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Page last updated at 14:19 GMT, Tuesday, 8 July 2008 15:19 UK

The groups threatening to split the Church

Dr Rowan Williams
Dr Rowan Williams said he wanted to accommodate traditionalists
The debate about whether to allow women bishops in the Church of England has exposed fault lines of feeling within the denomination. But who are the different factions?

It's been portrayed as a fight between traditionalists and modernisers, but the question of whether the Anglican church should appoint women bishops or not is more complex - with several groups fighting for their own interests.

The boundaries of distinction between them are often blurred, but who are the broad groups and what do they stand for?

Traditionalists object to female bishops on historical and theological grounds.

They claim the Bible teaches that the leaders of the Church must be men, citing Jesus and his 12 apostles. By that logic, they say priests - who represent Christ - must be male. And they point out that an unbroken chain of male priests and bishops has led the Church since Christ.

Traditionalists, who are mostly conservative Anglo-Catholics - the Church of England is part of the Anglican Communion - insist that they cannot stay in the Church of England unless their ministry is separate from women bishops.

Traditionalists see a code as slippery, and open to change in interpretation
Paul Handley
Church Times

They say some 1,300 serving and retired clergy could desert the Church if women bishops were introduced without any concessions for them.

They want clergy and parishioners who do not want to be led by a female bishop to have access to a male alternative - in the form of "super bishops" that would work alongside the Archbishops of York and Canterbury.

But on Monday evening the General Synod voted to consecrate women as bishops - without providing these safeguards. However the Synod did approve a code of practice which was aimed at meeting some of the opponents' reservations.

But before the vote traditionalists said they would not be happy with a non-binding code.

"Traditionalists see a code as slippery, and open to change in interpretation," says Paul Handley of the Church Times. "They want a statutory solution which will protect them forever."

Many Anglo-Catholics insist the Church of England must be seen in a wider context - as only part of a worldwide Church which includes Rome and the Orthodox - and which therefore cannot take this decision on its own.

They say it might complicate Anglican relations with the Roman Catholic Church, which does not ordain women, and end any future union.

Ever since women were first ordained as priests in 1994, traditionalists have found allies among conservative evangelicals.

I permit no woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she is to keep silent. For Adam was formed first, then Eve; and Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and became a transgressor
Timothy 1: 11-14
Although both believe that the Bible contains the core of all Christian faith and thought, traditionalists tend to talk about the tradition of the Church of England, tracing its routes back to the early church, while evangelicals support their view with specific passages from the Bible.

Some evangelicals believe that the Bible teaches a divine order of men and women known as "male headship" - which goes right back to Creation.

For this reason, they think women should not be in a position of leadership over men in the Church.

They use letters, widely believed to be authored by St Paul, to support this:

In 1 Timothy 11-14, Paul is quoted as saying: "I permit no woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she is to keep silent. For Adam was formed first, then Eve; and Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and became a transgressor."

But on the other side of the argument, the Bible has statements of egalitarian principle.

In Galatians 3: 28, Paul is quoted as saying: "There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus."

"This conflict is essentially one of authority," says Stephen Tomkins, of Ship of Fools, an online Christian magazine. "Whether authority is derived from tradition or the Bible, [either] is open to interpretation."

The majority of evangelicals support women's ministry. But conservatives were likely to back opt-outs, partly to establish a precedent for them to escape a liberal bishop in the future, says Robert Pigott, the BBC's religious affairs correspondent.

Jenny Standage, Secretary of WATCH (Women and the Church) and Colin Coward
Campaigners for women bishops have welcomed the Synod's decision
Traditionalists and evangelicals claim that their issue with women bishops is not one of equality or gender - even if they do support different roles for different sexes.

But female priests have formed a powerful alliance with the middle ground, arguing there is no reason to exclude women bishops, especially now that women have been accepted as priests.

They said any concessions would create a secondary class of women bishops.

And before the vote they said they would rather wait longer for women bishops than have a two-tier system.

Many evangelicals and Anglo-Catholics are just concerned that the Church of England stays intact.

They favour women's ministry, but have strong connections with the conservative strains of their different traditions. For this reason, they have supported plans to keep those opposed to women bishops within the Church of England, but in separate dioceses or provinces, in the belief that the matter will resolve itself over time.

"These are people who might be in favour of women bishops, but they don't want the Church to break up," says Mr Handley.

Many liberals believe the Church needs to react to its given cultural setting - and take into account the changing modes and structures of society.

For them, it is important to put faith principles in a modern context. That means pushing for female bishops with no concessions.

They, too, refer back to the Bible, citing Jesus's inclusion of women like Mary and Martha among his followers, and arguing that it was only cultural reasons at the time that prevented women having a more prominent role.

For liberals, the issue of women's ordination is a matter of justice.

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