Sunday 5 February 2012

No Woman No Cry

Back in 1945 the first BBC Any Questions devoted many minutes to discussing “Would you allow a black man in your house?” It was a vigorous discussion. Since then, public sentiment has developed radically, and the Anglican Church, having initiated this moral shift in the days of Trevor Huddleston, Canon Collins, Gonville ffrench-Beytagh and Desmond Tutu, has now been left high and dry as one of the only institutions left that gets away with gender discrimination in its senior leadership — or wants to.

Using a Protected Characteristic, to use the legal phrase, to deny someone a position or service they would otherwise have had access to is Discrimination and it is seen in our present mores as immoral, and in pretty much every field except religion, illegal.

It would be helpful, I’m told, to explain what Good Discrimination is and how to do it. I can’t oblige, because there is no such thing as Good Discrimination, any more than Ethical Fraud or Slavery Lite. If you think you can abolish Apartheid but mollify your tail-enders by allowing a bit of segregation on Tuesday afternoons, or limit it to a couple of sports clubs, this is just evidence that you don’t quite get it, yet.

I hope therefore this week will not see Archbishops pootling around on a pinhead all over again trying to come up with some convoluted form of Discrimination Lite against women. The very attempt will amaze and disgust the vast majority of people in this country far more than any major player in the game of blowing ecclesiastical bubbles can perhaps understand. It undermines at a tectonic level any claims the Church may make in our culture about bearing, let alone being, Good News.

“But how can you be so sweeping?” some will ask. “There are sincerely held theological arguments and motives involved.” Indeed. There always are. There were for Apartheid and, as Mark Noll’s work has clearly revealed, Slavery in the antebellum South. Most of those arguments were far stronger than the proof texts used for female subordination. All kinds of help and people can adjust, but you simply cannot half abolish apartheid or slavery. Either you do it or you don’t. People may not personally intend discrimination, but the whole Church of England does it, and it’s got to stop, not half stop. This is no time for an ingenious form of Discrimination Lite.

Time to move on. Of course everyone deserves personal kindness, respect and understanding. But views that were obvious in 1945 are now obscene. You can’t have a whites only beach, not even a tiny pebble one, in post-apartheid South Africa.

And if you understand the real moral score, why would you want one?


UKViewer said...

Well said!

Even the Draft Code of Practice seems to me to enshrine discrimination.

It's hard on those who believe in male headship, but sometimes thing are hard and the only thing is to live with it and see where it take you.

The same discrimination on the grounds of human sexuality is now totally obnoxious and the harm that it does so many is evident in today's independent the story of the Pries having to resign his living in London. A Church Warden and one other being arrested under suspected hate crime legislation.

Not sure you can even describe this type of discrimination as Christian, it's totally anti-Christian.

God's love isn't reserved for a tiny male elite, its inclusive and for everyone.

Blessing Civil Partnerships in CofE Churches is the next one on the agenda. Hope that gets through.

Anonymous said...

re: "Good discrimination" - Discrimination is not necessarily wrong. It is wrong when it is arbitrary as racial discrimination is, for example. But, we discriminate against people because of age, for example, when it comes to many things, yet the point is, it is not arbitrary. Restricting alcohol or driving to people of a certain age is, by definition discrimination, but it is warranted.
To say that all discrimination is bad, then, begs the question.

The issue is whether restricting certain ecclesiastical positions on the basis of gender is arbitrary or not (no doubt much exegetical dispute regarding divine warrent will come in to play!)

Tim said...

I agree with your conclusion, Alan, but not your logic.

In this post, you define discrimination like this: "Using a Protected Characteristic... to deny someone a position or service they would otherwise have had access to".

This is only relevant if "being a bishop" is something women can "have access to". If it is impossible for a woman to be a bishop, then it is not Discrimination for the Church to say so.

To put this another way, the law says that if women CAN be bishops, they MUST be bishops - but if women cannot be bishops, the law doesn't compel the Church to appoint them.

I do think women should be bishops, and I'm sure they will be - I just don't think the argument you've put forward in this blog post really deals with what opponents are saying.

