The Church of England has, after several decades of debate, voted to allow women to become bishops. As the New York Times story noted, in the lede, this act "overturned centuries of tradition."
That is true, but it's important for readers to understand why that matters and to whom it matters. This is especially true since, while the Church of England is important, it no longer represents the statistical future of Anglicanism worldwide. The story notes:
“Today we can begin to embrace a new way of being the church and moving forward together,” the archbishop of Canterbury, the Most Rev. Justin Welby, said after the vote.
Two decades after the first female priest was ordained, the issue of women taking senior roles in the church hierarchy remains divisive. As recently as 2012, the proposal had been defeated by six votes.
But Archbishop Welby, the spiritual leader of the church and the global Anglican Communion, who supported the vote from the start, had warned fellow church leaders this year that the public would find the exclusion of women “almost incomprehensible.”
On Monday, however, he acknowledged that a split in the worldwide Anglican community was now a serious possibility. “Without prayer and repentance, it is hard to see how we can avoid some serious fractures,” he said.
The heart of this story is found in Welby's hope that Anglicans will be "moving forward together" which is then contrasted, a few lines later, by his comment that without "prayer and repentance, it is hard to see how we can avoid some serious fractures." Via media, at best.
When do believers repent? They repent after they have sinned. Who are the believers who need to repent? Welby does not say and neither does The New York Times. For example, there is this: Was Welby saying that Roman Catholics, Eastern Orthodox believers, many Lutherans and millions and millions of Third World Anglicans need to "repent" of their opposition to the ordination of women?
Meanwhile, why -- precisely -- might this act cause schism? The Times doesn't explain that, either. It would seem that the problem, as always, is with "evangelicals."
It's crucial to understand several things here. First of all, the ordination of women is not -- when viewed through a Protestant lens -- strictly a matter of liberals vs. conservatives. I am not sure that the Times team knows that. Later in the report there is this:
One faction within the Church of England that opposes women as bishops is a conservative evangelical group called Reform. Arguing that “the divine order of male headship” makes it “inappropriate” for women to lead dioceses, Reform claims that at least a quarter of the church will find this incompatible with their beliefs.
The word "evangelical" is simply not enough information, if what has unfolded in America in any way is repeated in England. To be blunt, many evangelical Anglicans in America -- especially in the charismatic movement -- have welcomed the ordination of women. Glance, for example, at the faculty of the Trinity School for Ministry, one of America's most important conservative Anglican centers. Archbishop Welby is also known as an evangelical.
So what are the differences, inside Protestantism, that draw a line between those who embrace the ordination of women and those who do not? This is an especially important question at the global level, in the booming traditional Anglican churches in Africa and Asia.
Also, why is the question of female BISHOPS so crucial, in terms of schism? This is a crucial question for believers who cling to the Anglo-Catholic side of the Anglican tradition of doctrinal compromise.
Bishops, you see, ordain priests.
It is one thing for a bishop to ordain a woman as a priest -- whose ministry many will accept and others will reject. What happens when a female bishop begins to ordain new priests, female and male? For many Anglicans these ordinations are not valid. For these traditionalists -- some Protestants and some Anglo-Catholics -- this causes fault lines in the foundation of the church. At that point, as a matter of Catholic orders, some Anglicans will begin to reject the ministry of many male priests, as well.
At some point, Communion -- with a capital "C" -- breaks down, even for Anglicans of good will.
This was a short Times report. Nevertheless, it needed a few more crucial pieces of information, if the goal was to be clear about the threats to Anglican unity.