Is the Church of England’s Rejection of Women Bishops a Blessing in Disguise?

The governing body of the Church of England, the General Synod, blocked a proposed change in its policy that would have allowed women — already members of the priesthood — to become bishops in the church. For the proposed changes to be accepted, two-thirds of the members in each governing body of the church would have had to vote in favor of the change. This was achieved in two of the bodies, the House of Bishops and the House of Clergy, but was narrowly defeated in the House of Laity. So the Church of England will remain with its feet planted firmly in the 19th century for at least another five years.

Good.

It may seem odd to say that this obviously sexist move is a good thing. After all, it sends a message to the faithful that church authorities believe that women are lesser creatures to men, and, thus, not worthy of holding positions of authority. However, I think from the secularist perspective, this may be a blessing in disguise, so to speak.

Female priests await the vote on female bishops at the General Synod (The Telegraph)

Most people can agree that England, as well as the whole of the UK, is a fairly secular place, though the numbers are hotly debated. Secularism is alive and well in the UK and atheists roam happily and openly all over this beautiful, perpetually-damp land. News about religious retrogrades in the US is met with derision and disdain. This secularism even affects the religious themselves. Christians are very quick to stress that they are not the crazy kind.  They aren’t like that; they are the good ones! They love others and believe in helping the poor and downtrodden. This is, for the most part, entirely true and its what makes decisions like the one above so destructive to the faith.

People don’t want to be associated with sexism and homophobia. The UK has become increasingly secular, and many people have left the faith for good, and they are not coming back. But perhaps more numerous are those who retain a fuzzy faith, a general feeling of goodwill they associate with God and a warm feeling for the rituals and traditions of their community. Scratch the surface and you will find that these people have drastically different social views than those in the hierarchies of their churches. When the authorities tell them that gay marriage is a threat, or that women can’t be bishops, they force the comfortable floaty faithful to open their eyes and feel embarrassed to associate with those organizations. Eventually, these decent people will tire of apologizing for their faith, for having to feverishly insist that, yes, they’re Christian but they don’t agree with an ever-growing list of horrid, officially-sanctioned positions. They will turn away from their churches and not look back. At that point, we’ll be able to thank the religious authorities for making the UK a fully secular nation.

About Claudia

I'm a lifelong atheist and a molecular biologist with a passion for science and a passionate opposition to its enemies.

  • http://leavingfundamentalism.wordpress.com/ Jonny Scaramanga

    I agree with your main point. Interestingly, it’s debatable if “those in authority” in the church are really the ones who believe that women are “lesser creatures.”

    The synod is divided into three: the Houses of Bishops, Clergy, and Laity. The Bishops and Clergy voted overwhelmingly in favour of women Bishops; it was the Laity who blocked the move.

    It could be that church attendees are more conservative than their leaders.

    • machintelligence

      It could be that church attendees are more conservative than their leaders.

      You are probably right. The remaining folks who still attend church regularly are the old and conservative, and they now wield power because most of the people with more liberal views are no longer involved. It is quite similar to the Tea Party wing of the Republican party in the USA.

      • Stev84

        Yeah, it’s like that in much of western Europe. The majority of church goers consists of older people

    • ortcutt

      42 out of 44 Dioceses voted to approve the measure this year, so it’s not as if the laity is generally backwards.  It’s mainly a governance problem in that a 2/3rd supermajority in all three houses is required to change the policy.  There are very determined conservatives who will take every effort to block the CoE from doing the right thing.  They’re determined the run the Church into irrelevance and they may succeed in that endeavor.

    • http://stevebowen58.blogspot.co.uk/ Steve Bowen

      The vote failed to reach the required majority in the Laity where a compromise provision for parishes that wanted to opt out of the authority of a female Bishop was considered insufficient by some.There is no equality in being a female Bishop when the authority it is supposed to confer can be flouted on purely sexist grounds by conservatives and evangelicals who choose not to be bound by it. By pandering to the reactionary and, lets face it, more doctrinally correct faction of the church the Synod was actually in danger of creating second class Bishoprics notionally led by women but in reality likely to be subordinated to ‘real’ Bishops (AKA Men!)
      The Bishops and Clergy I suspect were largely in favour because they know the issue is not going away, not because they really want it.
      There is a good chance this result will lead to either the UK government legislating away the Church’s religious exemption to UK employment equality laws or the Church disestablishing.

