The speech Bishop Rachel Treweek might have made

This is the speech that I would have liked the Rt Rev Rachel Treweek to have made this week on entering the House of Lords.

My Lords – I am overwhelmed by your generosity in welcoming me to this house. Your warm and unprecedented applause as I was introduced to this house contrasted so strongly to the experience of being in the General Synod when the key votes were taken which allowed women, at last, to become bishops in the Church of England. In that place and at that time both women and men who rejoiced in that change were silenced and told that applause was inappropriate. Your own enthusiastic welcome to me here in this place stands in stark contrast to that experience and I have no doubt that it will give many pause for thought.

I ask you all to understand that the things that I am about to say about membership of this place are said out of the deepest respect for the ways in which your Lordships work and the diligence with which you scrutinise legislation. However, it is plain to me that having taken my seat here, I must now depart.

There is only one other country in the world which reserves places in its legislature for clerics and that country is Iran. Keeping seats exclusively for so-called “senior” clerics can have no place in a modern democracy. The good things that have been accomplished by my brother bishops who have sat here hitherto are commendable but fall a long way from convincing me that any of us who are appointed bishops in the Church of God should sit as though by divine right in the parliament of this land.

I remain convinced however that Christians should be involved in public life. For that reason, should the opportunity ever arise for the people of Gloucester to choose their own representative to sit in this place in a reformed Senate of the Nations of the United Kingdom, I would strongly wish to serve them and would consider offering myself for election to the cross-benches of a much changed House.

There is an air of constitutional change that is blowing through this land from the north to the south. My Lords, those of us who sit here by virtue of privilege or patronage cannot be unaware that change is coming. Let us all commit ourselves to the reforms of this House that will lead to the stability of this realm.

My Lords – whilst expressing no little delight in being introduced to this place, it also falls to me to remind your Lordships that the recent legislation that was enacted that brought me here was based on the principle of positive discrimination for those women who are consecrated as bishops. Notwithstanding my joy at being here today, my life has taught me to oppose discrimination wherever it is found regardless of whether it is for regressive or progressive causes. The wisdom that I have received not only from feminist thinkers but also from the wisest friends tells me that people should only ever be promoted in life through merit and never because of their gender. My joy in being here is tempered by my embarrassment at having been “leapfrogged” into place by legislation that means that another person who might have expected to serve here cannot do so merely because of my gender. I make no apology for being here today but I ask your Lordships to ensure that no piece of legislation ever favours anyone by virtue of their sex.

It remains the case that women who become bishops do not have the same authority in the Church of England that men who become bishops have. Your Lordships will  not be surprised to learn that it is my view that the recent consecrations of women as bishops are a welcome step – but only a step towards the full equality of men and women. Our work towards that goal has taken a giant leap forward but remains unfinished.

In choosing not to sit in this chamber and not to participate in its learned debates, it is my hope that I will provoke a period of reflection within the Church of England about our relationship with the state. My decision not to participate in this venerable institution will one day be mirrored by a decision by the Church to divest itself of the privileges of power, not least in the arena of education. I shall work to ensure that all schools offer the finest education that could possibly be on offer to our young people and that they do so liberated from the control of an established church or indeed any other faith group.

In departing this place, I remain loyal  to the Church in which I work. My colleague the Archbishop of Canterbury has the unenviable task of balancing what it right with the pragmatic realities of complex political situations. I have no doubt that he believes in his heart that men and women should be treated equally everywhere. Notwithstanding this, he has given his good name to a situation where bishops who happen to be women are, even now, not bishops who have parity with their brothers. The Archbishop’s head has ruled his heart in coming up with one compromise after another to appease those who, in the church, are unable to show me the generosity that your Lordships have shown over my recent consecration. I remain loyal to the Archbishop’s heart if not his head – a heart which burns for bringing the Good News to this land. He must know, as all people of goodwill know, that we are hampered in our task of bringing the liberating news of Jesus Christ to England and beyond, whilst the church remains famous more for homophobia and sexism than the love of God.

On the matter of homophobia, I know that your Lordships will be pleased to hear that I met with all my sister bishops recently and, as ever, we discussed issues of equality within the church at great length. I am delighted to be able to report that we speak as one in condemning homophobia and in longing for a time when we can celebrate the arrival of gay and lesbian bishops amongst our number on the bishops’ benches of the General Synod. As women, we know that justice demands that we work tirelessly for all who are excluded or discriminated against. That will begin with working for and with those who are in same-sex relationships to ensure that discrimination against them becomes unthinkable. But that is merely where we will begin. We will not end there. Our ambition is justice for all.

It is the work of a particularly evil genius in the church to come up with a policy – “gracious restraint” which makes it harder for progressive people to work towards eliminating sexism and homophobia from the common life of the church and consequently from the common life of this land. We know from scripture that the powers and principalities of darkness must ultimately fall. Such will be the case with the so-called “Five Guiding Principles” of the Church of England. No Christian can ever elevate the desire to be nice to one another over the gospel imperative of doing what it is right.

