Thinking Anglicans

Women Bishops: Church Commissioners' questions in the House of Commons

The following exchange took place at Questions today in the House of Commons.

Women Bishops

Simon Hughes (Bermondsey and Old Southwark) (LD): What assessment the Church Commissioners have made of the likelihood of the Church of England making a decision on women bishops in 2012.
Mr Ben Bradshaw (Exeter) (Lab): What recent discussions the Church Commissioners have had with Church of England bishops on the Women Bishops Measure.

Sir Tony Baldry: The General Synod will resume on 20 November the final approval debate on the legislation to enable women to become bishops. I will be voting for the Measure, and I hope and pray that at least two thirds of the members of every house of the General Synod will vote to ensure that, at last, we can have women bishops in the Church of England.

Simon Hughes: The message I hope this House will send via my hon Friend to the Synod is that not only do we want the Synod to make a final decision this month that clearly says women can be bishops in the Church of England, as a legacy of the outgoing archbishop and as a tribute to his work, but we need the Church of England to catch up into the 21st century if it is to do a good job for everybody. I hope that there is no more shilly-shallying, that the Synod gets on with it and that we get a clear decision so that we can move to having women bishops.

Sir Tony Baldry: I entirely agree with my right hon Friend. May I commend to his attention, and to that of other right hon and hon Members, an article written by the Archbishop of Canterbury in last week’s Church Times, which is available in the Library? He stated that
“a Church that ordains women as priests, but not as bishops, is stuck with a real anomaly, one that introduces an unclarity into what we are saying about baptism and about the absorption of the Church in the priestly self-giving of Jesus Christ.”

We have been waiting far too long to enable women to become bishops in the Church of England-now is the time to take action and resolve this issue, once and for all.

Mr Bradshaw: In his conversations with the bishops, will the hon Gentleman tell them that just because House of Lords reform has been abandoned they should not feel any less pressure to do this and that a failure to agree a Measure that gives women bishops equal status with male bishops would still lead to a severe constitutional crisis between Church and state?

Sir Tony Baldry: In fairness, I think that the House of Bishops recognises that, and when it met last it amended the Measure in a way that should commend support. Indeed, the bishops took a lead on that from the Archbishop of Canterbury, who, in the same article, made it clear that he thought the ordination or consecration of women as bishops was good for the whole world. He said:
“It is good news for the world we live in, which needs the unequivocal affirmation of a dignity given equally to all by God in creation and redemption-and can now, we hope, see more clearly that the Church is not speaking a language completely remote from its own most generous and just instincts.”

There is clear leadership from the House of Bishops and from the archbishops that we now need to consecrate women bishops.

Miss Anne McIntosh (Thirsk and Malton) (Con): I hope that a strong message will go out from this House that we support women bishops and that the next Archbishop of Canterbury will be drawn from the widest possible church in this regard.

Sir Tony Baldry: I am sure that that message will be heard by the General Synod.

John Cryer (Leyton and Wanstead) (Lab): The Church has spent many years avoiding this issue, so if the Synod fails to do the right thing, what does the hon Gentleman think the consequences will be for the future of the Church of England?

Sir Tony Baldry: I think that the consequences for the Church of England will be very grim indeed. I hope that the General Synod, and those who might be tempted to vote against this Measure in it, will reflect on that point.


  • Sometimes, Sir Tony Baldry talks a lot of sense.

  • commentator says:

    Would these honorable members be so kind as to raise the same questions in relation to the House of Bishops statement about homosexual priests? The Bishops stated policy on that issue has not been before General Synod nor have the Members of Parliament cross questioned the Church Estates Commissioners about it, as far as I am aware.

  • This has a rather unsavoury, almost bullying feel to it.

    The Church needs to make the decision which is right for it, for its own long term health – and that may lead to Synod saying this is not the right Measure at this time. There will be people on both sides of the debate saying that, and in good conscience.

    And if some MPs don’t like that, what are they going to do about it?

    I feel a “Tract for the Times” coming on.

    Of course, the Measure may pass, but we can’t take it for granted.

  • Father David says:

    Isn’t this what is called Erastianism?