  • http://www.youtube.com/user/GodVlogger?feature=mhee GodVlogger (on YouTube)

    I consider the judeo-christian-muslim bigotry against women, LGBT folks, science, etc. to be a terrible and I wish they would stop.

    But, if they must continue for now, at least there is the silver lining that now in the information age their biased views are easily recorded and 10, 20, 30 years from now  their clearly outdated views will bite them in the ass.

    • Lagerbaer

       Yeah. It won’t be so easy then for them to turn around and tell us how Jesus has always been about accepting people with different sexuality.

  • Ian Reide

    A “blessing”. Allowing women to become bishops would give a false facade of semi-reason to xianity. 

  • http://www.flickr.com/groups/invisiblepinkunicorn Anna

    Now I’m confused about the Episcopalians. Aren’t they part of the Anglican Communion? Why are they allowing female bishops while the Church of England is refusing them?

    • http://profiles.google.com/brotheratombombofmoderation Steve Caldwell

       The Anglican Communion isn’t a hierarchical structure like the Roman Catholic Church.  There is no “Pope” in Anglicanism.  There are regional branches called “provinces” within the Anglican Communion — most of the regional branches fall within the boundaries of a nation (e.g. US, Canada, England) or a region with many nations (e.g.  the “Anglican Church of the Southern Cone” includes the countries of Argentina, Bolivia, Chile, Paraguay, Peru and Uruguay according to Wikipedia).

      More on this can be found here:

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anglican_Communion#Provinces

      The decision to have or not have female bishops in one province is not binding on other provinces in the Anglican Communion.  Likewise, the same is true with non-celibate gay and lesbian clergy (including gay and lesbian bishops in the case of Bishop Gene Robinson in Diocese of New Hampshire and Mary Douglas Glasspool in Los Angeles).

      • Erp

        I believe some of the provinces don’t even have female priests yet.   There is a fair bit of sniping between the provinces and schisms within some of the provinces (the diocese of South Carolina just told the Episcopal Church they are leaving [some parishes say they are staying] though given prior case law it is likely the leavers won’t be able to take the property).

        Strictly speaking the Episcopal Church in the US also includes Haiti, Taiwan, and a few other countries though except for Haiti the population of Episcopalians in those countries is minuscule (Haiti however is the largest diocese in the province).

      • http://www.flickr.com/groups/invisiblepinkunicorn Anna

        Thanks for the info! I looked up Katharine Jefferts Schori, too. Apparently, the Episcopalians are not as progressive as they’d like everyone to think.

  • Mjy1945

    Those women are as bad as the men. They teach bullshit to children, demand money from adults, and threaten backsliders with the fires of hell. In any other situation they would be regarded as stalkers.

    • Pete084

      C of E don’t do fire and brimstone (More like tea and scones.) so no threats.

  • Robster

    Wouldn’t it be good if all the lady reverends in the image were forced to confront the inherent stupidity of what they believe and that of their church and develop the ability to think in a rational manner, embracing the wonderful world of disbelief and feeling good with having escaped the grandest fraud of all. Do it, ladies…

  • Caroline Miller

    The church’s loss isn’t necessarily an atheist win. It’s not a zero-sum game.

  • http://twitter.com/Three_Star_Dave Dave Hill

    Huh. So it’s better that an injustice (excluding women) be committed now because some greater good (discrediting of the Church of England) might come out of it later.  That strikes me as not dissimilar to the Republicans who said they hoped that Obama’s policies would fail so that it would discredit the Democrats, regardless of the harm it would do in the short term.

    • Sindigo

      I understand what you mean but I don’t see any immediate harm to anyone but a handful of women who would be bishops. What it does show is that the CoE is (again) out of step with wider society, this time including the law. If it loses them more congregants then I think it’s a good thing.

    • I_Claudia

       The concept of a little pain now for a greater good later is not discredited simply because it is misused sometimes. Childhood vaccinations via injections are justified because the pain they cause is outweighed by the health benefits they provide.