Nick said...

Im supportive of women in leadership roles in the Church but even God discriminated in the bible. Not all discrimination is inherently bad just because it's discrimination. The logic here is way off and quite disingenuous when used to try to prove a point such as this.

Anonymous said...

VG here. I think +A does deal with this head on: it's discrimination.

The opponents, though, say women can't be bishops because women can't be bishops. Because women are uterus-enabled human beings and God says that having a uterus is the biggest deal about women? Well, no, t's just that women are... /women/. You know.

It's not that discrimination is a legal issue, it's a moral one, and the anti-woman crowd can't get over two aspects of womanhood they find difficult, both of which are their problem, not women's: the sex question and the squick question. Some men find women attractive and that's a danger. Oh dear. Some men buy into the uncleanness of women or find the very idea of women squicky. Oh dear again.

Sorry, but I'm just not sympathetic any more. the anti-woman arguments are circular, and tough cheddar.

Erika Baker said...

"The opponents" aren't a unified group. Opposing Evangelicals are saying precisely that women can be priests and bishops but that they should not be because of St Paul's ideas of male headship.

It's opposing Anglo-Catholics who believe that women can't be bishops.

The big question is not how to answer the individual Anglo-Catholic objector but how a whole church can have discerned that women CAN be bishops and that it is right that they SHOULD be bishops - and then still consider discriminating against them.

Either the church discernment is right or it is wrong, but it can't be both.
As the church happenes to believe that it is right - it has to be accepted that if that same church now neglects to appoint women as bishops on the same footing as men, it is discriminating against women.

Si Hollett said...

The main reason for opposition to Christians in the second century was the perception of 'immorality' - cannibalism and incest. But actually what had happened is that the wonderful news of a suffering God who became flesh who offers himself to us was abhorrent to sinners who think unbiblically, ditto the fact that the Father has wonderfully adopted us as Sons, so we are all spiritual siblings, even though not physical.

Certain things that come out of the Gospel were misunderstood and seen as immoral. So people look at the 'traditional' view and see women not being equal, as they view worth as being jobs, titles, power, authority. But instead the 'traditional' view proclaims that the subordination of the Son, putting himself under the Father's authority, not holding on to power, authority, etc that he had is the very picture of godliness and what can be greater than that! And what can be better news that our worth isn't in what we do, but what he's done?

Now, that above isn't to say that women shouldn't be bishops, but that your point that "It undermines at a tectonic level any claims the Church may make in our culture about bearing, let alone being, Good News." is nonsense - because there is good news there - very good news that is all the better for the fact that it is so alien to the destructive view of the world that we have.

The implications that come out of that view might be wrong, and we need exegetical and theological discussion on this issue (but instead, here, in the only dealing I can remember with those issues on this blog in the last few years is a mere unsubstantiated claim that the arguments for slavery were better, keeping up the ad hominem tone of the rest of the post).

Anonymous said...

If there are needs for women Bishops, I would ask, where then are the men?

June Butler said...

Even the Draft Code of Practice seems to me to enshrine discrimination.

UKViewer, I agree. The women will be bishops, but with not quite equal authority as male bishops. GS already voted against the ideas in the Daft Code of Practice. Why do the archbishops beat the dead horse?

Erika Baker said...

Si Hollett,
if I understand you correctly, Jesus, in his own wisdom and from fee will subordinated himself to the Father and therefore women should subordinate themselves to men.

But that's not what's happening, what's happening is that the church subordinates women against their expressed wishes.

In your argument, someone potentially powerful deliberately gave up his power and became small.

Should that not mean that men should abandon all thoughts of elevation and become subservient too? Instead of creating a hierarchy that says "God - Jesus - Men - Women - Children - Animals"?

I don't even want men to be subservient to women - just equal would be enough.

Tim said...


I agree that the opponents are not united - but at least some of them would argue that "women cannot be bishops". I have heard Anglo-Catholics and Evangelicals say this - a female priest is simply not a priest, and there is nothing the church can do about it.

