Today, the Church of England voted on whether or not to allow female bishops to serve the church. It was fascinating to watch. #Synod was one of the fastest moving twitter streams I have ever seen - especially for church related stuff.
The Church of England votes in three different groups: The House of Bishops, the House of Clergy, and the House of Laity. The motion for female bishops had to be approved by a two-thirds majority in all three Houses in order to pass. It received the necessary votes in the House of Bishops and the House of Clergy, but not in the House of Laity.
I have seen my share of church-dividing issues over the years. This, however, was not in my denomination. I have my connections to the Church of England, but at the end of the day I am an uninvolved observer. As such, this vote raises a few questions that will take some serious wrestling - not just by the Church of England, but by Christians of many stripes.
1) This vote may bring the Church of England closer in relationship to the Roman Catholic Church, but it widens the divide between the CofE and Protestant churches. Even the Episcopal Church has a female Presiding Bishop. So my first question is: What will this vote do to the relationships between the Church of England and Protestant churches?
2) Both the House of Bishops and the House of Clergy approved this measure. Often, the clergy are depicted as the ones grasping on to authority and control, refusing to change with the times. My second question: What does this vote mean for the (usually liberal) folks who argue that the clergy should have less decision making authority, and the laity should have more?
3) Prior to the vote, the Synod had a time of prayer for discernment. In fact, like all church legislative gatherings, the whole gathering has been immersed in prayers for guidance. We talk of how the Holy Spirit has guided the church through the centuries, and affirm that God's Spirit will not abandon the church. Which brings me to my last question: What does it mean (theologically speaking) to affirm the Holy Spirit's guidance of the church, when I vehemently disagree with the decisions of the church?
In the midst of the grieving and rejoicing that is taking place in the Church of England and the rest of the Anglican Communion, these are the questions with which we must all wrestle. I don't know that I have any answers, but I am looking forward to the conversation!