THE BLOG
20/11/2013 08:08 GMT | Updated 23/01/2014 18:58 GMT

Gender Discrimination in Our State Church

Is the issue of whether the Church of England discriminates against half the population by refusing to promote women as Bishops any of the business of an atheist like me?

They are the state church and they occupy 26 seats in the House of Lords as of right. They take a full part in the legislative work of that House and therefore have a significant impact on how laws are formulated for us all. They are allowed to do this in spite of institutional discrimination which no other (non-religious) organisations would be allowed to get away with.

I remember being required to recite various prayers in school and being told about God well before I was in a position to make up my own mind about such things. I suspect the Church still tries to get into the heads of young people whenever they can. As I recall we were not encouraged to question the basis for these religious beliefs - we were simply told this as fact.

This organisation that can influence the law making process for the entire population and gets to fill the heads of children with its version of how the Universe works should certainly be held to account for its institutional attitudes.

Perhaps if it was only discriminating in terms of who it makes into Bishops then the problem would be limited but I suspect this sexism and discrimination shows itself in other ways within the Church.

Around three years ago I was asked by a Church of England women Vicar for some self-defence lessons. She explained that she had felt threatened by two men - strangers - who had attended one of her services - who she believed where from a less tolerant part of the Church of England.

Of course she could have been wrong about who they were and even if she was right about their motives this could have been a one-off event but she was obviously worried enough to ask for help from an outsider - what was going on?

In some ways I don't care what the reasoning is for this discrimination but it appears at least some evangelicals in the Church take their lead from the Bible on this topic.

This is a book written at a time when societies were brutal and patriarchal: when they treated women as property (and were homophobic and didn't seem to like young people either: Leviticus 20 etc) and should not be a model for how we conduct ourselves today.

We often hear how we should ignore some of the dreadful passages of intolerance and brutality in the Old Testament and only look at the New Testament - but things are only a little bit better there.

'Let the women learn in silence with all subjection' 'But I suffer not a women to teach nor usurp authority over man but to be in silence' Timothy Chapter 2. 11-12, is but one example. It appears St Paul who is quoted in this passage was not a feminist.

Of course I am not a Biblical scholar but since parts of our State Church take the lead from this book I think we are entitled to take a look at what it says and make up our own minds.

Judging solely by the patriarchal and misogynist nature of the Bible these evangelicals are right to be sexist and misogynistic and patriarchal and to discriminate against women - this is certainly the message from the Bible as far as I can see - but does not mean the rest of us have to except their perverse view of the world.

I know that many in the Church of England want greater equality and I know that many Christians do many good things - but so do people from other religions and so do those without religious belief.

This is the State Church and it's an organisation with a great deal of influence over the rest of us and is not just another religion.

Doing good most of the time is not good enough if they actively discriminate against half the population in the way they do.

And anyway some of this discrimination will not just be about what the Bible says - some of it will be old fashioned sexism - just like many in other organisations.

The Liberal Democrats and other political parties need to do better with the gender balance in their higher ranks but at least active discrimination is not part of the rules and they don't claim to be representing a god or gods.

The questions remains though - why is the State Church, which has a such a significant role at the heart of law making in our country and such influence in education and other parts of society, allowed to get away with this sort of discrimination in this day and age? Is it history, tradition, a free pass to religious organisations who claim the authority of a god?

Perhaps it should cease to have such influence and not have senior Bishops in the House of Lords - then they could organise themselves how they want to. Then it would not be any of my business - especially if they stopped indoctrinating children.