This week, on 21st of November, the Church of England's governing General Synod voted against allowing women to become bishops, including the positions of Archbishop of York and Canterbury. According to the rules of the Church the motion cannot be brought back "in the same form" during the current general synod's term before 2015. Interestingly, the vote was only narrowly against appointing female bishops in the Church, suggesting that a significant proportion of Anglicans were actually in favour of women being appointed bishops.
The issue of the female role in the Church has been an on going dispute, particularly since the agreement of 1994 in the Church that women could be ordained as priests. However the appointment of women as bishops comes with a new set of theological controversies. Not only would female bishops be able to ordain new priests, but some also find it problematic that people would actually have to submit to the superiority of women in the Church.
Whilst the outcome of the vote is sure to offend and displease many feminists, women's rights campaigners and the majority of secular society it is, arguably, a decision for the Church to make itself. As an essentially self-contained establishment, the Church should, to an extent, be the sole judge of matters concerning its hierarchy and beliefs. Whether women are allowed to be bishops in the Church of England is, rather obviously, a decision to be made by the Church of England. So David Cameron's comment, that he is "very sad" due to the decision, seems particularly redundant. Clearly he is entitled to his own view on the subject, as we all are, but any encouragement on his behalf for the Church to change its stance doesn't have to be taken into account in their decision. The point is that it is for theologians and active members of the Church of England to decide, from Biblical scripture or whatever else they use, to make a choice on the matter.
Indeed there is evidence in the Bible for not allowing women to be bishops or hold positions of authority. In Paul's letters on the organisation of the Church he states, "I do not permit a woman to teach or to assume authority over a man" (1 Timothy 2:12). That seems pretty clear. However, in another passage from Paul he claims, "there is neither male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus" (Galatians 3:28), which opens up the other side of the debate. Religious leaders can argue this topic endlessly, as they try to interpret, amongst other things, passages of scripture. Crucially though, the underlying point is that, regardless of which side you stand, both opinions have to be derived from sources that are based on no evidence at all. The Church are more than welcome to their beliefs, but in the case of female bishops it is a belief that could not be justified by anything other than divine authority and doctrine derived from ancient and unreliable documents. The reason this decision discredits the Church is that it starkly shows up the very unreasonable doctrines of Christianity. It is only with Christian dogma that one could argue for women not to be given positions of authority. No secular member of modern society could reasonably justify the prevention of women to hold such positions of power.
The decision by the Church to institutionalise sexism is completely their call. No one from outside the organisation can change it, but if its 'rules' contradict rational notions of equality, then that at least raises a few questions. However, at its worst, the opposition between Christian codes and rational beliefs leave a cognitive dissonance that potentially undermines the religious belief system. Ultimately, it is for the Church of England to decide how they want to operate, but by passing this motion it marginalises itself and shows any rational member of our society cannot take its views seriously. As the Daily Mash wisely asserts, "Religion is still the main threat to the Church's credibility".
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