Women clergy and supporters of their ministry have had enough of the wasteful wrangling over women bishops.  Years have been spent in trying to make legal provision that would satisfy those opposed. The cost in human and financial terms has been enormous. Since 2000, there have been three major church reports, and the work of a legislative drafting group, revision committee and steering committee.  General Synod has discussed the question at 10 of its meetings, and it has been debated at every level of the church.

(Full details of the progress of the debate can be found at www.churchofengland.org/our-views/women-bishops)

The draft Measure represented the furthest possible compromise for those in favour. It was not enough for those opposed. After all these years of discussion, debate, and drafting it is clear that that there is no legal settlement that can be devised that will allow women to be bishops whilst satisfying the demands of those opposed. We therefore have to ask whether it is wise to allow the entire church to be held to ransom by minority factions who resist a change that the Church of England has discerned and declared to be entirely consistent with its understanding of the Christian faith.  These same voices have spoken out repeatedly against any of the compromise proposed by the Church, and supported widely, including by WATCH.

Bishop John Gladwin said “What a small minority has done is blow up the bridge to any compromise solution.  There is now only one route which must be travelled to that outcome.  That is the route which removes all discriminatory provisions from the life and ministry of the Church

It is now time to go for the simplest possible legislation – a single clause measure. This would enable people to vote for or against legislation simply enabling women to be bishops. Provision can be made at local level as appropriate for those who find this difficult. This option will maintain the greatest degree of unity and open dialogue between those of differing views and prevent ghettos forming within the Church. This is the way that every other Province in the Anglican Communion that has voted to ordain women as bishops has chosen to proceed.

It is also time for honesty in this debate. Those opposed do not want women bishops. They do not want resolution of the issue but to extend the decision-making process as long as possible.  We cannot see how further conversation will result in any proposals that have not been tested and rejected before. They will simply prolong the process.

With the disproportionate number of conservatives in the House of Laity, the nature of the internal debate within the church has been so weighted to accommodating small minorities that we have lost sight of the legislation’s main objective – to make women bishops. We are now in a changed landscape. It is clear from the debates in Parliament and the response in the country at large that those outside the church are scandalised by the acceptance of gender discrimination in the established church. As Helen Goodman MP said in the emergency Commons debate on 22nd November,

 “too many concessions have been made to those who are opposed to women priests…  It is simply unjust to do that at the expense of women in the Church.” 

For the sake of the future of the church we need to act swiftly and unequivocally to make women bishops without any discrimination in law. WATCH urges the House of Bishops to recommend a single clause measure be returned to Synod in July with the aim of getting Final Approval in a newly elected Synod.

In the meantime, it is imperative that women are present at the discussions of the House of Bishops in December and beyond. We call on the bishops to open their proceedings to the public and invite senior women to play a full part in their discussions. As Diana Johnson MP said in February 2012

“It is inconceivable to anyone engaged in equality and diversity work in other contexts that the Church would make decisions about consecrating women as bishops without seriously engaging during this last phase with those who will be most directly affected by the decision.”

The Reverend Rachel Weir, Chair of WATCH said

“We have spent enough time in exploring how to accommodate the views of those who do not want women as bishops. Generosity is laudable but without limits it becomes a kind of profligacy. We are wasting the Church’s precious resources, both its money and its people if we seek to continue the debate about provision in law. The House of Bishops must act decisively now to legislate for women bishops in the simplest possible way.”