Women Bishops and an Archbishop Agonistes

Well, it seems that the lame duck Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr. Rowan Williams, has decided to take his episcopal duty of admonition with some seriousness this week:

Church of England in crisis: Archbishop of Canterbury attacks members for voting against women bishops

The Archbishop of Canterbury has launched a scathing attack on those within his own church who voted down legislation to approve women bishops accusing them of being “unrealistic”.

In an impassioned speech at the General Synod this morning that vividly illustrates the depth of the current crisis facing his organisation, Dr Rowan Williams admitted that the Church of England loses credibility every day it fails to approve women bishops.

During yesterday’s vote the Archbishop, who leaves his post at the end of the year, pleaded with members to approve legislation which would have allowed women to reach the top posts in the church.

The bill needed to pass by a two thirds majority in the three houses that make up synod. Although 74% of members voted in favour of the legislation, it was dramatically defeated by six votes in the house of laity.

Speaking in the aftermath of that decision this morning, Dr Williams said the church risked being seen as “willfully blind” to the demands from wider British society that it must do away with institutional and theological sexism.

Read the full article.

Dr. Williams’s tenure on the throne of St. Augustine has not been known for taking strong stands. His approach to primatial leadership has generally been summarizable as “Let’s all just settle down, shall we?” So this “impassioned speech” stands out somewhat.

What struck me about this when I read it this morning was not so much that the female episcopacy barely met defeat in the beleaguered Church of England. It is nearly a foregone conclusion that this little minority standing athwart the rest of the theological train wreck that is modern First World Anglicanism will eventually be defeated. There will be a female Archbishop of Canterbury in the future.

Rather, what occurred to me is that Dr. Williams is here functioning in precisely an inverted fashion from the traditional role of the episcopacy in historical Christianity, whose sacred task it is not to urge his flock on to innovation, to wholesale capitulation to “the demands from wider British society.” Rather, the episcopacy’s trust from the Apostles is that which was given by St. Paul to his disciple St. Timothy: “That good thing which was committed to you, keep by the Holy Spirit who dwells in us” (2 Tim. 1:14).

If the episcopacy cannot be entrusted with the historic Christian tradition, then who exactly will keep it? This is Christianity at its worst, when those who are appointed as shepherds lead their flock into the wolves’ den.


  1. The way the CoE handled the question of female bishops and the way the Archbishop expresses his opinion illustrates a system wherein opinions are more shaped by culture than by Holy Scripture and careful theological work. The work on 1 Timothy 3 is what the shepherd’s shepherd needs to get realistic about.

  2. Would be interested to know if any of the progressive CoE clergy involved with GAOTU Grand Lodges (which is apparently many) allow- or even advocate – women to be involved in leadership roles there. Or, do they relegate them to the OES and other female orders as is the standard? If so, why advocate something for their Church when it’s not good enough for the Lodge?

  3. “Williams admitted that the Church of England loses credibility every day it fails to approve women bishops.”

    That train has already left the station.

    1. It LONG left the station when it failed to defrock a homosexual (Gene Robinson) and an apostate (Shelby Spong), and allowed both men to have flourishing careers.

      I fear our Lord will soon remove their candlestick.

      1. Just for the record, that was The Episcopal Church which failed to defrock ‘Bishop’ V. Gene Robinson and ‘Bishop’ Spong, the latter being a heretic in the most basic form in that he denies the basic and fundamental truths of Christianity such as Christ’s full deity and humanity, His Incarnation and His Resurrection.

        TEC is (are the still even recognized as such?) the official U.S. branch or ‘province’ of the worldwide Anglican Communion, of which the Archbishop of Canterbury is the primatial head who presides over the other autonomous Churches. The current ‘Presiding Bishop’ of TEC is a theologically very liberal woman, Katharine Jefferts Schori.