  • Feria says:

    A left-field thought: exactly why, legally, don’t we already have women bishops? The Appointment of Bishops Act 1533 always refers to a “persone”, not to a “man”. And Section 1(2) of the Priests (Ordination of Women) Measure 1993 and Canon C2.5 don’t actually forbid the consecration of women – they just say they’re not changing anything to make it legal.

  • David Walker says:

    OK, let me offend pretty well every TA person from outside England (and many within) by suggesting that this sort of parliamentary exchange is an important part of the Church of England’s governance.

    Most private clubs and societies (including Christian denominations) are run almost exclusively by the most activist element among their membership. They inevitably over-represent the interests of that group (or its factions) where these interests fail to reflect those of the wider membership. General Synod is in no way immune from that weakness.

    The two Houses of Parliament have a role in the C of E’s governance, not to innovate or determine in matters of doctrine, but (especially, but not solely in the Commons) to offer a perspective from the more general body of laity that the Church is established to serve. And ultimately they can refuse to allow a Measure to pass into law. On this sort of matter the vast majority of MPs (including all those quoted in this debate) would seek to reflect what they feel is in the interests of their constituents.

    Properly used, as it always has been since the 1930s, this is a good check and balance against the tyranny of the activists.

  • Anthony Archer says:

    And if some MPs don’t like that, what are they going to do about it?
    – Bernard Randall

    It may be premature to ask that question and I am not a constitutional lawyer, but with the support of the Government (and probably an amendment to the Enabling Act of 1919) the question of women bishops could be taken out of the Church of England’s hands. That would be an event amounting to a constitutional crisis in Church/State relations, as hinted at in Parliament yesterday.

  • Father Mike says:

    Its not bullying it’s the consequence of being an established Church. And if they don’t like it then would expect them to hold it up in the Houses of Parliament.

  • Original Observer says:

    The talk of constitutional crisis and political intervention in the affairs of the church is nothing more than posturing and flim flam. If the Measure fails in synod it will not even reach parliament anyway; if passed, parliament will just rubber-stamp it.

    In practice parliament ceded the management of the church to the church itself decades ago, and the thought that this might be reversed is inconceivable. As if politicians, few of whom would have any qualifications whatsoever to meddle in this way, do not have enough on their plate already!

  • Nigel Aston says:

    Unlovely Erastianism wrapped up in a note of intimidation. Clearly, traditionalist Anglicans are the wrong sort of minority.

  • Didn’t John Henry Newman start the Oxford Movement because of this kind of crap? I fully support the ordination of women as bishops (I serve in what I believe is the first diocese in the Anglican Communion to elect its second female bishop in succession), but I think it’s important to remember that the Church of Jesus Christ is answerable to Jesus Christ, not to a secular authority. And if there is a system in place that compromises this, that system needs to be decisively repudiated.

  • Mark Bennet says:

    I don’t recall the same comments on “Erastianism” being made when Parliamentarians were urging on the CofE what became the Act of Synod. Recent history (as David Walker seems to know) is populated by a number of pressure groups changing their views on establishment dependent on whether it delivers their agenda or not. This is not consistent ecclesiology, but opportunism.

    Perhaps the elected politicians are conscious of local opinions throughout the country as expressed in Diocesan Synods by large majorities and by their constituents?

  • Philip Hobday says:

    Like Tim, I’m in favour of this development, but there is something very disturbing about this kind of exchange. Some MPs seem to be saying, rather unsubtly, that the continued presence of bishops in the Lords is somehow contingent on passing women bishops legislation. That sounds rather like a threat to me, and I hope we will have women bishops because I believe it to be a good and legitimate development on theological grounds, not because Parliament is bullying us. And I hope there is sustainable and generous provision for those unable to accept them, again on theological grounds.

    I think I may just have become in favour of some form of disestablishment.

  • Feria says:

    Dear Nigel,

    Firstly: when did the word “Erastian” become an insult in the Church of England? At the Westminster Assembly, there was an Erastian party and an anti-Erastian party. The Erastian party evolved into the Church of England, the anti-Erastian party evolved into the Church of Scotland (and various non-conformist Protestant denominations).

