In a close and controversial move last week the Church of England narrowly voted not to allow women to become bishops.  Over three years ago we commented on this ongoing debate, which has rumbled on since women were allowed to become priests nearly 20 years ago.  The vote was passed by the Bishops and the Priests, but was narrowly voted down by lay representatives of churches.

The no votes represent a small alliance of conservative evangelicals who believe in male headship in the church, and Anglo-Catholics concerned that female bishops will break the principal of apostolic succession, by which each bishop can trace his authority back to St Peter by receiving an anointing from his predecessor.  Special arrangements had been offered them in a major compromise by the ‘yes’ lobby, safeguarding the right of individual parishes to opt out of their diocesan structure and be overseen by an itinerant male bishop, but it appears this did not appease the ‘no’ party.

In the last 20 years the number of women priests has steadily swelled and they have earned respect in their parishes and communities.  It is widely believed that over 90% of church members are in favour of them, which is just as well as they now make up 1/3 of total Church of England priests, and in 2010 the number of women ordained exceeded the number of men.

Now that this proposal has been voted down, despite the vocal backing of the current Archbishop of Canterbury and his successor Justin Welby, there is little likelihood of the first female bishop being consecrated for at least five years.  This remains an ongoing source of hurt and division in the church which shows no sign of going away.  It also leaves the Church of England in the unfortunate position of actively discriminating against women, taking advantage of its unique exemption from equality legislation.  The irony is that there are already voices calling for parliament to remove this immunity, which would legally require the Church of England to appoint female bishops without implementing any of the safeguards for dissenting parishes.  The ‘no’ vote may have shot itself in both feet.

Please pray for healing, reconciliation, forgiveness and mutual understanding in the church.

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The previous week,  in a highly unusual exercise in participative democracy, England & Wales elected their first directly-elected Police & Crime Commissioners (PCCs).  In 41 police force areas across the two countries (London already has the equivalent powers vested in its Mayor), appointed Police Authorities were replaced by publicly-elected individuals who will have the power to set policing priorities and hold the Chief Constable accountable for achieving them, even to the point of having the power of dismissal.

However, such a radical introduction of local democracy to a state not typically known for exercises in democratic grassroots accountability was met not with enthusiasm but with an overwhelming display of apathy and antipathy.  With just 15% of the electorate voting, the lowest ever turnout for a national poll, there are valid questions about the authenticity of the PCCs’ mandate.  Of those voters who turned up at the hustings, between 2.5% and 4%  spoiled their  ballot papers, indicating an underlying dissatisfaction with the concept.  Psephologists normally agree that anything over 2% is an indication of problems.  It was widely reported that comments objecting to bringing party politics into policing were written on papers.

The Labour Party is blaming the government for what it calls a ‘shambles’.  It points out that despite spending £75m organising the elections, candidates were denied a budget for mailshots and publicity, meaning that many citizens were either unaware of the elections or ignorant of who was standing.  The government, which has been enthusiastic about pursuing  a policy of ‘localism’ – giving more power to local government and reducing the size of national government – blames the media for not creating enough publicity.  The Electoral Commission has announced that it will be reviewing the poll.

It appears that alongside general unawareness of the elections or the significance of them, there was a lot of public discontent at the perceived politicising of policing.  Since independent candidates had no public budget to fund their campaign, it was seen as likely that representatives of political parties would be able to get themselves elected.  In the end, this predication proved wrong, as 11 of the elected PCCs stood as independents.  16 were Conservatives and 15 Labour.  it remains to be see whether the independent candidates were voted for on merit or as part of an anti-party vote.  When they are reelected in four years’ time the parties may do better.

Please pray for the PCCs, that they will succeed in maintaining their political independence and will be genuinely democratically accountable.

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In other news, in a small but significant court case, a man who was demoted at work for expressing views about same-sex marriage on his personal Facebook account won an appeal.  He had commented, outside of work hours, that requiring churches to perform same-sex ceremonies was ‘an equality too far’.  Two colleagues complained and his employer, a housing trust, demoted him for misconduct, resulting in a 40% reduction in his salary.  The High Court judge said that he had done ‘nothing wrong’, thereby setting a precedent that Christians cannot be disciplined in the workplace for expressing their views outside of work.

Our verdict: Lions 2, Christians 1 (see A little more secular)

Please pray that this precedent will protect other Christians from workplace discrimination.