In the great race towards the 21st century, the Church of England’s time machine may be several decades ahead of the time machines of the other big Christian institutions (I imagine them to be racing Mario Kart style, but of course everyone’s free to make use of their own whimsy). On Friday, the Church of England published a proposal to finally approve the ordination of female bishops. By 2015. Maybe.

The widely-supported reform measure just barely missed passing last November, so the Church is having another, more successful go this time at trying to let women into its leadership ranks. According to Reuters, the new plan has been outlined in a document signed by Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby and Archbishop of York John Sentamu. It should be presented to the General Synod (the Church’s creaky legislative body) in July, when the long, bureaucratic approval process will begin. Stay tuned for that.

The new proposal offers something of a compromise between a progressive majority and a stubborn contingent of traditionalists who, like the Catholic or Orthodox Churches, think that allowing women into leadership positions is totally contrary to biblical teaching: women would be allowed to become bishops, but each diocese would have to have a bishop willing to ordain women to the priesthood.

There’s a lot at stake when the vote comes up in July because, thanks to the alacrity with which matters of theology are discussed, it would take another five years before the issue of female bishops could again be introduced for a vote. Any new legislation requires a two-thirds majority, and, with 80 percent of those polled recently in a Sunday Times survey favoring the introduction of female bishops, it seems like the Church of England at least has an opportunity to come within spitting distance of contemporary culture.


Image via AP, Matt Dunham