A clear majority of all three Houses of the Church of England General Synod have voted in favour of the appointment of women bishops:
In the House of Bishops: 44 in favour; 3 against – a majority of 94% – carried
In the House of Clergy: 148 in favour; 45 against – a majority of 77% – carried
In the House of Laity: 132 in favour; 74 against – a majority of 64% – not carried
Overall: 324 in favour; 122 against – a majority of 74% – not carried due to lack of consent in the House of Laity.
At 94%, the majority amongst the Church’s leaders (the Bishops) was overwhelming. The Clergy made their views abundantly clear. But the motion fell in the House of Laity (representatives of ordinary churchgoers) as it fell short of the required two thirds majority – by 6 votes.
I am a Christian. I am not an Anglican, but I am saddened by this result.
I agree with the principle of consensus. Church unity is important, and seismic change should ideally be avoided unless driven by unity. Church democracy is about more than just a simple majority. The proposal for women bishops was momentous and demanded consensus.
So I believe the safeguards in the system are important. But I cannot believe the House of Laity genuinely represents the 1.7 million C of E churchgoers. And that feels like a travesty which threatens the Church. It threatens the Church of England, and it threatens the wider Church too.
Many people will wonder to what extent the Church has the moral authority to speak into their lives.
Many Christians will wonder whether the Church of England can speak for them at all.
Next month, Justin Welby will succeed Rowan Williams as Archbishop of Canterbury. Both men were in favour of the consecration of female bishops. Mr Williams has spoken of a “deep personal sadness” at today’s vote.
Mr Welby must be daunted as he takes the baton (a poisoned chalice) from his predecessor. May God be with him. And may He continue to bless the Supreme Governor of the Church of England… a woman.