Australian court considers issue of women bishops

Published July 3, 2007

The Australian church’s highest court is deciding whether women can become bishops, leading to tensions between some evangelical groups and those who say they want a more inclusive church.  

Early in April, the church’s Appellate Tribunal began sitting to consider whether the constitution of the Anglican Church of Australia contains any barriers to women becoming bishops.    

The case for women bishops was led by academic Muriel Porter and is supported by a group of dioceses including Melbourne and Canberra-Goulbourn. The Sydney diocese, one of the most influential in Australia, is strongly opposed to such a change.  

Ms. Porter has argued that equality between women and men as bishops is essential to the credibility of females in ministry.   

“To say that women can be priests, but not bishops, is to make women second-class priests,” Ms. Porter told Ecumenical News International. “If we believe that God created men and women completely equal then that should be reflected in the ministry of priests.”

The Anglican Church League, a group leading opposition to the approval of women bishops, warned that such a change would fracture relationships between congregations.   

“In many dioceses which might go the way of having a woman bishop, there will be a number of congregations who will no longer see the bishop as the focus of unity,” league spokesperson Robert Tong told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.

Ms. Porter, however, rejected Mr. Tong’s claim that her movement is divisive. She said: “What threatens church unity is when dioceses like Sydney use their power and numbers to frustrate what the vast majority of the church wants.”

The push for women bishops follows a 1992 resolution by the church to allow women priests. While some Australian dioceses adopted the national legislation and ordained women priests, the Sydney diocese has resisted the reform.  

Sydney has advocated an older understanding of biblically prescribed gender roles. Equal but Different, a Sydney-based advocacy group, has argued against reforms to traditional gender roles. “These changes should concern us all, as they represent an unambiguous rejection of biblical authority and truth,” the organization’s Web site states. The appellate tribunal’s decision is expected later this year.


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