This week the Church of England voted on whether or not to allow women to be bishops. Apply this to any other profession and the very idea is preposterous: imagine instead the newspaper headline on Wednesday was ‘the General Medical Council voted not to allow female doctors to become consultants’. Sounds unbelievable, doesn’t it?
The fact that the Church voted against allowing women to become bishops (to give credit where credit is due, the House of Bishops and the House of Clergy voted for, and it was only the House of Laity who voted against), is somewhat irrelevant. It is the fact that such a vote is even allowed to take place that is the issue.
The Equality Act 2010 set out a number of exempted professions to which anti-discrimination laws do not apply, and in most cases these are justified: actors, actresses and models are exempted – fair enough, you will normally need to play a man to play a male part in a play, or a woman to model a dress (but not always). Also, roles where there are ethnic or gender-based sensitivities are justifiably exempted, for example victims of rape may want to speak to a female counsellor, and male victims of domestic violence may want a male support worker.
However, I see no valid reason why a woman – or a gay man – should not be able to hold a position equal to that of a heterosexual man within the clergy. If a woman is capable of being a vicar, she is capable of being a bishop, and to suggest otherwise is ludicrous.
Opposition to women becoming bishops is based purely on sexism. I see no reason for Anglicans to be uncomfortable with having women in positions of power within the Church other than plain and simple prejudice. To allow women to do a job, but not to be promoted to a more senior role, is nothing short of scandalous.
Although the Bible preaches tolerance and mutual respect, many Christians who are against the ordination of female bishops back up their arguments with nothing but outdated, misogynistic, men-are-leaders-women-are-subservient rhetoric. In an online piece for Channel 4, Pete Myers, of campaign group Together 4Ward says: “Men are called to emulate Christ as head over the church. Women are called to emulate Christ as he submits to his Father.”
That fact that several senior Church leaders have publicly expressed their support for women bishops is heartening. These include the Right Reverend Justin Welby, the next Archbishop of Canterbury, who has been a strong advocate of female bishops, and the Bishop of Liverpool, the Right Reverend James Jones, a recent convert to the cause of women bishops, who said: “I now believe that for the mission of God to the people of England it is right for women to take up their place in this House of Bishops.”
However, sadly, many did not hear their voices, and the legislative process will now need to be started again before another vote can take place. It is unlikely that this would happen before 2019. For the Church to be allowed to continue to discriminate against women for at least the best part of another decade is just not right. The exemption to the Equality Act simply should not be there, and the Government must legislate to remove it.
To give any organisation carte blanche to exercise misogyny and homophobia at will is completely unjust, and as the Church has proved that it is unable to modernise itself, the time has come for the Government to force its hand.