The Church of England Has Turned its Back on Women, is it Now Time For Us To Turn Our Backs on it?

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On Tuesday 20th November, the Church of England rejected a new law that would have allowed women to be bishops. In doing so, it sparked uproar and plunged the Church of England into a state of crisis. The vote saw 324 members of the synod vote in favour of women bishops, however certain rules meant that 122 votes against were enough to block the motion [1]. Since failing to pass the law, discontent has been expressed from within the Church of England, most notably by the Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams. But also from outside it – David Cameron described the events as ‘very sad’.

For the British people, and particularly women, religious or not, these happenings are somewhat catastrophic. It seems unfathomable that such a core societal institution should prove unwilling to embrace equal rights. The rejection of women bishops has served to draw attention to some major failings within the Church of England. Clearly, it is completely unrepresentative of the society in which it operates. The ‘no’ vote highlights the extent to which the Church of England is out of touch with the general public and how it falls short of reflecting the values of the society we live in. Prominence has also been given to the air of exclusivity that surrounds the Church of England. There are few other walks of life where such blatant discrimination would be tolerated.

Immediately following the Church of England’s rejection of the law on women bishops, there were calls for a fresh vote or even parliamentary intervention to correct the situation. However, whether the vote is revived or not, the damage could have already been done. Given the obvious disconnect between the Church of England and British society, doubts have been raised over its future. The Church of England is largely viewed as an extension of the state machine. With its rejection of the core values on which society is built, there have been calls to sever links. In essence, by rejecting women bishops, the Church of England has single-handedly strengthened the case for disestablishing the church. After all, why should an institution that is so dangerously detached from fundamental egalitarian principles be represented in government? Obviously, this movement has been met by profound antidisestablishmentarianism from those who believe that such action could cause the ultimate demise of the church. Nonetheless, we live in a secular society, maybe it is time we became truly secular.

We must remember, however, the dynamics of the vote. There has been clear evidence that it was a handful of fundamentalists that prevented such an appealing law to be passed. One commentator suggested, ‘the House of Laity has been hijacked and is out of step with the rest of the church’ [2]. Meanwhile, Labour MP, Diana Johnson, argued that ‘a broad church has been held to ransom by a few narrow minds’ [3].

Nonetheless, what is done is done and the effects of the rejection of women bishops, which has even been called a ‘farce’ by some, have extended beyond the walls of the Church of England [4]. It is very worrying that inequality seems to be entrenched into some of our country’s oldest institutions. Clearly, we are not doing enough to ensure that equal rights are upheld in society.

It seems now that some divine intervention would not go amiss as the Church of England finds itself in a dire situation. Its recent history is characterised by decline, as society has moved away from religion. This latest controversy will only serve to speed up its demise. The Church of England has identified itself as an obstacle to equality. By turning its back on women, it has turned its back on the very society that it supposedly represents. If it must be a casualty in securing equal rights, so be it.

Article by Joe Austin. Edited by George Richards.


Further Reading:

[1] BBC (2012) “Women Bishops: PM ‘Very Sad’ at Church of England Rejection”, BBC [online], 21 November, retrieved 1 December, 2012, from:

[2] The Economist (2012) “Thou Shalt Not: Women Are Rebuffed From the Episcopate, For Now”, The Economist [online], 24 November, retrieved 1 December, from:

[3] BBC (2012) “Women Bishops Vote: Church ‘Resembles Sect’”, BBC [online], 22 November, retrieved 1 December, 2012, from:

[4] Moore, S. (2012) “The Church of England Can No Longer Continue as an Arm of the State”, The Guardian [online], 21 November, retrieved 1 December, 2012, from: