The Church of England has seemingly ended up installing for itself a stained glass ceiling. The veto that the proposal to ordain women to the episcopate suffered at its general synod in London, marked a moral setback that questions the very credibility of the institution in this age and time.

The Church of England has seemingly ended up installing for itself a stained glass ceiling. The veto that the proposal to ordain women to the episcopate suffered at its general synod in London, marked a moral setback that questions the very credibility of the institution in this age and time. An enlightened outcome was expected from the church that had two decades ago pushed through reforms to let women be priests, albeit after some resistance: a third of the clergy today are women. But the vote instead ended up exposing bitter divisions in the Anglican communion that has faced years of wrangling between traditionalists and liberals over questions including women and gay clergy. The bar spells indefensible discrimination. Many Christians consider it a paradox that while their religion proclaims a gospel of equality, a large part of the church sees a section of its members as unfit to lead it. There may be varying theological interpretations of whether the elevation of women would go against the church’s fundamental tenets, and even whether the fact of Jesus’s 12 apostles being men held any prescriptive weight. But by not bringing the barriers down, the church risks giving the impression that it believes only men can ‘represent’ god. Indeed, there can be no rationale to offer now — except perhaps that the vote wouldn’t anger the Vatican, which has a hard-as-nails position against the appointment of women even as priests.

Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, the spiritual leader of the Anglican church, has promptly accused elements within it as being “wilfully blind” to societal trends. But he should take some of the blame for not having provided aggressive enough leadership on this critical issue in the run-up to the vote. His successor-in-waiting, Justin Welby, to whom the synod vote is equally a blow, has asserted that there would be women bishops, only it’s going to take “some time, some care, and some prudence.” Significantly, at the synod vote the bishops and the clergy backed the move in sufficient numbers. The representatives of lay churchgoers are the ones who made the difference, by a mere six votes. All is not lost, and it would appear that the church has indeed voted in favour of the principle involved. Perhaps it is now a question of finding a way forward, marked by prudent consensus and crisis-management. Although the church will not be able to bring up the plans again till 2015 when a new general synod is in place, there are ways in which its top echelons will be able to revive the initiative in the next few months. This they should do. It is important for the C of E to be a modern church in touch with reality. The glass ceiling needs to be broken.

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