A bad day for the Church of England, and for equality


Religion rarely seems to get a look in on this blog. Primarily, that’s because it’s one of the few topics which can be depended on to be more incendiary than politics. It’s also because I believe that religion — or lack thereof — is the most personal of matters, and this is something for the individual and their conscience. But I am a Christian. I am an Anglican. And I have never been afraid of speaking out when I disagree with the Church.

Like today.

For those who haven’t seen the news, the Church’s governing body — the Synod — today voted against the ordination of female bishops. It is, in my opinion, nothing short of a disgrace.

It’s been an issue that’s been bouncing around in the two decades since women were first ordained as priests, except this time the Synod made the wrong decision. All of the same arguments which were wheeled out against women priests have been rehashed, and yet despite being proved utterly wrong the last time (proof: the sky hasn’t in fact fallen in) they have inexplicably won over now.

A lot of the theological argument that women should not be ordained revolves around passages of scripture such as 1 Timothy 2:12:

But I suffer not a woman to teach, nor to usurp authority over the man, but to be in silence.

I’m not a theologian. I’m just a loudmouth with a keyboard and and internet connection. But personally, I’ve never gone in for the deification of people. The Catholics do it with Mary, and the whole pantheon of saints. But if you take that God is God, and that Jesus was/is God in human form, then everyone else is just a flawed human being.

Which, valuable though his insights may be, surely includes Saint Paul?

I don’t know, I just don’t see any rational argument for why women can’t do the job every bit as good as men. Unless of course you’re so conservative (small-c) and afraid of change that the idea of women at the pulpit scares you.

The church like the BBC gets  a lot of criticism. As far as I’m concerned, it should do, since it should be holding itself to a higher standard. But like the BBC, it is one of our finest institutions and at its best has done fantastic things. Defeating the slave trade, for instance.

So I was both surprised and disappointed to hear that the change — which the Church badly needs — was not rejected by the bishops or clergy, but by the lay (ordinary) members. Both the outgoing and incoming Archbishops of Canterbury supported the measure, so this was not an establishment block.

This won’t be the end of the matter. Women will become bishops, but sadly after this it won’t be for another few decades. Those who have sulked and thrown their toys out of the pram have allowed a deeply unfair situation to persist, which robs the church of some of its finest talents.

Today has not been a good day for either the Church of England or equality.

3 comments

  1. I think most of the anglican communion acknowledge that women bishops will be ordained in the near future. I may be wrong but from what I’ve heard the legislation this time would not have allowed for those within the Anglican communion who disagreed with women bishops (whatever your thoughts about the merits of their biblical arguments – though I believe there are more to the arguments than you say) and could not have been led by a woman bishop in good conscience to continue to have practiced within the Anglican communion. I think that the vote today saved a split that the church could ill afford. In Gods good timing I’m hopeful that an inclusive piece of legislation which can accommodate the broad views of its members will be passed so that women bishops are ordained. I predict it will happen in 5 years… whatever the outcome of the vote today clearly the majority in the Anglican communion in this part of the world are in favour of women bishops.

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  2. The issue as I see it is that there is a false hierarchy in place in the Church of England, which results in the people ‘at the top’ believing that they run the church, and from that we get issues of Headship. In my church (Baptist) the congregation runs the church and appoints the minister or ministers it feels is necessary to grow the church. The ministers report to the church membership via the deacons of the church. The church congregation decides to join the Baptist Union (a decision that can be reversed, all Baptist churches are free to leave and go independent). As a collective group of churches we seek to appoint men and women in to senior roles with the gifts and skills needed to support the churches and promote the denomination; but the support offered by the Baptist equivalent of Bishops is not compulsory. We appoint good men and women to the role of regional coordinator, and a wise church will accept their help when needed, but the regional and national teams are not running the churches, the local congregations are – so it would make no sense to talk about having a man or woman as head of the Baptist church, except perhaps in dealings with other denominations and the media.

    If the Church of England adopted the Congregational model of church, the whole issue of women in senior leadership roles would disappear, as the leaders are really servants, offering the gifts they have been given.

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