Should the Church of England change its electoral system in the wake of women bishops vote?
Yesterday the General Synod of the Church of England voted overwhelmingly in favour of women becoming Bishops. Up until now the highest rank women have been able to achieve is a a cathedral Dean. However due to well meant but ultimately self-defeating rules women will not be becoming Bishops at least for now as the measure failed by 6 votes to get the two thirds majority it needed in the House of Laity.
A small group of disaffected “traditionalist” opponents have been able to force their minority opinion over the clear majority of the rest of the church.
Part of the reason why this has happened is possibly due to the way the lay members of the General Synod are elected. The church of England has quite an elaborate system of “synodical” government with local Parochial Church Councils at the bottom then Deanery Synod, Diocesan Synod and the General Synod at the top.
All clergy get to vote for their General Synod representatives but this is not the case for the lay members who are indirectly elected by the lay members of all the Deanery Synods in the Diocese. Possibly when the synod was set up a “general election” of all lay Anglicans on Electoral Rolls would have been costly and difficult to implement but these days I don’t think this would be the case.
A General Synod elected directly by the lay members of the church would at least appear to have more legitimacy and I wonder if it might have made a different decision yesterday.
As the incoming Archbishop of Canterbury - undermined before he has even started - said yesterday it was a “grim” day for the church. Interestingly it is amongst the Bishops themselves that there is the strongest support for this move and they are currently in a “crisis” meeting at Church House.
The Church of England quite rightly as a “broad church” puts measures in place to allow opponents to this kind of measure to continue as members of the church. So the church does not bulldozer through changes on a 50.1% margin and rightly so but just as the majority should not trample on minority groups it is just as untenable for a minority to prevent progress that is supported by an overwhelming majority.
The ordination of women as Bishops was really decided 20 years ago. It is an untenable position to suggest that women should be priests but not Bishops mis-quoting biblical texts about “headship”. Clearly priests are already leaders in the Christian community leading parishes and in other senior diocesan positions.
The Church of England will, I am sure, appoint women Bishops eventually but sadly until it gets its act together on this one they will miss out on many able and experienced women who will join the many able and experienced homosexual clergy that also cannot be appointed to the episcopate. With congregations continuing to decline the church can ill afford this loss both in potential leaders and in its reputation in society.
Whilst the church is reflecting on this situation I hope it considers changing the electoral system for lay members of synod. Perhaps it also could offer a live video stream of the Synod’s proceedings?