Saturday, 24 November 2012

Church of England says ‘no’ to women bishops

My recent record in predicting the outcome of current events is pretty poor. Last week I predicted that Obama would lose the US presidency to Romney. This week I predicted that the church would vote ‘yes’ to women bishops. On the first could I was wonderfully, gleefully wrong. On the second, I was also wrong. Sadly wrong.

I can sort of understand that the church might decide that Jesus chose men to be his disciples (ignoring the whole Mary Magdalene thing, as some of them seem to), so vicars should therefore all be men. I’m sure the argument is a bit more complex and theological than that, but that seems to be the gist. OK, so if you think that’s what your religion teaches you, then fair enough. Although you could argue that Jesus worked within the culture of his time, when having women trekking about with him and preaching, or whatever it was disciples did, wouldn’t have been acceptable. He worked with what he had.

One problem with saying ‘no’ to women bishops, is that they’ve already said ‘yes’ to women vicars. That makes no sense. You either accept female clergy, at all levels or you don’t accept them at all. This is plain discrimination – let women in to help with the ground-level stuff. After all, women can be cuddly and nice, so they’ll probably be good at that whole compassion bit. But you wouldn’t want them telling people what to do, deciding what direction the church should take, or whatever it is that bishops do. Besides, those pointy hats won’t make the most of their cheekbones, and they’d only get their stilettos caught in the cobblestones outside the cathedral.

Bishops in the Lords

I’m not a Christian, so in a sense, it’s none of my business. After all, no one is saying that women shouldn’t have independence, education and other positions of power, just that women shouldn’t become bishops. Where I do think it is my business is when it comes to the House of Lords. The Lords have limited power, but they are very influential, and can have an impact on the way the UK laws are made. There are 26 bishops seats in the House of Lords (out of a total 760 seats that's 3.4% - small but not insignificant).

I have issues about religious people having a role in the political process anyway. They should stick with visiting the sick and bothering their flock, and not try to inflict their views on the rest of us. But assigning seats of power to a group that refuses to represent 50 per cent of the population is just unacceptable. The fact that the majority of the clergy voted in favour of female bishops suggests that they probably know this. But the church has to get its act together on this one. Sort yourselves out, boys (and girls).

If the Church of England wants to discriminate against women, contradicting itself in the process, by refusing to let women become bishops, then that’s its decision. But then it should relinquish its seats in the House of Lords until it decides to treat people equally, regardless of gender. 

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