This House has done a great work for justice this day in delaying and opposing the government’s attack on the poor by the reduction and withdrawal of tax credits. The temptation to remain here to join you in similar struggles is great but for now at least, I must fight with you but in other places.

My Lords, this, my maiden speech will also be my valediction. And as I depart I wish upon you all and upon your work the benediction of almighty God that is due to all those who work for the common good. I chose to work in a different way and in different places but, and here I have no doubt in my mind, for the same common cause for which you all labour – the well-being of the people of this land.

One step forward, two giant leaps back – the English Episcopate

jesus and woman

There have been times in my ministry in Scotland when I have really wondered whether the Scottish Episcopal Church’s relationship of full communion with the Church of England is a good thing. I may not be a nationalist but I guard the independence of my church very fiercely. Recently though, rather than wondering whether full communion with England is a good thing, I find myself wondering whether it in fact still exists.

Here’s the thing. Next week a bishop will be consecrated in the Church of England who will be the first bishop of that church who happens to be a woman.

Now, I’m all in favour of the Episcopate being open to both men and women. I always have been. However, what I mean by that is that I’m in favour of the Episcopate being opened to both men and women on the same terms. I’m not really in favour of it being opened to women on a different basis to that by which men are consecrated. And for that reason, I’ve always been rather suspicious of what’s going on down south.

I watched many people in England celebrating the vote to allow women to become bishops with very mixed feelings. You see, I was aware that the terms were not really so good.

Next week, the first woman will be consecrated in York Minister. There will be rejoicing. However, I know a number of women and a number of men in the church for whom the rejoicing will be somewhat muted and rightly so.

Just a few days after Libby Lane is consecrated a bishop in York Minister, there will be another consecration of someone called Philip North. He is being made a bishop and he is one of the people who don’t accept the ordination of women. And the word has apparently gone out that all those bishops who consecrate Libby Lane are not to lay hands on Philip North in order to “preserve” or “protect” for him and those who share his views an untainted, “pure” line of succession which has not been interfered with by anyone who either is a woman or who has actually touched a woman in a previous consecration.

This idea of being tainted because you have touched a woman in a religious service is vile. One might presume that anyone who held to such a view would be regarded by the institution as being unworthy of being made a bishop and thus a leader of men people. But no – not only is the Church of England going ahead with this plan, it was actually built into the plan to ordain women in the first place. If women were to be ordained then there would continue to be bishops who didn’t recognise those women as bishops and who would continue to be ordained by a line of male bishops who had not been contaminated by those pesky women.

Now, remarkably to many of those of us outside England, there are actually people who think this is a good idea. There are actually people who think this is what inclusion looks like and who think that this was a price worth paying for women being made bishops.

(Remember at this point that congregations who don’t fancy having a girl bishop can opt to have a boy bishop instead too).

This hideous situation is demeaning of women. It is demeaning of men too because it demeans our common humanity. But it is demeaning of God too.

But wait! It gets worse.

I know you are probably wondering how it can possibly get worse, but it does. You see, the Church of England has decided (I’m at a loss really to know how) that it needs always to have a bishop who “holds a conservative view on headship”. Now, this means that it is going to have a bishop who has been appointed with a job description that demands that he (yes, he) believes that men have headship over women.

People sometimes erroneously presume these people to be Evangelicals but that’s a slur on very many Evangelicals. The name for this is religious misogyny and the C of E is not just practising it but making sure that it will be practised in perpetuity.

Now, you might well say – “oh, that’s the Church of England for you, what does it matter to us?”

But it does matter. Are our bishops all in full communion with the Church of England’s bishops. All our bishops have shared in a consecration with a female participant, so I presume they are well and truely “tainted” from that point of view, thank goodness.

It matters too because those of us outside the Church of England tend to take the Anglican Communion rather more seriously than many in the C of E do.

When a bishop who happened to be gay was consecrated in the USA, many in the C of E were up in arms because they hadn’t been consulted.

Well, these two developments in England that are coming up are things that those of us around the communion haven’t been consulted about either. And if we don’t get to share the decision making, we can at least hold our noses whilst it happens and say that it must never happen here.

The official recognition of a theology of taint in the Church of England applying to those who touch Libby Lane was not in my view a price worth paying for the ordination of women as bishops.

The search for a bishop and the establishment of a permanent post, for someone who holds a doctrinal position stating that men have a headship role over women by definition is also not a price that was worth paying.

The cause of equality has made a big step forward with the opening of the Episcopate to women in England but has been accompanied by two giant leaps backwards.

The position of the Scottish Episcopal Church has become quite clear on the Anglican Communion in recent years. We love it – but not at any price.

PS – before anyone starts belly-aching about the need for the Scottish Episcopal Church to elect a female bishop, can I remind anyone tempted to comment that the only way we can do so is by bumping off one of the current bishops. Those advocating this development should let the General Synod Office in Edinburgh know which bishop they’d like removed in this way and their chosen method. Once that has been done we’ll have an election, but I’m warning you not to prejudge the outcome, we’re still likely to try to select the best person for the job, regardless of gender. That’s what equality looks like.