Pity the poor old Church of England. Desperate in its search for relevance in the face of shrinking congregations and wider public indifference, the Established Church could not have chosen two issues more likely to make it appear institutionally decrepit among those it wishes to proselytise than its perceived discrimination against women and gay people.
Like Mr Rochester’s first wife, the misogyny and homophobia of its factions keep leaping out of the attic to scare off decent folk. No use conservative evangelicals and high church Anglo-Catholics insisting the Church’s interminable internal rows are all about obedience to scriptural authority and the protection of tender consciences. What the public sees is arcane debates, conducted with a ferocity more in keeping with the 1980s Labour Party than an institution founded on hope and charity.
Although the Church’s General Synod in York eventually voted in favour of consecrating female bishops and developing a code of practice to protect those who cannot bear the idea, it did so in defiance of the Archbishops of Canterbury and York and a phalanx of bishops who wanted stronger safeguards to protect opponents of the move. There were tears from some of the men, and the Bishop of Winchester – a figure of limited congruence with modern life – denounced the vote as mean-spirited and short-sighted.