Wednesday, 21 November 2012

Women bishops - or, as I like to call them, bishops...

A mosaic in Rome's St Praxedis church features the image of a woman. Beside her, it says "Theodora Episcopa" - this is a depiction of a woman who was also a bishop. The mosaic is from the ninth century. The ninth century. Yet in the 21st century, the General Synod of the Church of England has failed to allow woman who have already been ordained as priests to become bishops. The clergy voted overwhelmingly in favour but no majority was achieved among the laity  - there was more than 50% support but not the 138 out of 206 votes required for it to pass.

So it would appear the progress of the entire church is being held to ransom by a vocal, conservative minority. There was even a clause to allow parishes opposed to women bishops to be ministered to by a substitute male bishop if they really felt that owning a vagina was incompatible with episcopal leadership. Imagine a private company trying to impose such rules: "I'm sorry, Ms Jones, but while you are indeed a competent and fully trained accountant, the fact that you're a woman precludes you from being a partner in this firm. If, however, we do allow women to become partners sometime in the dim and distant future, we will give our clients the option of not dealing with you if they are opposed to women as partners in accountancy firms."

This has caused much outrage and the outrage is not restricted to observant Anglicans but it crosses over to people of other faiths and of no faith. And rightly so - the Anglican church is still the state religion of Britain and, as such, people should be allowed to question this and the actions of the church, regardless of their beliefs.

There is an openly atheist Deputy Prime Minister, an atheist Leader of the Opposition with Jewish heritage, and a Prime Minister who professes to be a Christian but seems to have bypassed the compassion bit, yet still a state religion remains. There is no compulsion to be Anglican or attend church, other religions are welcome here and anyone is free to be an atheist, yet still a state religion remains.

And with yesterday's vote against women bishops, it is now a state religion that breaks the anti-discrimination laws of the very country it purports to represent. Even the royal family, also compulsorily Anglican, has made a few strides towards progressiveness by allowing firstborn daughters to inherit the throne.

All this vote does is further alienate the church from the mainstream and makes calls for a proper separation of church and state in Britain more relevant. This, in turn, could lead to further examination of the role of religion in the royal family and whether it is right for the head of state to only ever represent a shrinking demographic in an increasingly diverse country.

It is a discussion that the whole country needs to be involved in and, given that the outrage over this bishop decision is widespread and crosses faith, political and gender boundaries, could this usher in a new era of political engagement in Britain? After the farce of the low turnout in the PCC elections and a culture whereby more people are more interested in voting for X Factor winners than parliamentary representatives, if this particular outrage gets people interested in matters more important than TV talent shows, that would actually be a good thing.*


* This e-petition is a good place to start your stepped-up political engagement in the wake of the General Synod's decision yesterday:


  1. Very VERY well put!

    It is astonishing that this has happened. That said, most mainstream religions find difficulties with issues like sex and women. So perhaps this is nothing more than another example of odd thinking!

  2. No one cares about the X Factor any more...

    1. Correction: I'm A Celebrity, Get Me Out Of Here!

  3. Not sure I agree with it all but think some good points made particularly around discrimination in the Church.

    My sister-in-law has a friend and she's a priest. The only problem is that she exposed another Priest who also works in her Diocese for some financial fiddling. The Church (as in powers within), rather than removing the Bad Priest, and promoting her to running a new larger Parish, have removed her from the little Parish to become a floating Priest or locum. So she looses her position for her honesty, whilst the other priest has been 'reprimanded' but (and here's the kicker), he can continue to run the Parish because the church he resides over was given to him in perpetuity!

    How is a church and parish given to a Priest in perpetuity? And surely for is book keeping fiddling he should have been made the locum as penance!

    The bias towards men in the church seems to well and truly ingrained at the centre.

  4. Ps. Perhaps if they used the XFactor/Strictly voting systems, the PCC would have had better turn-out/votes!

  5. The whole thing is a disaster and makes the Cof E look extremely stupid, which by and large it is not. The tail, in the form of conservative evangelical and anglo-catholic laity, are wagging the dog and are probably congratulating themselves for a win over liberal clergy, who have been bending over backwards to accommodate them. I have a great deal of affection for the Anglican church and, although I cannot believe in any form of propositional religion, think that it provides a counterbalance to the religion of capitalism and the market which pervades society. It's just got to get its act together and, if necessary,change its rules and get heavy with the neanderthals.

  6. The really strange thing about all of this is that the Supreme Governor of the Church of England is a woman (the Queen).

    On Briony's comments, had the priest been in any other profession, he would probably have a criminal record by now (the same point applies to paedophile priests).

    Many religions, especially the Abrahamic ones, seem to have a built in misogynistic bias. I'm not sure whether that derives from their origins, or was introduced later (there's plenty of eye-watering misogyny in Leviticus, for example). Having said that I have to admit I don't particularly care that the increasingly irrelevant (in practical terms) CofE is making a fool of itself.

    Now to see if I can get through your qanti spam!!


  7. "the Anglican church is still the state religion of Britain"

    the CofE is only the established Church in England; there is no established Church in Wales or Ireland; and the Church of Scotland has no bishops but has had two female heads, and will have another next year.

  8. It is a very sad state of affairs in age where we have female Prime Ministers and female CEOs of large corporations.
    The USA has a black female Bishop doing an excellent job.
    Australia is now awaiting their first female Bishop and I would be vey excited if it happened in the diocese where I live. There is a vacancy at the moment with the recent retirement of our Bishop.

  9. I'm not a Christian, partly because I didn't want to be part of a religion that considered me inferior but also because church is kind of boring. That said I applaud CoE for allowing female priests at all (other religions don't) and will applaud louder when they make things equal. Just because it's important to me doesn't mean it's not important to female priests.

    Mainly I want a separation of church and state. I find it hugely offensive that people consider Britain a Christian country when I, a British person, am not a Christian. Although I have Christian friends the majority follow either other religions or are agnostic. I understand that historically Britain has been shaped by Christianity but there's a difference between acknowledging your heritage and forcing it on people.

    PS. Did you see Bettany Hughes' brilliant documentary series on women in religion?

  10. Yep, I'm a big fan of separation of church and state. It has been argued that Britain's laws are shaped by Christianity, but if that means laws against things such as theft, rape, assault and murder, that's a little absurd. Such things are illegal globally in countries with all sorts of religious heritages. Outlawing such things isn't solely a Christian thing, it's a "let's not be vile human beings" thing. An atheist doesn't rob a bank for fear of eternal damnation but because robbing a bank is a dick thing to do.

    Historically in Britain, plenty of religions predate Christianity, including Mithraism - and the motto for the London Stock Exchange, "My word is my bond" has its origins in this religion.