You say "the church" has discerned that women can be bishops - but of course that just begs the question. Is the Church of England the kind of organisation that can "discern" that women can be bishops? Some say yes, others say no. Anglo-Catholics would probably say that the discernment of one national church is liable to error.

Bishop Alan Wilson said...

I don't see why "complementary" has to equal "inferior." A lot of the "well, they just can't be by definition" logic is entirely circular, and mirrors, if I remember the debate right, the people who said Samuel Crowther could not be called by God to be a bishop because if God had intended him to be one he would not have made SC of a race that was constitutionally unfit to command (being black). Si, you seem to be saying that in order for the Gospel to be recognised as good news people's minds need straightening out Biblically (whatever that means). The NT presents no examples at all that I can recall of such odic chopping, and many examples of people simply spontaneously recognising Jesus as God's good news when they are healed, or whatever.

Bishop Alan Wilson said...

Si, Someone of either sex may choose the lowlier place out of the imitation of Christ - but if it is forced on them by the social order their opportunity to do that is taken away from them. That is why the "Complementary but different" view needs careful handling; for all its truth in one way, its use as a form of smoke and mirrors trick to smuggle inequality into the relationship between the sexes needs to be avoided. When women were first excluded from holy orders in the middle ages it was not the offence of the Gospel, but a reflection of the culture and its acceptance of an Aristotelian anthropology that drove their exclusion. By the 11th century it was as incredible that women could be in holy orders in the West as it is incredible now that they could not. The Church has always reflected the society around it in the way it has structured its ministry, back to the beginning, and all the kicking and screaming in the world will not deliver us back to the kind of society four hundred years ago in England when wife-beating, cutting people's noses off for adultery and burning witches were rife. Thank God.

Bishop Alan Wilson said...

Tim, the use of language in this way is characteristic of all forms of discrimination. The logic is entirely circular in the mechanism people use to save themselves from providing any evidence to back up their point of view. Is there any evidence, for example, that female bishops are endowed with any less (or more) sacramental grace than any others? Our experience with female priests has been the precise opposite - that God calls, equips and uses them as much as their male colleagues, in ways appropriate to who they are, including their gender. This is a different form of complemetarity to one based on enforced subordination and belies the oft-repeated slur that those in favour of stopping discrimination in this are simply want to treat everyone as though they were the same as everyone else. This is about equality.

Anonymous said...

Identifying opponents of women bishops with slavers is a serious accusation to make. However strongly we feel about the issues I think that this crosses the line as it demonizes those we disagree with and does not enable us to see their humanity. It does not enable us to see that 'legitimate reasons' can be held for important reasons.

Tim said...


Thanks for your reply.

How is the language I've used "characteristic of all forms of discrimination"? It seems to me to be quite different. No one says it is logically impossible for black people to sit in particular seats, or for gay people to serve in the military. The discrimination argument is usually that society/the organisation/everyone involved is better off if certain people are kept out. That's not the argument here. At least some of the opponents of women priests say that women actually cannot be priests at all. The legal definition of Discrimination you have quoted does not cover that point of view.

Now, I didn't mention anything in my posts about the logic that supports this view (circular or otherwise). Obviously if someone wants to argue that women can't be priests, they need to prove that with good evidence. Unfortunately, the definition of "good evidence" is exactly the point of this whole argument - referring to "our experience with female priests", instead of Scripture or Tradition, is not going to convince everyone.

Erika Baker said...

the Church of England has a defined polity and a precise process for the discernment of God’s will.

Through this system it has conclude that:
a. It has the right to make this discernment.
b. That women can be priests
c. That women can be bishops

That there are always some who will not agree is neither here nor there.
You cannot have a membership that says, in effect, I’m happy with the canons and the way the church governs itself – until it does something I don’t agree with and then I expect it to ignore those same canons and processes.

I think we have to very careful here that we don’t end up thinking the church believes in women as priests and bishops at the same time as that it does not believe it. Although it sometimes feels like it, it is not an organisation out of Alice in Wonderland.

What it is saying is that although it believes in women as priests and bishops, it accepts that some of its members do not and it has no objection to bending over backwards a little to enable those members to remain in a church that has changed its thinking.
What we’re discussing is how far it should bend over backward, how long for and how formalised that bending should be.