    Secondly: it’s somewhat ironic that “traditionalist” Anglicans become all modern and reform-minded, the minute there’s the slightest hint that the relationship between church and state might return to something slightly closer to the form it took between 1558 and 1919.

  • Erika Baker says:

    “And if there is a system in place that compromises this, that system needs to be decisively repudiated.”

    It’s called Establishment if the church no longer finds it useful to have Bishops in the House of Lords it can, presumably, disestablish.

  • Feria says:

    Dear Anthony,

    I don’t think any amendment to the 1919 Act would be necessary. The delegation of legislative power in the 1919 Act was always non-exclusive, i.e. Parliament always retained the right to act on its own initiative.

  • James Warren says:

    Sorry, but were there shouts of “erastianism” when Parliament were making sure in 1992-4 that there was more direct provision for opponents of women’s ordination? Ie the reason we have the Act of Synod?

    The reason parliament can talk about these issues is because they represent the people of this country whom we serve as the Church of England. Didn’t William Temple say that the CofE is the only organisation which exists for the benefit of non-members? Establishment makes it possible to do this

  • Judith Maltby says:

    The thing is that MPs (and Peers – some of which are bishops) have every right to ask these questions and, one could argue as long as the Church of England is established, every duty. Look at this another way, members of the House of Commons are taking time to discuss the established church. On one hand Anglicans in England lament our ‘marginalization’ and ‘irrelevance’ – and then when a major institution like Parliament actually takes an interest in what we do and demonstrates that it thinks the nature and quality of the Church of England’s presence and ministry is important for the broader communities in which we serve (parochial, civic and sector), we get huffy and invoke Keble’s 1833 National Apostasy Sermon.

    Let’s put this into a more recent historical context. In 1993, Parliament through its Ecclesiastical Committee had a direct influence on the creation of the Act of Synod, with individuals such as John Broadhurst appearing before it to plead with Parliamentarians to use their influence to obtain more provision for opponents than was provided in the 1992 Measure. Parliamentary influence played a huge role in the creation of the Act of Synod – and all of this is in the parliamentary public record (and examined by me in *The Established Church: Past, Present and Future*, eds Chapman, Maltby and Whyte (2011) for anyone who wants chapter and verse). I would also commend reading the debate on the Women Priests Measure in the Commons in October 1993: it is a thoughtful and as well informed as any debate I have heard in General Synod in my two and half years as a member.

  • Despite the plaintive cries against what occurred in this parliamentary question & answers session at the House of Commons, I believe that it is the correct forum for such an occasion. After all, Church and State are actually united in the United Kingdom, and those who live under a different system – like for instance, the USA and Canada – may not be expected to understand the tradition. However, while the two are united, this is a good opportunity for ordinary members of parliament to challenge the status quo in the State Church.

    I, personally, am very encouraged by the questions and answers reported here. They show a good degree of familiarity with the system – that obviously puzzles outsiders. Sir Tony Baldry was absolutely right when he said that – if this Draft Measure fails, it will be a dark day for the C.of E.

  • FRS says, ‘ and those who live under a different system – like for instance, the USA and Canada – may not be expected to understand the tradition.’

    Ron, you are incorrect. I was born and raised in England, my father served as a priest in the Church of England for 30 years, and I have many close friends who serve in the system. I fully understand the system; I just think it is offensive for a secular authority to be telling the Church of Jesus Christ what it should be doing. And if this means disestablishment, then I say, it’s time to end the Babylonian Captivity of the ‘Mother Church’!

    As for why this hue and cry was not raised in 1992/3 – well, I can’t speak for others on this page, but I can give a very good reason why I said nothing about it – I was living in northern Canada, did not get the Church Times, only read bits of news from the C of E in our monthly ‘Anglican Journal’, and was not connected to the Internet. Modern communications technology has made the situation now very different from 1992/3, so comparing now with then is somewhat problematic.

  • Jeremy says:

    “I just think it is offensive for a secular authority to be telling the Church of Jesus Christ what it should be doing.”

    Pardon me while I chuckle a bit.


    Henry VIII?
    Elizabeth I?

    It’s a little late now, don’t you think?

