Sexism in the church

The Rev. Lesley Crawley calls out the Church for its sexism in The Guardian today:

I’ve witnessed sexist attitudes in two professions – as an engineer and as a priest. They have some similarities. In both spheres, one of the arguments is “we have never employed women to do this before” and another is “it isn’t that women are not equal – they just have different roles”. … However, there are some significant differences in the way sexism presents itself in the factory and the church.

… it was possible to manage well as a woman in the secular workplace, because the structures were not sexist. So I knew that the law of the land entitled me to work as an engineer, and that the procedures of our company demanded equality. Furthermore, almost all of the managers, and especially the managing director, were enthusiastically committed to equality.

The Church of England is different, because the sexism is institutionalised, and that makes it more oppressive. …

Sometimes people think that religion grants us a “get out of jail free” card when it comes to unethical practices. It allows us to shift the blame – “I’m not sexist – God is: read your Bible” or “I’m not sexist – the Catholic church is, but we can’t change until it does”. I see this as a perversion of the radical equality that we find in the gospel of Christ. I am grieved that the church, of all institutions, is the one that compromises justice and equality.

In fact, I notice institutional sexism much more frequently than sexist attitudes among individuals. Other than the obvious bar on women being bishops, there are day-to-day events. For example, in some places, if a woman presides at the Eucharist, her name is published so that those who wish to avoid her “taint” can do so. Another example is in appointments: when I was interviewed for a post, some of the interviewers panicked because they hadn’t foreseen the possibility that a woman might interview well. My experience of secular life is that these things would be utterly unacceptable – illegal, in fact.

A depressing statement that I heard on this topic recently was at the press conference announcing the appointment of the two new “flying bishops” (bishops who oversee those who will not accept the priestly ministry of women).

Rowan Williams said the flying bishops would be a permanent fixture in the Church of England, even though the draft law on women bishops does away with the positions.

Williams said: “I have two new suffragans and General Synod can’t simply take them away. The pastoral need will not go away.”

Imagine if we were talking about black priests and Williams had said: “Racism is a permanent fixture of the Church of England. The pastoral need to care for priests who do not accept the ministry of black people will not go away.” …

My experience is that sexism is “alive and well” in TEC as well. What is your experience?

Category : The Lead

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7 Comments
  1. Brava, Lesley! Well said.

    Sexism is still alive and well in TEC. A recent experience, which I am not at liberty to discuss (Sorry!), strongly reinforced the idea for me. I know the fact that I can’t speak of details makes me less than a credible witness, but those of you who know me, know I wouldn’t make up a story for effect.

    June Butler

  2. revsusan

    REALLY well done … and sadly REALLY true. And yet another reason why a significant percentage of the population find the church hypocritically irrelevant.

    Susan Russell

  3. Beth Royalty

    thank you, thank you, thank you. I am posting this on my FB wall as well. Sexism, and ageism, alive and blessed by many in the Episcopal Church. I take heart and courage from this essay. Bless you.

  4. Stacey Grossman

    This commentary hits home. I worked for many years in the financial end of the construction industry. Who could have predicted that that arena was infinitely more transformed in its practices and understanding than our beloved church?

    I think TEC has adopted a comfortable pattern of benign neglect on the issue of sexism. Thanks to Lesley Crawley for bringing all of us to some needed discomfort.

    The Rev. Stacey Grossman

  5. tgflux

    Rowan Cantuar: “The pastoral need will not go away.”

    He’s right, actually. It will not go away. In 2011, it emphatically HAS gone away (if such “need” ever existed at all). After 17 years (in the CofE), ordained-call-of-the-Imago-Dei-made-female-denying “Flying Bishops” are simple SIN, and nothing more.

    JC Fisher

  6. Gosh, thank-you for these thoughts – I had no idea that it would resonate with so many people. I didn’t realise it was such an issue in TEC too

  7. Maryse Quinn

    Because I am a bibliophile and a librarian, I can’t resist offering reading recommendations on various subjects.

    In 2008, author Sarah Sentilles published a book called “A Church of Her Own”, which looked at how women have (or have not) been accepted in leadership roles in various Christian denominations. Most of the book relates anecdotes from women who’ve experienced some form of sexism in hiring, finding a mentor, or trying to minister to a parish.

    On the flip side, there is also “The Book of Women’s Sermons,” edited by Lee Hancock, which is exactly what the title suggests. Many of the topics and viewpoints would be useful to member of either gender, while some are delivered very much from a woman’s point of view.

    I left the Roman Catholic Church after 45 years as an active participant, partially because the Church insists on protecting men who prey on children, and partly because I tired of hearing about how “we don’t have enough priests to go around”, but of course “we won’t ordain women.” So I literally gave Catholicism up for Lent one year and spent six weeks attending services at a local Episcopal Church. I’m still there. And our current priest happens to be a woman.

    I have run out of sympathy for people who still believe that women’s spiritual gifts have to be confined to members of their immediate families, or, at most, only to other women. Seriously, it’s the 21st century. Let’s finally admit that women really are human beings and move on.

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