The Church of England has failed to muster enough synod votes to allow for the appointment of women bishops. Of course, the pundits and media types are all in a tizzy over how backwards, sexist, chauvinist, and out-of-touch this old institution of the church must be.

Just minutes after the news broke, I visited the church’s Wikipedia page where the first line said:

The Church of England is the officially established sexist Christian church in England…

There was a footnote to a BBC news story after the word “sexist.” Someone upset over the synod’s vote must have gone online to express their disapproval by adding a negative label on Wikipedia. Within minutes, the word was taken down and the page was restored.

As a Baptist, I reject the hierarchy of the Anglican church. Since I don’t happen to believe in a bishop-like position for church leaders in the first place, I feel somewhat detached from the proceedings in England.

Still, it’s instructive to watch how people have responded online to this decision. The hypocrisy of many who desired the change is so evident that I wonder if they simply can’t see it for themselves.

(To be clear, I am not referring to Justin Welby and other Anglican leaders who expressed support for women bishops and yet have graciously responded to the decision of the synod. I am referring to the online reaction to the vote.)

Here are two places I see contradictory, hypocritical values at work:

1. Pushing “tolerance” that welcomes other viewpoints (before rejecting them!).

Not long ago, leaders in the Episcopal Church were complaining about backwards, traditionalist Christian teaching while simultaneously chiding their Church for being too provincial. They weren’t globally minded enough. They didn’t have enough minorities and representation from others in leadership positions.

So what happens when Africans and Asians and people from cultures outside the West rise to prominence?

What happens when the progressives are joined by men from other parts of the world who don’t feel the unique pressures of the West to revise historic Christian teaching?

Well, quite frankly, the Africans get thrown under the bus. The leaders on the Left wind up distancing themselves from the very people they said ought to have a place at the table.

In other words, everyone seems to be for multiculturalism and tolerance except when it doesn’t suit the progressive side. You can go on and on about the beauty of “primitive” civilizations and the horrors of Western imperialism. But when articulate leaders from those civilizations challenge your devotion to pluralistic relativism, or your radical embrace of all kinds of sexual expression, or your egalitarian reworking of the Bible… well, now they’re part of the problem.

Multiculturalism only goes so far. Once it calls into question the shibboleths of the Left, it must be abandoned. The distinctively Western progressive perspective must be upheld!

2. Recommending grace and patience as a proper response to controversy (unless the progressive side is defeated!).

Leading up to this week’s vote, I noticed many church leaders advocating patience and good will, a spirit graciousness no matter the outcome. Several leaders on both sides have indeed modeled this since the vote. Perhaps more will do so.

Unfortunately, others have not demonstrated this spirit. Through online tweets, articles, and soundbites, most media types and several church leaders have expressed their dismay at the outcome. Apparently, those who called for the losing side to be conciliatory never expected to be on the losing side.

This seems to be a common occurrence that transcends denominational lines. Traditionalists and conservatives are told to be gracious and patient whenever they face defeat, lose their property, or fail to muster enough support for a vote. But rarely is the same good will expected from those on the “progressive” side.

No, when a vote goes against the Left’s eschatological vision of “progress,” the cannons must come out. It’s about regrouping, reloading, and charging the gates again!

If the traditionalists were to act this way, they’d be labeled divisive and warmongering. But when the “progressives” do this, they are extolled as heroes standing on their convictions and refusing to give up.

Conclusion

The hallmark of many of these denominational debates is narrow-minded thinking that masquerades as openness and tolerance. It is the “chronological snobbery” referred to by a famous Anglican from the last century – C.S. Lewis. It is the failure of many to give tradition and history the weight it deserves, as another Anglican (G.K. Chesterton) once wrote:

Tradition means giving votes to the most obscure of all classes, our ancestors. It is the democracy of the dead. Tradition refuses to submit to the small and arrogant oligarchy of those who merely happen to be walking about. All democrats object to men being disqualified by the accident of birth; tradition objects to their being disqualified by the accident of death. Democracy tells us not to neglect a good man’s opinion, even if he is our groom; tradition asks us not to neglect a good man’s opinion, even if he is our father. I, at any rate, cannot separate the two ideas of democracy and tradition; it seems evident to me that they are the same idea. We will have the dead at our councils. The ancient Greeks voted by stones; these shall vote by tombstones. It is all quite regular and official, for most tombstones, like most ballot papers, are marked with a cross.

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Comments:


20 thoughts on “Thoughts on the Church of England’s Vote on Women Bishops”

  1. Christiane says:

    In ways I am sad for the Anglicans, because their women deacons are the BEST. But I think, in time, the Anglicans will see it differently . . . a few centuries maybe, but I see it happening.

    In my own Church, Catholic, women also have a great ‘voice’, and are a force to be reckoned with . . . I give you Sister Simone Campbell and the Nuns On the Bus who tried to get Paul Ryan to come with them on their visits to the poorer communities of our country, so that they could show him who would most be affected by his Ryan Budget Plan . . .
    those women were heard, and the majority of Catholic voters in our country rejected a party with an economic plan that FINALLY, our bishops labelled ‘immoral’ for its projected impact on the weaker members of our society, the elderly, the disabled, and the very poor.

    Finally, I am wondering if the conservative stance of the Anglican C of E is simply that: a conservative stance;
    or if it is a hand out to its ancient brothers, the Roman Catholic Church? Speculation on my part? Yes. But I’m not the only one thinking about it these days.