    The church used secular authorities when it could count on them. So it’s a bit rich for the church to now denounce meddling in its affairs by secular authorities whose support it has welcomed in the past.

    Live by the sword, die by the sword.

  • Jeremy, you seem to be saying that the fact that we have sinned by compromising the Lordship of Jesus Christ in the past means that we should cheerfully go on doing so. The fact that this sin has a long history in our Anglican identity doesn’t mean that it isn’t long past time to acknowledge the fact and do something about it.

    But we probably won’t. We’ll probably go on cheerfully accepting the State’s heavy-handedness when it agrees with our own particular ideological agenda. When it doesn’t, of course, we’ll protest as loudly as the next person.

  • It’s not quite true that ‘parliament ceded the management of the church to the church itself decades ago’. The parliamentary veto on Measures is real, and is taken into account when Measures are drafted and amended. In 1984 Parliament refused to approve a Measure for abolishing the formal election of bishops by cathedral chapters, and in 2002 the Ecclesiastical Committee declined to certify a pensions Measure as expedient, and it was withdrawn. See

  • Judith Maltby says:

    Simon speaks sooth. Take, for example, Sir Patrick Cormack, MP speaking in June 2006: ‘During my 36 years in this place – for 35 of which I have served on the Ecclesiastical Committee – Measures introduced by the Church of England have on occasion been contentious. One thinks of the Churchwardens Measure 2001, in respect of which the House played an important and constructive part and of the Priests (Ordination of Women) Measure 1993, where as a result of what the Ecclesiastical Committee said, safeguards were built into the Church of England’s legislation to protect traditionalists: the Act of Synod. So there is a very real role for the Ecclesiastical Committee and for this House.’

    [‘Third Standing Committee on Delegated Legislation’, Hansard, HC, 27 June 2006. The Churchwardens Measure would have given bishops the right to deprive a churchwarden of his or her office ‘apparently at will’. As Monica Furlong observed ‘just occasionally a bit of state interference can offer a useful intervention’. Monica Furlong, CofE: the State It’s In (London: Hodder and Stoughton, 2000), p. 256.]

  • Feria says:

    Tim C: ‘I just think it is offensive for a secular authority to be telling the Church of Jesus Christ what it should be doing.’

    Dear Tim,

    There are plenty of denominations in England, of every theological stripe, that agree with you on this. If you relocated (back) over here, you would be spoilt for choice. On the other hand, for those of us who believe it is right for the episcopacy and the church executive to be accountable to a Parliament elected by all the people, there is only one place to go.

  • Feria, you are entirely correct that I would find it very difficult in all good conscience to be a member of a church which is ultimately accountable to a parliament composed largely of non-Christian MPs, rather than to the Lord of the church (and I know many English Anglicans who struggle with this too, not just us pesky foreigners). You would however be wrong in implying that it would be easy for me to leave the church of my birth and join a ‘free’ church. The Anglican way of following Jesus has done a good job of nurturing me. Perhaps, if I were to relocate to England, I should petition for alternative episcopal oversight from a bishop who is not compromised by accountability to a secular government. 🙂

  • Erika Baker says:

    “Perhaps, if I were to relocate to England, I should petition for alternative episcopal oversight from a bishop who is not compromised by accountability to a secular government. 🙂

    That would be someone from a free church, presumably 🙂

  • Mark Bennet says:

    Tim – the problem you have is that if you came back to England to take up a post in the CofE you would have to make an oath of allegiance to the queen, whose sovereignty is exercised through parliament (and your bishop would have had to do the same):

    Canon C 13 Of the Oath of Allegiance

    1. Every person whose election to any archbishopric or bishopric is to be confirmed, or who is to be consecrated or translated to any suffragan bishopric, or to be ordained priest or deacon, or to be instituted, installed, licensed or admitted to any office in the Church of England or otherwise serve in any place, shall first, in the presence of the archbishop or bishop by whom his election to such archbishopric or bishopric is to be confirmed, or in whose province such suffragan bishopric is situate, or by whom he is to be ordained, instituted, installed, licensed or admitted, or of the commissary of such archbishop or bishop, take the Oath of Allegiance in the form following:

    I, A B, do swear that I will be faithful and bear true allegiance to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, her heirs and successors, according to law: So help me God.