      Now, you may argue that the deplorable sexism in this decision is a harm greater than the potential benefit of accelerating secularism in the UK. This is a perfectly legitimate stance. I don’t think this is a settled affair either way and reasonable people can disagree on the ultimate effect of this move. For now, I am heartened to see that the decision is being roundly condemned by just about everybody and largely being seen as a failure even within the church. Hopefully the backlash will produce an even greater hardening against such retrograde ideas, no matter what the ultimate destiny of the church is.

    • icecreamassassin

      There is a valid point here – while I wouldn’t necessarily apply the label ‘atrocity’ to this, it does kind of feel similar to a ‘hoping that atrocity will let others see the light’ kind of thing, which I’m not so sure is a win of any kind.

      It may very well be a question of order of magnitude – after all, the injustice here basically boils down to ‘our club doesn’t like girls being authority figures’ injustice, and is easily resolved by *leaving the club*, but it seems unfair to *want* to have an organization showcase bigotry to its constituents.  You know, seeing as how those constituents affected are human beings and all that.

      So maybe I’m playing the middle-ground card by saying that there may be a silver lining to this injustice in the long term, but it still pretty much sucks that it’s happening and maybe celebrating the action isn’t the right thing to be doing.

  • JenniferT

    It would be better to move toward sexual equality by not having male bishops either. 

  • http://twitter.com/mywall mywall

    I wasn’t really paying attention to this (internal church crap, yawn) until it was pointed out that the church appoints bishops to the house of lords so having a sexist church means that the government of the UK is officially sexist too since this decision makes a number of the seats men-only.
    Yay, pointless leftovers of theocracy!

  • Bill

    [Having female bishops was agreed to in] the House of Bishops and the House of Clergy, but was narrowly defeated in the House of Laity.

    … church authorities believe that women are lesser creatures …

    Huh?

    • Bill

       (Hmmm…not sure why the font size changed in the quote.  And I can’t see any way to edit it now that it’s posted.  Sorry for screaming at you…that wasn’t my intent.)

  • beetlerace

    “that would have allowed women… from becoming bishops” — check the first line!

    • I_Claudia

       Editing mistake, now fixed. Thanks for the heads up!

  • icecreamassassin

    It’s kind of a shame that organizations like this do not have a higher, more powerful, more intelligent, more moral, more qualified authority figure to look towards to answers questions like ‘should women be allowed to be bishops’.  You know, like a father figure of some kind that could be asked, or perhaps even ‘prayed to’, for answers.

  • guest

    You’re right about the not-the-crazy-kind Christians who eventually walk out of the church.  They already have in droves, and I see no problems with that.  When you have convictions for a just and peaceful world, you go where folks share that vision.

    The votes in the various houses of authority in the Church of England would demonstrate this, too.  It’s the House of Laity, that is, the non-clergy, who have opposed female bishops.  The House of Bishops and House of Clergy overwhelmingly voted to include female bishops. 

    Because the progressives have left/are leaving the building, many denominations now find themselves held back by the conservatives in the pews, not the ones wearing collars.  A lot of secular people don’t know this about church culture, I offer it so you don’t have to attend a service to discover it.  :) 

    This is a trend in US churches as well.  I am a pastor, and extremely progressive.  All of my clergy colleagues are as well.  And we are regularly stonewalled by our congregations when we make suggestions about full equality for all people, economic justice, you name it.  Some pastors even get fired. 

    The next major demographic shift in the religious landscape will be progressive pastors who quit, because whether we believe in a supernatural being or not, we get pretty sick of continually having to argue with “the crazies” on urgent issues of justice.  I regularly struggle with leaving the fold, if only so I can advocate and work for the causes I really care about, without worrying about getting fired. 

    • I_Claudia

       I don’t know if you are a closet atheist or still a theist or somewhere in between, but if you have lost your faith and need support or a way out, please check out The Clergy Project (http://clergyproject.org/).
      If you are simply a very progressive person of faith, maybe a switch to the Unitarian Universalist Church would be a better fit for you.

      • http://friendlyatheist.com Richard Wade

        I admire your kindness, Claudia. You focus on the person rather than the belief.

  • http://twitter.com/psychodiva Psychodiva

    The more they fight each other and remain divided the better for England as it will eventually result in disestablishment as they become increasingly irrelevant to our lives. What woman in her right mind would join such a misogynistic cult? 


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