The Blog

Knight Takes Bishop: The Saga of the Women Bishops

Personally, I believe there will be one day women Bishops, it's just a shame it's not happening now. It could have been such a historical moment; and yes, it's historical but in exposing an ugly truth.

Is the General Synod's vote on women Bishops about women, or is it about a theological issue? Of course it's about women, and of course it's about doctrine; and also equal rights, equality on the workplace and putting a stop to 'institutional' gender discrimination. I actually thought the Church of England displayed a rather enlightened attitude, when the General Synod introduced women Vicars in 1992: things were going in the right direction. The fact is, there is no real reason, in this day and age, to say that women should not be Bishops, and it's also a fact that the great majority of people want women to have equal opportunities within the Church of England.

It's such a staggering contradiction that spiritual/religious organisations should have a discriminatory policy at their core: it feels really wrong. This kind of discrimination, of course, has been happening in business, politics, in universities and so on; this is slowly and surely changing thanks to the legislation in place, but also thanks to the fact that males and females alike do recognise that it's unjust and unfair to discriminate on the basis of gender, sexual orientation, age, disability, race, religion.

The Equality Act 2010, passed in October 2010, has pulled together all the previous legislation on equality on the workplace: discrimination is defined as 'direct' or 'indirect'. 'Direct' discrimination applies when the applicant is treated unequally because of race, sex, disability, religion or sexual orientation ('protected characteristics'). The Equality Act covers all areas of employment: recruitment, selection and promotion, the provision of training, the provision of benefits, retirement and occupational pensions.

Religious organizations are not exempt from this law, but a UK law currently allows them to discriminate if a particular sexual orientation complies with 'the doctrines of the religion' or to avoid conflict 'with the strongly held religious convictions of a significant number of the religion's followers'. In short, religious organization can discriminate on the basis of gender, if that is in line with their doctrine: it's no surprise that some describe the issue of women Bishops as a matter of 'doctrine'. The European Commission believes that the law has not been correctly implemented and this makes this law particularly vulnerable to any challenges.

It seems to me that the overall reaction to the 'no' vote is shock and anger: if put to the votes with the people who actually go to church, rather than the 'management', it's very likely that we would have had a very different outcome. In fact, there was a majority in the General Synod itself, as 132 voted 'yes' to women Bishops, against 74 for the 'no' vote: it wasn't enough to beat the 2/3 rule. The motion was defeated by merely 6 votes.

Personally, I believe there will be one day women Bishops, it's just a shame it's not happening now. It could have been such a historical moment; and yes, it's historical but in exposing an ugly truth. It's a shame because spirituality and religion have a lot to offer, in the age of materialism: but they have to be based on the acceptance of equality and diversity, which are by the way, values of a spiritual kind.

RESOURCES

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-18702908

http://www.worksmart.org.uk/rights/are_religious_organisations_still_exempt_from_all

http://careers.guardian.co.uk/discrimination-work-understanding-equality-act