man’s desire to marry another woman, shaped and changed by a need for tolerance to avoid religious wars, and boasting of having women in positions of power equal to men – oh, wait, sorry, not quite. Anglicans can have a woman as the head of their church, but they can’t stomach having them make decisions. That wouldn’t be Catholic enough.
This decision is pretty much disastrous for the Church. This is an age where more and more people are questioning the relevance of religious life in modern society. More people are losing their faith or have simply never had any. People are debating whether we need a Church of England, whether it is something as an institution anyone can even relate to anymore. How can anyone take them seriously when they can’t even accept the already confirmed role of women in their church? To stay fresh and relevant, any institution has to regroup and modernise. As we’ve now seen, the Anglican Church is determined to stay in the past.