    In say five or six centuries from now, if the Lord tarries, perhaps my own Church will come to see a different view of how Our Lord was with ALL people when He was among us . . . I see this happening, especially considering that three ‘Doctors of the Church’ are women, appointed to that title because of the great contribution they have made to the Church’s increased understanding of Christ’s great love for us, and for all mankind. That these women were recognized is an affirmation of the teaching role of women in our Church.

    Yes, about five or six hundred years from now.
    I see it happening. :)

  2. John Walley says:

    Strictly Chesterton was a Catholic – nonetheless a prophetic voice worth listening to. Thanks for the post.

  3. Mike Bird says:

    Trev,
    Mate, when you disapprove of a “bishop-like position for church leaders in the first place,” I have to point out that your SBC senior pastors, esp. of mega churches, operates far more like bishops than some Anglican bishops actually do.

    1. Trevin Wax says:

      Can’t deny that there is some truth to this, Mike!

      1. Not to mention certain seminary presidents.

  4. Akash Charles says:

    I think liberal christians/ tolerance obsessed christians would have a stronger argument if they themselves were actually tolerant!!

  5. Ted Bigelow says:

    Hey Trevin,

    Couldn’t the whole mess be cleared up by 4 little words, that an elder must be the:

    “husband of one wife” (1 Tim. 3:2)?

    What’s to vote on?

  6. I find it, also, interesting that the most memorable worship service in my experience was one Sunday afternoon about 15 years ago at Holy Trinity Brompton, in London. And then there was that Saturday evening service led by the woman evangelist, at the Cathedral at Oakington…..

  7. mikewittmer says:

    Good word, Trevin. I am reminded of David Brooks’ line about yuppies who send their children to private schools which preach tolerance for all views, and then are surprised to find that someone has a different view.

  8. Clay says:

    Trevin – I wonder how you, a baptist who rejects much of Church Tradition (bishops to use your own example) can criticize others for rejecting other aspects of tradition. How do you decide which traditions are acceptable and which are ok to reject?

  9. John Thomson says:

    Clay

    By reading the Bible.

    1. Clay says:

      If you reject bishops based on a particular reading of scripture, then you are interpreting scripture in a way that is inconsistent with how the Church interpreted Scripture for the first 1500 years. People who support women bishops also read and believe the Bible based on their interpretation, which Trevin claims is inconsistent with a historical interpretation.. So you aren’t really answering the question.

      1. John Thomson says:

        Clay, you asked, ‘ How do you decide which traditions are acceptable and which are ok to reject?’ My answer, was simply the authority of Scripture. I believe in only one tradition, Apostolic tradition, and by that I mean simply the teaching of the NT Scriptures.

        I believe that the modern believer’s only absolute authority is the Word interpreted for him by the indwelling Spirit. Every other teaching source is secondary and must measure up to the the absolute. My conscience must be captive to the Word of God, and it alone.

        Of course, my understanding may be wrong and if it is then I must answer the God who knows our hearts as to why I embraced this understanding. Yes, people who read the same Bible reach different conclusions re women’s ordination; they are wrong. At least, I believe them to be wrong. How far their misunderstanding is culpable I will leave the Lord to decide.

        I have serious difficulty understanding how anyone can read Scripture and understand it to support women’s ordination, however, in the last analysis they answer not to me but to the author of the divine Word; he will judge us all. In the meantime, I simply seek to make the biblical case for complementarianism which I find virtually axiomatic, convinced I am rightly handling the Word of truth.

        1. Clay says:

          Trevin wasnt arguing based on scripture. His two quoted sources, an Anglican and a Roman Catholic, were part of a centuries old Christian tradition, much of which is rejected by baptists. So It seems odd for a baptist to point to historical tradition as in some way authoritative. Is it not inconsistent (and incoherent) to say to an Anglican: “you should accept the historical Anglican tradition of male only bishops, but reject the idea of the bishopric.” So my question still is, if one is going to point to some parts of historical tradition as having authority but not others, how does one know where to draw the line? And scripture interpretation is bound together with tradition, so I don’t think the two can really be separated.

          1. Clay says:

            Or, to cut more to the chase, it seems like a case of pot calling kettle black for a baptist to criticize Anglicans for rejecting an aspect of historical Christian Tradition.

          2. Christiane says:

            I don’t think Baptists ‘reject’, so much as they are either unfamiliar with, or have been given the wrong information about much in ancient Church . . .

            Trevin has shared many of the treasures of ancient Church with other Southern Baptists . . . he has, as a Southern Baptist, has been gifted with the ability to find many writings and prayers from the old ones which DO still have great meaning for Southern Baptists today.

            If a Southern Baptist can read one of the old prayers and find in it meaning, than he knows of the bond he shares with ancient Church . . . the bond of all in the Body of Christ which has its roots ‘in Christ’, a bond which endures because it is stronger than divisions among men.

            In this way, Trevin has been enabled to use his gifts to strengthen and build up the whole Church.

  10. J. Srnec says:

    Chesterton was a Catholic.

  11. John Thomson says:

    Clay

    You write, ‘And scripture interpretation is bound together with tradition, so I don’t think the two can really be separated.’

    It is precisely the work of the Spirit to enable the believer to discern between what is merely man-made tradition or trending and what is the truth. So yes, they can be separated.

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Trevin Wax


​Trevin Wax is managing editor of The Gospel Project at LifeWay Christian Resources, husband to Corina, father to Timothy, Julia, and David. You can follow him on Twitter. Click here for Trevin’s full bio.

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