Church of England says it has 'no official definition' of a woman

Reuters/Toby Melville
Reuters/Toby Melville

The Church of England, which heralded the appointment of its first female bishop in 2017, said it could no longer provide an “official definition” of a woman.

The Telegraph reported that the announcement came as a written response to a member from the General Synod, the denomination's legislative body, asking the question, "What is the Church of England’s definition of a woman?” 

In response, the Rev. Robert Innes, the denomination's bishop in Europe, wrote: “There is no official definition, which reflects the fact that until fairly recently definitions of this kind were thought to be self-evident, as reflected in the marriage liturgy.”

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Innes referenced the denomination's “Living in Love and Faith” project, which aims to be a “part of discerning a way forward for the Church of England in relation to matters of identity, sexuality, relationships and marriage,” according to its website.

Citing what he described as “the marriage complexities associated with gender identity,” Innes said the project “points to the need for additional care and thought to be given in understanding our commonalities and differences as people made in the image of God.”

The LLF project has garnered support from LGBT activist groups like the Ozanne Foundation, which in November 2020 hailed the project as working toward making the church “more genuinely inclusive, recognizing the high cost borne by so many LGBT+ people today, and the significant safeguarding risks that need to be urgently addressed."

The Diocese of London did not reply to The Christian Post's request for comment by press time. 

The Church of England’s official website has 176 search results for the word “woman,” including the 2014 announcement of Rev. Libby Lane as the “the first woman bishop in the Church of England.”

The recently retired Rev. Angela Berners-Wilson, the first woman ordained by the church as a priest in 1994, told the Telegraph she was “not totally happy with” the announcement. 

“I mean, I do think certain things like men can’t have babies just to say the complete obvious thing,” she added. “But I think we need to be very sensitive and maybe we need to reexamine our boundaries.”

The Church of England’s decision to allow for women to become bishops came 20 years after the denomination had voted to allow for female ordination.

In January 2015, Lane was consecrated the first female bishop, with her installation ceremony having a heckler interrupt by shouting, "Not in the Bible!"

In March 2015, the Ven. Rachel Treweek was appointed bishop of the Diocese of Gloucester, making her the first female bishop to lead a regional body.

In 2019, the church saw thousands of its clergy object to a newly-introduced baptism service for transgender members. 

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