  4. theological sexism? Men and woman each have their roles to play in creation. I find it pretty alarming how in Orthodoxy this question almost never comes up because it’s understood that we all have our part in the grand design of creation and salvation. However in the west, it seems to me that this whole thing about ordaining women and so on comes across quite often as an issue of power and ego.

    It also seems to me that these things are usually up for debate in the west because Christianity is seen as propositional as opposed to a mystical contact with the living God.

    Makes me wonder where Anglicans will be a century from now. I guess by the end all the heterodox groups will continue to evolve until they’re clearly not even mistaken as Christian anymore and Orthodoxy will be the only one that stayed the same.

  5. I would like to think that a particular Orthodox seminary is having second thoughts about bestowing an honorary doctorate degree upon Mr. Rowan Williams. Or am I dreaming? Sigh. Such is the stuff of the 21st Century.

    1. Darlene,

      The writing was on the wall long before this, and I’m not referring to the Archbishop’s liberality on social issues.

      In the late 70s, he tried to eviscerate “Palamism” in a scholarly article, even going so far as to say that St Gregory was an essentialist.

      That he was ever invited to lecture Orthodox Christians on the Philokalia is madness. That it happened on the Feast of the Three Hierarchs makes it even worse.

      Not only did he receive an honorary doctorate, but he was also given a Panagia.

      Don’t expect an apology any time soon.


      1. Father Leonid,

        I just read your response to me today. Sadly, I think Orthodoxy is being compromised in many places and quarters these days. That one act by that particular seminary caused me to lose respect for them. Such scandalous actions affect catechumens, those weak in the faith, and those who would be thinking of becoming Orthodox Christians.

        1. My sense of such things is that the Internet provides a magnification that doesn’t correspond much to 3D life. The vast majority of Orthodox Christians (or most people, really) do not even know who Dr. Williams is, let alone that he was given an honorary doctorate by St. Vladimir’s. Indeed, it’s likely that the majority of Orthodox Christians in the US do not even know that St. Vladimir’s exists. And once one extends the scope beyond the little percentage of Orthodoxy that exists in the US, well, it’s all quite inconsequential. That does not mean it was a good idea, etc., but it’s really not something to get worked up over.

          It is better by far, I think, to determine how Orthodoxy is being compromised or not yet realized in oneself, especially if one is young in the faith.

  6. The voice of an Anglican crying in the wilderness:


    And for another “crying voice,” here is a comment which I just tried to place on this thread (on a liberal Anglican website):


    Jeremy wrote (above):

    “1. On reading the Church of England Convocations Act 1966, and the Synodical Government Measure 1969, it seems that the Queen-in-Parliament can dissolve Synod. If this happens, then new Synod elections will take place soon, with a more liberal result.”

    and Karl Marx wrote (in “The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte” [1852]):

    “Hegel says somewhere that all great historical facts and personages recur twice. He forgot to add, ‘First as tragedy, and again as farce’.”

    This quotation came to my mind upon reading the first excerpt above, for it is a proposed action which would repeat exactly what happened in Sweden in 1957 and 1958: its Church Assembly rejected a proposed measure to allow the purported ordination of women; a great uproar ensued, together with much press criticism along the lines of how “if the Church of Sweden wants to remain a national church, it must reflect national values;” the government dissolved the Church Assembly and called for the election of a new one (the ensuing elections were highly politicized, and candidates stood for election under party political labels); and the new Assembly promptly accepted WO (together with a “conscience clause” to protect the position of opponents — which was revoked in 1983).

    Where I disagree with Marx is with the “first as tragedy … again as farce” theme, as both decisions strike me, as a Catholic, as ludicrously farcical.

    And see also:


  7. Mr. Rowan should take note of where the vote failed; in the laity. The bishops and priest were all for it. The laity rejected should tell him that if the Anglicans want to remain relevant, then they should return to the Traditions and scrap the Innovations.

    1. But that’s not really true. Most of the voting laity actually voted in favor of the motion, but it failed to get the necessary 2/3 majority by six votes. So the evidence is not really in favor of the idea that the Anglican laity aren’t on board with their leadership. They very much are. It just so happens that a slightly more than 1/3 minority isn’t.

