Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Why #womenbishops matters to this atheist

It was what we call these days a facepalm moment when the news came through last night that the Church of England had voted by the tiniest of margins not to allow women to become bishops. The Archbishop had the  clergy on message, but the laity didn't have the required margin. And it would be inaccurate to simply dismiss the laity as misogynist. Some of them thought that the proposal on offer was worse than the status quo in the way it offered "protection" for those poor souls who couldn't bear the thought of a woman in a position of power. Kelvin Holdsworth has some thoughts on this. The wisest and most progressive priest I know wouldn't have been able to vote for the proposals and he explains why here.
The trouble with the measure in England from my point of view is that it was a compromise far too far. It was not a vote for or against women bishops, it was a vote for or against allowing women to become second-class bishops. Churches would have been able to opt out of a female bishop’s care (though not from a male bishop’s care) and request oversight from someone sharing the same theological views. It is the Church of England’s preferred heresy at the moment and it is probably a good thing that it has failed to go any further now though a horrible mess. 
Now, I'd really love to be able to say, ok, Church of England, that's your business. I don't like it, but it's now't to do with me. Sadly, though, it is, for two reasons.

Firstly, I might not be a member of the Church of England, but I do like to challenge discrimination and misogyny wherever it's found. I feel that if it doesn't go unchallenged, it pervades and poisons the whole of society.

Secondly, this Church has a much larger part in our national life than it should have, given that it forms part of the hegemony of the state. It's intertwined into our parliamentary and governmental institutions. Our Head of State (a woman, funnily enough) is head of the Church. The Church has, get this, reserved places in our Parliament. 26 Lords Spiritual make our laws. And we've seen that there can be some pretty tight votes in the House of Lords. Now, I don't think there should be Bishops in the House of Lords anyway. Sadly, the last attempt to get rid of even some of them didn't end so well. Nadine Dorries, I'm looking at you, here, and 90 od of your mates. So, if we are stuck with an appointed upper house for the time being, I think as an interim measure, we should tell the Bishops to sling their hooks if their organisation insists on being institutionally sexist. They either remove the barrier to letting women sit in the Lords, or they leave. It's that simple. It's bad enough that there's no legitimacy, but for there to be active discrimination in the choice of members is beyond the pale. They had the chance to change that and they blew it.

If you agree with that, there is an e-petition to that effect. It says:
The Church of England on 20th Nov 2012 voted not to allow women to be Bishops. Though that is within its rights to do, this should worry the Government as Church of England Bishops are awarded legislative power through seats in the House of Lords.
The Church has chosen to be a sexist organisation by refusing women the right to hold highest leadership positions and therefore should not be allowed automatic seats in the House of Lords, as this clearly does not comply with the spirit of UK Equality law.
We call on the Govt to remove the right of the Church of England to have automatic seats in the House of Lords, in line with its commitments to equality and non-discrimination, set out in the Equality Act (2010) and the Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination Against Women (1979)
I signed it when it had a couple of hundred signatures this morning. Now there are 1660. If you agree with what it says, sign here.  I certainly don't see why laws I'm expected to live by should be made by people whose organisation actively discriminates against me and the rest of the female population. If 100,000 people signed up, this would have to be debated in Parliament. Let's see if we can get there by Christmas.

1 comment:

Kelvin Holdsworth said...

Another thing to remember is that 1 million children in England are being educated in Church of England schools.

A quarter of primary and middle schools in England are C of E.


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