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Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Six votes of separation

Bishop Alan's Blog
By now, I'm sure you've all heard the news: The General Synod of the Church of England has voted to reject the draft legislation to allow women to become bishops.

The votes were 44 for and three against with two abstentions in the House of Bishops, 148 for and 45 against in the House of Clergy, and 132 for and 74 against in the House of Laity.

The measure needed two-thirds majorities in each of the synod’s three houses.

If you're keeping track, this means that the measure lost by six votes in the House of Laity.

Six votes.

I'm certain the blogosphere and other media will be filled with post mortems and analysis of the vote. I understand that there was an electronic ballot and that the names of everyone who voted - and how they voted - will be published in a few days. More analysis will follow, no doubt.

Depending on your source of information, three themes seem to emerge to explain the vote.
1. Archbishop Rowan Williams mucked up the works by offering unworkable compromises and stalling the process.
2. The Appleby Amendment was a little bit of discrimination that proved a little bit too much for some progressives and many voted it down.
3. The conservatives did what they rarely do - on either side of the Pond: They organized. And, they were effective.
Bottom line: The vote on women in the Episcopacy in the Church of England will not - can not - come up again for another five years.

Justin Welby, ABC-elect
That will be five years into the episcopacy of Justin Welby as the new Archbishop of Canterbury. He'll be up to the lace in his cotta with issues concerning the ordination of LGBT people and the blessing of the covenants made between couples of the same gender.

If you've been paying attention to what scholars call the "intersectionality" of justice issues, the convergence of issues of sexuality and gender ought not come as a huge surprise. Sexism and homophobia often walk hand in hand in the Valley of the Shadow of Death.

Martin Luther King, Jr., famously noted that "justice delayed is justice denied". It should be noted  that controversy delayed is NOT controversy denied. Make no mistake: This will not bring peace in the Church of England.

Six votes does not a mandate make.

This can only be described as a Pyrrhic victory. The heavy toll this will take on the spirit and spirituality of the Church of England will be exceeded only by the loss of credibility it will have with a generation of British people who are already leaving the CofE in droves.

Six negative votes have become six votes of separation, driving a wedge further between the Body of Christ and the people it is supposed to serve.

It's a sad day on the church's calendar.

In addition to the news of the CofE vote, yesterday's calendar also held a bit of irony.  Pauli Murray, civil rights lawyer and Episcopal priest, was born on November 20, 1910. She became the first African American person to earn a doctorate at Yale Law School in 1965. Murray also co-founded the National Organization for Women. 

The Rev'd Dr. Pauli Murray
In 1977, Murray made history again when she became ordained as an Episcopal priest. Indeed, she presided at her first Eucharist in the same chapel where her grandmother, then a slave, had been baptized. 

Murray was also a poet who once wrote, "Hope is a song in a weary throat."

There are many in the Church of England and the Anglican Communion who are weary of this 20 year battle for justice.  There will be five more years of hard work to tear down the walls of sexism and misogyny that have obstructed of the work of the Holy Spirit who calls men and women to the councils and corridors of the Church.

This past Sunday, we heard Jesus warn that the end is only the beginning of the birth pangs. This may have been a confounding news flash to the 12 male disciples, but any woman who has ever been pregnant not only knows but has lived the truth of His words. Which is why women are so uniquely qualified for positions of leadership in the church.

This is not the end. Far from it. It is just the beginning of the inevitability of justice.

That is a song of hope worth waiting for, no matter how weary we get from the struggle for justice.


Br. Thomas Squiers, OSM said...

Once again, the episcopacy has been reduced to body parts.

David said...

'That is a song of hope worth waiting for, no matter how weary we get from the struggle for justice.'

as disheartened as i am this morning by the outcome, i've got to say 'Amen,' dearest Elizabeth.

thank you for this post.

Ann said...

I think 1 and 2 and especially 2 were the key - but we will know for sure on 2 when the votes are published.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

BR Thomas - sad but true

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

David - the inevitable has been postponed

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Ann - I'm just pleased the CofE publishes names of voters and the way they voted

Nan Bush said...

Makes me feel like a Republican last week. At least we know this is temporary...merely a delay rather than the end.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Yes, we know that it's "merely a delay". Living with that reality is very different, I fear.

Laurel Massé said...


I don't understand why what Paul (or someone claiming to be Paul) wrote in the letters to Timothy carries more weight than what the gospels record our Lord said and did.

On my wall hangs a photo of Presiding Bishop Katherine in England, in procession, gracefully carrying her mitre in her hands because she was asked to not wear it.

I think the idea of providing alternate male bishops for those who cannot or will not accept the authority of a woman bishop was ill-conceived, and may well have effected the House of Laity vote. I think the next vote, whenever the heck that comes, will be a yes-or-no. One is either a bishop in the church, or one is not. In the meantime, I grieve for my sisters and brothers in the CoE.

Love your blog - thanks for writing it.
Blessings, Laurel

Muthah+ said...

Reminds me of the vote in 1973 that precipitated the Philly Eleven and the final vote in GC 76 that passed with flying colors. By the time that the Gen Synod gets back to it, the issue will be moot and not a fight.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Laurel - I think this vote is worthy of some "civil disobedience" the way we ordained 11 women "irregularly" in TEC. I don't know how the CofE canons read but if it uses the male pronoun to mean "humankind" then, I say, foist them on their own petard. Call them on their own language. That's ultimately how we argued it in TEC for the ordination of women.

It's ridiculous to the extreme to think that vocation is limited by gender. God calls whom God will. How arrogant to think that "men" can determine that vocation.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Muthah+ I agree, but I hope folks move before that.