What are the issues behind women bishops vote?
- 16 November 2014
- From the section UK
The Church of England on Monday is expected to adopt legislation allowing women to become bishops, bringing to a head decades of wrangling over the issue.
What is at the heart of the controversy?
The Church of England decided that women could be priests more than 20 years ago.
However, the question of women bishops has remained a thorny issue for the Church, with groups of traditionalists firmly opposed to the idea.
Almost all opponents now accept there will be women bishops - but they want safeguards guaranteed for those who do not want one in their parish.
Supporters, though, have always feared concessions would mean a woman bishop could not have full authority in her own diocese.
Is it close to a solution?
A measure before the general synod in November 2012 would have made it lawful to consecrate women as bishops.
It was passed in the Houses of Bishops and Clergy, but failed to gain the required two-thirds majority in the House of Laity, consisting of elected lay members.
However, the margin by which the measure failed was small. Only a few general synod members would have to vote the other way to give the new measure a two-thirds majority.
The revised proposals were approved on 14 July, meaning the first women bishops could be appointed this year, many observers believe.
Ahead of the synod's vote, these proposals were voted on by the diocesan synods of 43 of the Church's 44 dioceses and every one voted in favour, including two which voted against in 2012 - London and Chichester.
What is different about the proposals considered in July 2014?
The latest proposals go for the simplest possible option in allowing women to become bishops.
The draft legislation says safeguards for the opponents (allowing them to request male priests and bishops to look after their parishes) could be guaranteed by principles set down in a declaration made by the House of Bishops.
Disputes would be ruled on by an independent reviewer (widely dubbed an "ombudsman").
But opponents have expressed concern that they will not have any laws written into the actual legislation, and will have to simply trust that their views will be considered.
Who are the opponents to women bishops and what do they want?
Some - but not all - of the CofE's evangelicals and Anglo-Catholics are opposed to women bishops.
Anglo-Catholics revere the traditions and ceremonies of the Church. Some believe a woman cannot be a valid bishop and ordaining women prevents unity with the Roman Catholics.
Evangelicals place great stress on the teachings of the Bible and those who oppose women's ordination say scripture requires male headship in the Church.
The mainly Anglo-Catholic Forward in Faith movement has said it trusts that assurances of special arrangements in the consecration of bishops to cater for its sympathisers will be honoured, and that those who vote against will have their theological convictions respected.
The steering group of the conservative Evangelical group Reform said ahead of the vote: "We will continue to encourage all friends and members of Reform to vote against the measure in July and trust that God will provide all that we need in the future."
How many Anglican women bishops are there worldwide?
Outside of the Church of England, there are over 20 in active ministry. The most recently appointed, in March 2014, is Bishop Melissa Skelton of New Westminster, British Columbia, which includes Vancouver.
In September 2013 the Reverend Pat Storey, rector of St Augustine's in Derry, was appointed Church of Ireland Bishop of Meath and Kildare - the first woman Anglican bishop in the UK and Ireland.
There are other women bishops in Australia, Canada, Cuba, India, New Zealand, Swaziland, South Africa and the USA.
Why is this debate important to the rest of us?
It alters the leadership profile of the Church of England, which - as the established church in England, with the Queen as its supreme governor - is central to many state occasions and other ceremonies across the country.
For many who are not actively religious, the CofE is often the "default" Church that they turn to for weddings, christenings, funerals and education.
Women bishops' approval by the CofE also encourages those who are starting to call for the ordination of women in the Roman Catholic Church.
Will the move split the Church?
The Church is already split because some of its members dispute the authority of its women priests.
A Yes vote now makes the split worse because opponents may feel women bishops are exercising authority over them.
And women bishops would also be able to ordain priests, which some opponents say is not merely unacceptable, but theologically impossible.
Many Anglo-Catholic opponents of women bishops have already left to join the Roman Catholic Ordinariate.
Now some Evangelicals have suggested they may start to seek an more independent Church structure, citing the worldwide split between conservative and liberal Anglicans.
Will the vote have an effect on the Anglican church worldwide?
No. Many Anglican Churches around the world have already appointed women bishops and others already have women priests. Those that do not hardly need guidance from the Church of England on the issue.
There is a very serious split in world Anglicanism, and opponents of women priests and bishops often seek to ally themselves with conservatives in the Global Anglican Future Conference (Gafcon) movement of traditionalist Anglican bishops in Africa and elsewhere.
However, this split is not over women's ordination, but over the issue of gay priests and same-sex marriage blessings.