Is it a sin?

Is it a sin, I find myself asking rhetorically, for men and women to be treated differently by institutions? Is it a sin for women and men to have unequal access to power and privilege.

My own view is that it is not merely wrong for gender to be a determining factor in what someone can do or achieve but that it is a sin.

Now, don’t start asking me to defend that from a biblical position. This blog tries to live in the land of common sense after all. If you want arguments that use biblical texts to try to “prove” an argument one way or another, I hope, if you’ve been reading along for a while, you know fine well to try someone else’s web page. We don’t do that round here.

The thing is, the Church of England has a decision to make soon as to whether to adopt the legislation currently before its General Synod that would allow women to be selected to be bishops. It has been a long and drawn out affair getting to this point. What England has been debating is how to retain within one church people who say they cannot accept the authority of bishops who happen to be women whilst also accepting the full authority of those women as leaders within the organisation.

It can’t be done, of course.

What has been proposed is a process by which congregations will be able to opt not to recognise a women who happens to be leading the diocese in which they exist but that they might request oversight, in some way, from someone else. The means by which this might be done has been subject to intense scrutiny. What is currently proposed is commonly said to be the best legislation that might pass in their synod.

Now, one does not comment on the business of another Anglican church’s synodical process lightly. No, really, one doesn’t. After all, one tends to find oneself arguing quite strongly for provincial autonomy within the Anglican Communion, for example by making the point that the American church was quite entitled to choose Gene Robinson as a bishop if it wanted to do so, thank you very much.

Those who did pile into the Gene Robinson argument from outside America argued that his consecration damaged the whole. His being a bishop undermined the local episcopacy elsewhere – or so they said.

Curiously, I feel much the same about the current legislation in England. If I were a member of the Church of England and a member of its Synod, I would be voting against it, even though I’m a great believer in women having exactly the same opportunities as men and women and an advocate for the cause of opening the Episcopate to men and women equally.

The reason for me saying so out loud is because I think that decisions made in England long ago over questions about whether women could be priests in England were at the root of so much of the Anglican controversies of recent years. The C of E somehow came to the conclusion that you could have priests who were women but also be in the church and not accept that those women were priests. It was a move that baffled many both inside and outside. And it also gave rise to the so-called “Flying Bishops” and talk of there being two integrities within the one church – an absurd contradiction in terms. That flying bishop idea is far more the cause of the trouble the Anglican Communion faces than the election of Gene Robinson was. The idea that you had to agree with your bishop’s predilections and pecedillos was hitherto entirely alien. In the past, you might not agree with your bishop, but he still was your bishop. Now, you could opt out and chose someone more suited to your own prejudices.

It was odd that there were those who could live with bishops they did not like or agree with in their own country who could not accept Gene Robinson being a bishop in another country.

Anyway, having had that experience, Anglicans from outside England might well be cautious of the current legislation facing the English Synod. If it passes, as it looks as if it may, the unintended consequences might, as with flying bishops, be enormous. If you sow the wind of sexism, you may well reap the whirlwind.

Because I believe in the equality of women and men, I find myself very reluctantly hoping that England says No!


  1. Rosie Bates says

    Whilst I achingly agree with what you have expressed and most of angry me wants to say ‘No,No,No’ – what a crying waste this could be. I am more inclined to have faith in what certain women waiting in the wings can do in the eye of this storm. The very women we might wish to delay for a more favourable climate are those who have the grace and guts to openly address the major problems in the disaster zone. They will I believe get on with the rescue operation and with those who can also clearly see why the ship is going down, They are better supported this time around with many on hand to join forces. It’s Jesus on the stormy seas, so we have to try walking on the water to him.’ Plunge in!’ I say, however chilling this may be at times. We are only hoping to carry passengers to the safety of a shore and if we expect our journey to be entirely safe and comfortable then we are heading in the wrong direction and are in for a drowning of sorts anyway. The opposition is looking very weak and they have shrunk in they eyes of many intelligent Anglicans and the wider Church. I know we are not supposed to quote the Bible but this isn’t in the Bible – I wonder why?! “If you bring forth that which is within you, what you have will save you. If you do not bring it forth, what you do not have within you will kill you.”

  2. Oh gosh. I agree with you, Kelvin, but I also agree with Rosie. If I were ordained and in England I’d want to be in there to make it more likely that I would be able to do something positive rather than adopting an Achilles attitude and staying in my tent. Part of me feels deeply that it’s totally absurd even to be discussing it, but it’s easy to say that here, in Scotland, now.

    • This legislation seems to me to make further changes down the line less likely. It will have the effect of preventing further reformation from within.

      Those women who accept it must accept they are accepting second best and that such is the kingdom of the Church of England.

      • Rosie Bates says

        The result is a sin – a crying shame of a sin. I listened to the debate all day and found it hard to believe what ‘headship’ bible thumping women were saying. The problem lies with the general uneducated apathy in the pews and this is why the strident and ignorant get elected to local and General Synod. Believe me, I have listened to bigoted rubbiish for years in university towns. These extreme views will leave the way wide open for other extremist groups who have the financial wherewithal to bang the drum for all that is against the love of God. I also believe this result will affect your cause Kelvin and friends as I know some of the women who would have received a call to reasonable oversight and creative dialogue.They will, of course, continue to serve with integrity and love. Weep with us for Christ’s sake and all those who continue to believe that there is no point in their entering C of E doors in order to find their identity. This is just how serious this result is. You have your safe inclusive space in your Cathedral and many resources – What happens to the rest of us? We would not have been accepting second best at all – we would have felt represented and included and that goes for every Sunday School girl in the land. One lovely young woman spoke movingly about sensing that she had been waiting all her life – she is in her twenties – I know many such young people and they have a right to be disappointed with the lay vote and the way in which they are not now represented..

  3. Rosie Bates says

    There is so much consternation among Bishops and Clergy that there is a strong possibility that this could be brought back to the table sooner – very much depends on how much protest is received from across the land and world. Devastating is a word that is repeated many times by commentators.

    This is what a fiend with whom I trained said immediately afterwards and she has been a Director of Ordinands for I think nine years now – normally a very thoughtful, measured voice:[

    Canon Faith Claringbull from the Birmingham diocese was among those disappointed by the result. “This was going to be we hoped a good news story for the nation and for the world, for men and women a fuller humanity. We hoped that we’d have something good to say to the world tonight but I feel ashamed of the headlines that will be on the press tomorrow.”

  4. Rosie Bates says

    You were right in the first place Kelvin. However, truth had to be revealed. The way I see it is – when toxic waste is laid on a holy table by Synod the incident room in the heavenlies vomits because our Creator, Redeemer and Sustainer had already placed a damage limitation clause ‘Danger not fit for human consumption. Keep out of the reach of children.’ Now we wait in hope for the clean up work of the Holy Spirit. The whip is in Christ’s hands and voters be aware. Maranatha!

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