Excluding a few not-very-brave abstentions, the House of Bishops voted 44-3 (94%) for, the House of Clergy 148-45 (77%), and the House of Laity 132-74 (64%; vote details here). Since the measure had to pass by two-third vote in each House, it fell because of 6 votes in the House of Laity. It is to be emphasized, a majority in each House was found in support.
There was much displeasure reported in the press after the tallies were announced. One paper said, a “gaping chasm” has “opened within the Church.” The Mirror thought the vote an “insult” to and a “setback” for women. The reporter even confessed “In America, Canada and New Zealand, for instance, there was utter bewilderment” at the news1. Catherine Bennett of the Guardian was incensed and said, “It’s high time the Church of England was taught a lesson.”
Let’s be clear. It’s the Church of England’s playground, and their rules. About whether the vote was right or wrong, about whether women ought to be or ought not to be bishops in that organization, I haven’t any opinion to offer. Our only interest here is in the vote itself, about the propriety and deciding of difficult questions by voting, and about the arguments proffered for why this vote was “wrong.”
Typical example: Helen Goodman, Shadow Culture Minister and member of Parliament’s Ecclesiastical Committee, who said, “God had surely created men and women equal, the gendering of roles was a product of historic societies and the time had come to recognise women’s gifts and use them.”
You probably agree with me that anybody who would use gender as a gerund deserves any pain which comes her way. But it obviously false that God, or even “nature”, created “men and women equal.” The two parts of this species are equal in dignity, worth, value, but not in any physical or operational sense2. Even Goodman, after rejecting this truth, goes on to embrace it by asking “women’s gifts” be recognized3.
Point is that since men and women are different, it is an open question whether in any particular area women or men (or neither) are better suited, and whether men should be excluded or women should (or neither). The Church of England has put in place rules to decide how questions like this are to be sorted out. These rules (of this voluntary organization) were agreed and adhered to, which is why the reaction to the vote is odd.
Many critics complained the vote was decided by a “backward-looking” minority—this unadorned phrase was meant as an argument, understand. The tacit premise missing is that old beliefs, being old, are wrong, with the implication that whatever new “experiment in living” is proposed is at least worth trying. Both are fallacies, and silly ones, too. That they are held so strongly and used so frequently is a symptom of deep illness. Nevertheless: Forward!
David Cameron, the “conservative”4 Prime Minister of England, said the vote was “very sad” and “called for Parliament to intervene directly.” He “said it was time for the Church to ‘get with the programme’ or risk looking dangerously out of touch with modern society.” He also said, “you do have to respect the individual institutions and the way they work, while giving them a sharp prod.”
Skip past where Cameron employs the tiresome “backward” fallacy, to the point where he contradicts himself about the validity of the vote, where he threatens the C of E with Parliamentary action while claiming respect for the Church’s rules. You cannot have it both ways: either voting is right, and its outcomes thus to be respected, or certain matters are beyond voting.
The latter view is the correct one. Voting only works where a group (or a large majority in the group) hold to certain base values (which are not voted upon), and where the questions before the group cannot be deduced with any certainty from those shared values. Once the group fractures such that separate blocs are opposed on the fundamental values, then voting cannot be trusted as a reliable guide to action. It is at this point where schisms and exoduses occur.
1I can’t speak for Canada or New Zealand, nor even for Mauritius or Lithuania for that matter, but I can report no bewilderment from this corner of America.
2It is always depressing to have to point this out, because it shows how far from rationality we have slipped.
3On the main roles of the C of E, Goodman says this: “how to bind fractured communities; address alienation and the inexorable rise of consumerism and how to protect the natural environment.” It will take a sharp mind to identify what is missing.
4The same English words in America often have different meanings in Britain, hence the quotes.