      1. The reason this vote failed to pass in the tri-cameral General Synod of the Church of England is that a 2/3 vote of approval was required in all three houses in order for the proposed change to pass. Both the House of Bishops and House of Clergy overwhelmingly supported the measure, with the House of Laity narrowly falling just short of the necessary majority as you described.

        Given that the CoE’s fundamental desire is to do whatever the public insists is necessary for it to remain as the Established Church, the vast majority of English Anglicans have already acquiested to a supposed need to modernize and liberalize their theology, doctrines, and often, indeed, their worship to be more ‘relevant’ and ‘accessible’ to an increasingly secular/non-religious British society. As a result, female bishops in the CoE are inevitable and will almost certainly happen within four years.

        As many Orthodox and Catholic observers have commented, once you begin ordaining women to the presbytery, to continue to deny women consecration to the episcopacy is patently nonsensical. But, of course, this is really all about equality, power, and ‘equal access’ to the highest rungs of CoE ecclesiastical authority. It’s not really about ministry, since any Christian can minister, teach, and in some circumstances preach, even if they are not ordained or consecrated as a priest, bishop, etc.

        Regarding all this controversy in the Anglican First World, specifically the CoE, such is the fate of a Church which, from its inception, was concerned more with conformity in outward appearance than inner bonds of faith and doctrine, a Church beholden from its foundation in the Classical Reformation to the interests, demands and whims of broader English society.

  8. Let me begin by reminding you that I am not Orthodox, though I feel more and more like I am. Rather, I am one who is seeking, inquiring, and learning all that I can.

    One of the things that I see that is good about Orthodoxy is its unchanging nature and its focus on what has been believed everywhere, always, and by all. In some of my reading I came upon some articles insinuating that there is some movement within the Orthodox Church in America to be accepting of homosexuality . . . to some degree . . . I’m not sure to what.

    So now I have to wonder just how solid Orthodoxy is . . . and whether or not Orthodoxy will be able to remain the witness to the Apostolic teaching in this matter that it has been in the past.

    What is going to happen when/if the OCA becomes more vocal in following the path the Anglicans have taken.

    Since the homosexual agenda is in our faces basically everywhere we look, discussions regarding how to respond to it surely have taken place in all the jurisdictions in the various Orthodox churches.

    Is there any open dissent in the ranks in the various churches?

    Have there been any pronouncements stating the standing position of the church catholic?

    1. David,

      There will always be people on the fringes of the life of the Church who are all too willing to offer their opinions, though they are not supported by Scripture or the witness of the Church.

      Bishops Michael and Matthias both wrote statements against the law which passed here in NY to legalize same-sex marriage. The deans of NY/NJ wrote a statement supporting their bishop and his stance. I don’t know of any bishops who publicly teach that homosexuality is an acceptable or normative mode of sexuality.

      Homosexuality is a sin–not just the activity, but also the inclination. This is clearly supported by the Sermon on the Mount, where Christ makes it clear that the heart is the “seat” of our actions. Orthodox Christianity represents the fullness of the cure of the heart and the entire human person, and so it seeks to aid people who are willing to undertake the struggle involved in the purification of the heart. To say that homosexuality is not a sin is /not/ compassionate; rather, it is like a doctor finding a cancerous mass in one of his patients and telling him it is benign.

      As someone considering Orthodoxy, you need to understand that the blogosphere does not truly reflect the reality of life in the Church. Your concern is a valid one, though I would say that it is clear that the Church does not endorse homosexuality in any way. However, as a layman, you also need to understand that /how/ homosexuality is handled in the life of the Church resides in the pastoral sphere. We, as priests, will answer for how we treat people struggling with this cross. Be grateful that you don’t have to, and let that guide you in the way you react to rumors of “liberal” priests and such.

      In Christ,
      Fr Leonid

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