Women bishops in the CofE: what Lib Dem members think

Lib Dem Voice polled our members-only forum recently to discover what Lib Dem members think of various political issues, the Coalition, and the performance of key party figures. Some 550 party members have responded, and we’re publishing the full results.

84% think the CofE should allow women to be come bishops

women bishops
In November the Church of England’s Synod failed to pass a vote that would have allowed women to become bishops. Do you think the Church of England should or should not allow women to become bishops?

    84% – Should allow women bishops
    2% – Should not allow women bishops
    10% – Neither
    4% – Don’t know

An unsurprisingly overwhelming backing for women to be allowed to become bishops within the Church of England. Most of the 10% ‘neithers’ were a variety of don’t cares (atheists, disestablishmentarians et al).

But 66% oppose parliamentary intervention over the issue

Would you support or oppose Parliament intervening to change the law to force the Church of England to accept female bishops?

    24% – Support: it is wrong that the Church does not allow female Bishops and if they won’t act themselves Parliament should intervene
    66% – Oppose: whether it is right or wrong, it should be a matter for the Church to decide. It would be an attack on religious freedom for Parliament to interfere
    7% – Neither
    3% – Don’t know

A slightly more mixed response here: two-thirds oppose direct parliamentary intervention in the established church to enforce state laws, though many in their comments made that conditional on the church seeking disestablishment if it wishes to avoid state interference. Almost a quarter of respondents, however, are happy for parliament to get more pro-active.

And 66% also support bishops being removed from the House of Lords

If the Church of England does not allow women to become bishops do you think all bishops should be denied the right to sit and vote in the House of Lords?

    14% – Yes, in that circumstance, they should be removed from the House of Lords
    66% – Yes, but I think all bishops should be removed from the House of Lords in any case
    14% – No, they should not be removed from the House of Lords
    4% – None of these
    2% – Don’t know

A result which combines two historic liberal arguments — disestablishment of the Church of England AND the abolition of the House of Lords — with two-thirds wanting to see bishops removed from the Upper Chamber altogether, regardless of the CofE’s position on women bishops.

Here’s a selection of your comments:

Even the Church of England thinks that the Church of England should allow women to become bishops. It’s only the Synod’s bizarre voting system that prevented change.

The internal governance of a religious organisation is its own business. The CoE’s established status complicates matters, but the solution is to disestablish, not to interfere.

I think it is very plain that the majority DO want women Bishops. The evangelical and anglo-catholic wings will never agree, so there must be better provision for these minorities, which was a stumbling block all along.

If we ban them from sitting in the Lords for this, it would indicate that it’s ok for one religion to be there at the expense of others. They shouldn’t be there full stop.

It is not parliament’s place to intervene and the CofE should be permitted to do as they please.However, this being the case, the CofE should have no place in state affairs, the legislature or privileged access to government.

It has to be decided on theological grounds (on which I think they are wrong). It is not unreasonable that theological issues will conflict with the secular standards of the time. It would be fundamentally wrong for non believers or a secular body to intervene in a religous matter – about as illiberal as you can get.

This is not an area a political party (especially one lead by an someone who is not a member of the CoE) should have an opinion on. I support disestablishment of the CoE so they can sort their own problems out

  • Over 1,200 Lib Dem paid-up party members are registered with LibDemVoice.org. Over 500 responded to the latest survey, which was conducted between 7th and 11th December.
  • Please note: we make no claims that the survey is fully representative of the Lib Dem membership as a whole. However, LibDemVoice.org’s surveys are the largest independent samples of the views of Lib Dem members across the country, and have in the past offered accurate guides to what party members think.
  • For further information on the reliability/credibility of our surveys, please refer to FAQs: Are the Liberal Democrat Voice surveys of party members accurate? and polling expert Anthony Wells’ verdict, On that poll of Lib Dem members.
  • The full archive of our members’ surveys can be viewed at www.libdemvoice.org/category/ldv-members-poll
  • * Stephen Tall is Co-Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice, and editor of the 2013 publication, The Coalition and Beyond: Liberal Reforms for the Decade Ahead. He is also a Research Associate for the liberal think-tank CentreForum and writes at his own site, The Collected Stephen Tall.

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    10 Comments

    • Tony Dawson 6th Jan '13 - 10:19am

      I wonder(whatever their views when pushed) how many people in this country (and our members) care anything much, one way or another, how this private organisation conducts its internal affairs.

    • Tony Dawson, it’s not a private organisation. It’s the official state religion which has special privileges and seats in the Lord’s.

      How many of the public think it should be disestablished is an interesting question that needs asked.

    • The problem fir the CofE is the geographical rather than theological way in which the church devides itself. lots of their problems would go away if they arranged themselves differently. Then the sensible ones could have women bishops and the others could keep their old ways.

    • Richard Hill 6th Jan '13 - 6:10pm

      Surely it should be up to the chuch to decide? If people do not like the decision or the way it is made, they do not have to be a member. They can always join another religious group, start one of their own or forget relgion and try to do similar things through a political party.

    • It’s not just for the church to decide for itself if the church in question is the state religion ( in parts of the state anyway!) – of course there should be women, gay, pink, blue and green bishops if the people in question are the best for the job. Liberals need to realise that the ‘conservatives’ and ‘evangelicals’ have a tiny element of influence in the state because of their grasp over the state church.

    • Richard Dean 7th Jan '13 - 9:54am

      Astonishing. What millennium do these bishops live in? How come people who break the spirit of the sex discrimination laws every day end up sitting in parliament making laws?

    • Old Codger Chris 7th Jan '13 - 12:10pm

      There are two issues here. As others point out the Cof E’s internal machinations should be of no interest to those of us who are not practising members of the church.

      A reformed, partly elected, second chamber should find room for representatives of major religions and denominations (and for unbelievers) among other interest groups. But the top-heavy representation of Cof E bishops is as outdated as the concept of a House of Lords itself.

    • Matthew Huntbach 7th Jan '13 - 11:38pm


      Do you think the Church of England should or should not allow women to become bishops?

      It’s an ambiguous question. It’s a bit like asking me “Do you think we should have David Cameron as Prime Minister”. I would answer “No” if it was meant to be my personal preferences regardless of anyone else’s, but “yes” if it was meant to be a question on who is the legitimate Prime Minister from the way the people of this country voted and the support they have given to the distortion of the electoral system which made Cameron the only viable Prime Minister in the 2010 Parliament.

      I appreciate the Church of England was founded to be a Church which tamely obeys the state, but we have largely accepted now that this is a purely ceremonial issue. So, as others have said, it’s up to the Church’s internal mechanisms, we who are not part of it should say that whatever it wants according to those mechanisms it should have.

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