The Church of England was supposed to vote tomorrow on whether to have women bishops — but it looks like the vote will be put off, at the behest of some of the measure’s supporters. There was a last-minute amendment strengthening the provision that parishes with a theological objection to women bishops are entitled to the supervision of suitable alternative male bishops; the proponents argue that this would enshrine second-class status for women — and some of them are, by opposing a vote on this measure, willing to run the risk of having no women bishops at all.
I believe that if they implement this strategy, they will be taking an unnecessary risk. The point of having women bishops is to have women bishops, to consecrate women for this pastoral task to which they are being called — not to humiliate those who have strong theological objections to women bishops. To have this kind of opt-out seems to me a sensible, pastoral compromise that recognizes the realities on the ground: It extends an olive branch to the dissidents by showing that this is not intended as a culture-war power grab or just some skirmish in a tiresome battle of the sexes. The best argument for women bishops will be . . . women bishops. Put them in place, and let their performance speak for itself.
I can’t resist a puckish side note, a question for members of the Church of England who worry that women might not have “the necessities” (thank you for the phrase, Al Campanis) for church leadership. Quick quiz: Who currently holds the post of Supreme Governor of the Church of England? Mm-hm. (Being a church leader does not mean having to win a popularity contest — sometimes it means telling important truths that are deeply unpopular — but man, those are some sweet poll numbers.)
PS. One of the many downsides of having an Established Church is that the politicians can meddle in church affairs. This article recounts how Members of Parliament are trying to put pressure on the Church of England in this controversy. Parliament notoriously rejected the revised Prayer Book in 1928: Just try to imagine, say, Tom DeLay and Alan Grayson debating on the House floor what the prayer texts at your congregation’s Sunday services ought to be.