Bishop Alan Wilson reflects on the legislative changes that Bishops added to legislation allowing for the ordination of women to the episcopate. He names two lies behind all the machinations: that it is not about sex and this does not regularize discrimination. What the Bishops cannot let go of, Wilson says, is the culture of sexism and sanctioned discrimination.
So, where has the C of E got to this week on Ministry and gender?
Assuming Les Six have done their stuff, an amended scheme will go before the General Synod in a few days time.
Down the road leading here two mantras have pullulated behind the discussion:
(1) “This isn’t, of course, about gender. Perish the Thought.”
This assertion is a lie. It is, and it always was. Discriminatory is as discriminatory does. It is not for the discriminator to judge the matter, based on their intentions, but those discriminated against, based on what actually happens. All else is illusion.
(2) “This is about theology not discrimination.”
This assertion is a lie. However you tart it up, Trevor Huddleston showed us years ago, discriminating is actually a theological assertion. Imagine, as I have attempted sincerely to do, that there is a theology that justifies treating women, against their will and calling, as inferior. I can’t conceive of such a thing, but let’s suspend disbelief for a moment. What is the difference between that noble theology and cultural prejudice dressed in voodoo? At no time in the past five years has anyone showed me. All that unites reactionaries in this matter seems to be a cultural prejudice against seeing women in positions of authority, reinforced by a reactionary subculture. It is every bit as much drawn from the contemporary world’s values as progressive aspiration. It’s just drawn from the reactionary quarter of them.
So, for synod members, it’s what one game show used to call make-up-your-mind-time, for the next five years anyway.
If the Church needs a gender-neutral ministry, something the vast majority of people believe to be right, this scheme does not deliver that. It is fundamentally inequitable and discriminatory. The best condoms do not have holes in them, however small. There is no telling what monstrous births may take place in the various caves of Adullam this measure potentially creates. It could be a step in the right direction, but it will retain the Church’s institutional sexism in a way most people outside the bubble find puzzling and, ultimately, morally disgusting.
If what matters most is the lesser matter of allowing women to be bishops, this scheme does finagle that. In itself the eventual presence of women in the house of bishops might be able to achieve what the present set-up couldn’t for the institution, and plug the hole in the bucket. In a down and dirty world this won’t be the first time in human affairs tulips were grown on dung.
As to the leadership of the Church in synod, a lifetime of pretending, whilst trying to set their course on dead reckoning and politics with only an occasional star sight, scarcely prepares them to exercise moral leadership at a critical moment. Most episcopal palaces are emitting a loud and eloquent silence now. Many of our senior men probably thought on Monday that all they were doing was giving the women what they wanted whilst being as nice as possible to the other lot. That’s why you can’t see them for dust now.
It’s Touch and Go, I’d say.