Tuesday 18 November 2014

Women Bishops - the long road to equality

It took 80 years of campaigning for women to become priests in the Church of England, and a further 20 before women gained the right to become Bishops as of yesterdays vote in the Church of England's Synod. It is a time of celebration; finally, the great administrators and pastors in our dioceses who happen to be women can now do what they are perfectly capable of doing.

But let us not for a second think that we have got to where we need to be. Equality is a long way off in the Church of England. In terms of women, we are at the beginning of a journey. It will take a long time for them to break the 50% in terms of full time paid clergy positions, and even longer before we reach that mark in terms of Bishops. There needs to be a period when men must step aside from expecting the top jobs to go to them, if women are to be allowed a chance to catch up.

But equality is not just about women in the church. It is hard to pat ourselves on the back for coming so late to the party over gender equality while the LGBT community are being treated so appallingly by the church institution. Do we have to wait for another 100 years before we see sense? By that time the Church will almost certainly be a tiny speck of its former self - mostly because it would have failed to heed the movement of the Holy Spirit, God's yearning for justice and equality.

And equality is not just gender or sexuality. The Church of England is still formidably class based. It simply does not represent or appeal to most working class people. The current church hierarchy is mostly an old boys network. The public school mafia may not necessarily disappear when women get to the top. 

Black people and disabled people are still virtually invisible at the top of the Church of England. One Sentamu does not make a Summer.

But let us not just complain about the higher echelons of our Churches. We must take a long hard look at the way inequalities are steeped into our parish lives. The processions, the style of worship, the clear hierarchies, the uniforms. I'm not saying that we should get rid of all of our traditions, but I do believe that we allow the seduction of power to corrupt us far to easily.

Our default position should be: How do we share out the power and resources we have so that the poor are lifted up and that the powerful are humbled. Only when we hold this biblical truth to be at the heart of our faith will we truly begin the next stage of the journey to equality. Only then may we understand the equality at the centre of God's reign, and the justice God so desperately wants for her creation. 

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