    It was a former version of such an oath which the non jurors made to James II and would not repudiate in favour of William and Mary (1688). (See also Romans 13).

    There is a “Free Church of England” (, but I think its essential concerns may be different from yours.

  • James Warren says:

    “The Anglican way of following Jesus has done a good job of nurturing me. Perhaps, if I were to relocate to England, I should petition for alternative episcopal oversight from a bishop who is not compromised by accountability to a secular government. :)”

    Then, Tim Chesterton, I would suggest that would not be the Anglican way of following Jesus. 🙂

  • Yes, Mark Bennet, I’m somewhat familiar with the system, having been raised in a vicarage!!!

  • Feria says:

    Actually, Tim would probably be able to get an exemption from taking the oath of allegiance under section 2 of the Overseas and Other Clergy (Ministry and Ordination) Measure 1967.

  • Erika Baker says:

    yes, but that would not really help because the bishop he would have to swear allegiance to has, in turn, sworn allegiance to the Queen. You can’t really get away from it.

  • Laurence Roberts says:

    ‘ “I just think it is offensive for a secular authority to be telling the Church of Jesus Christ what it should be doing.”

    Pardon me while I chuckle a bit.


    Henry VIII?
    Elizabeth I?

    It’s a little late now, don’t you think?’ (Jeremy)

    Don t forget Putin, Jeremy.

  • Laurence Roberts says:

    Tim the ‘heavy-handed State’ is headed by the committed anointed Queen and SG of the Church of England.

    Church and State are One, not two.

  • american piskie says:

    I seem to recall being told that 30ish years ago the Registrar of the Diocese of Oxford advised the then vicar-designate of Littlemore that the Oath of Allegiance imposed no new obligation on those taking it ie we ordinary subjects have the very same obligation of fidelity and allegiance as is articulated in the oath.

  • Feria says:

    Dear Erika,

    Indeed… the Bishop, in addition to the oath of allegiance, will have taken the oath of supremacy, which I guess would _really_ upset Tim. Since 1871, the exact text of the oath of supremacy has not been specified by law, but Jack Straw says the version he used to administer to bishops when he was Home Secretary was the Elizabethan one:

    ‘I, A. B., do utterly testify and declare in my conscience, that the queen’s highness is the only supreme governor of this realm, and of all other her highness’s dominions and countries, as well in all spiritual or ecclesiastical things or causes, as temporal, and that no foreign prince, person, prelate, state or potentate, has, or ought to have, any jurisdiction, power, superiority, preeminence, or authority ecclesiastical or spiritual, within this realm; and therefore I do utterly renounce and forsake all foreign jurisdictions, powers, superiorities, and authorities, and do promise that from henceforth I shall bear faith and true allegiance to the queen’s highness, her heirs and lawful successors, and to my power shall assist and defend all jurisdictions, pre-eminences, privileges, and authorities granted or belonging to the queen’s highness, her heirs and successors, or united and annexed to the imperial crown of this realm. So help me God, and by the contents of this book.’

  • Erika Baker says:

    that sounds not very different from the Catholic ordination oath to the Pope.

  • david wilson says:

    Unless it becomes the modern equivalent to calling Caesar Lord – as opposed to just acknowledging the government that the Lord has allowed.

    Jesus Christ must always be our Lord

  • Feria says:

    Dear David,

    That’s why the oath I quoted spends three syllables saying “governor” instead of one syllable saying “head”. (The Henrician version did say “head”).

  • Jeremy says:

    Laurence, I do not forget Putin. Or more to the point, Stalin.

    There is no question that the Church of England has been relatively fortunate in its secular influences.

    As for not acknowledging the lordship of Jesus, the pattern of turning to secular authority to resolve church disputes runs throughout church history, all the way back to the Council of Nicaea.

    As others have said, the Church of England is established, has special privileges, and must therefore accept some meddling by Parliament, and thus society, in its affairs. There cannot be one without the other.

    Which is not to say that I’m against disestablishment….

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