At no point does this infer an admission that it might have made a decision it was not entitled to make.
We are no longer discussing the validity of the discernment itself. That is truly yesterday’s story.

And having officially decided that women CAN be bishops, not to make them bishops on the same footing as men is, indeed, nothing but discrimination.

Bishop Alan Wilson said...

It's a free country, and people will have a whole range of views of their own. However, the Church corporately has decided women can be bishops, so, to put it in a rather unempathetic way, they could not hide from a discrimination case by claiming religious privilege

Si Hollett said...

+Alan, thanks for responding. However I feel that you have once again missed what this argument is about. It's not about hating women or not hating women* - those who don't want women bishops in the CofE today don't want wife beating (there may be some very unfortunate exceptions).

This debate was/is really about what God has and hasn't said, about how a Biblical worldview of male and female being the Image of God, gender, submission, worth, equality, etc works itself out in this area. I probably do agree with you on these things (though I don't know what your exegetical and theological arguments are as it's not been discussed here), but by being uncharitable, assuming the worst about the other side, engaging in ad hominem and guilt-by-association fallacies, and not dealing with the real issues your argument isn't going to win people over to your point of view (argument fail), or win you friends (decency fail).

*though people on both (yes, BOTH) sides do hate women - I recently read an argument for women bishops that had the same Aristotelian worldview (though he likely didn't start it) that has been used to subjugate women for centuries, just that the author of the argument wanted a different outcome, so the argument ended up being "women are inferior, thus they need to become like men so they aren't" rather than "women are inferior, thus we should treat them such".

Bishop Alan Wilson said...

Si, I have no idea what makes you say I am arguing ad hominem, or saying it is anything to do with hating women or not. Sexism, like Racism, takes many forms, some better mannered than others. Any other organisation that structurally discriminated against any protected category group would have to take responsibility for doing so and explain itself, not pretend that somehow when it discriminates that doesn't count. I did not, note, say anyone was particular like slavers. But slavery had its defenders on stout Biblical grounds, and Mark Noll's careful analysis of arguments around slavery demonstrates that the range of argumentation over this subject and its exegetical ground was very similar on all sides, progressive as well as Conservative.

Anonymous said...

Bishop Alan,

Discrimination is a two way street. Unfortunately, you seem determined, along with others, to want to portray those who have theological and ecclesiological objections to the ordination of women as priest and deacons as discriminatory. And you repeatedly take the cheap and easy route of making repeated and offensive links between those who hold traditional beliefs on this matter with racists. I have to ask, seeing as how many of my traditionalist brother priests work in the poorest and most multicultural of parishes, where are the ethnic minorities amongst the senior staff of this Diocese?

The real reason that most traditionalists hold the beliefs they do is because of what the Archbishop of Canterbury rightly calls "obedience to Scripture and the consensus of the Church Catholic." It is ths sense of obedience that makes us hesitate as to the rightness or otherwise of the move to ordain women to the priesthood and episcopacy.

We are also legitimately concerned that statements similar to your "the Church corporately has decided women can be bishops" are blithely made while bearing no relation to the facts. "The Church" has made no such decision - some provinces of a particular denomination may have decided this can be so, but "the Church" has not - unless of course you believe that somehow the CofE is the one true Church?

You will know that many traditionalists, male and female, have rejoiced in the lay and diaconal ministry of women in their parishes. I well recall a bishop accusing a former incumbent of mine for being a misogynist because of his beliefs on the Ordination of Women. That priest had always worked with women and yet the bishop had never once worked with a woman.

The tone of your articles towards traditionalists is at times perceived by us as offensive and uncalled for. Yes there are traditionalists who are also offensive, but most of us are trying to be faithful and obedient while not stooping to the low levels that the old Adam in all of us can so easily succumb to.

Bishop Alan Wilson said...

Dear Fr Ross,

The whole company of all faithful people contains a variety of sociological set-ups to ordained ministry, which is understood in various ways.

I find many people on all sides of this question are motivated by obedience to their interpretation of Scripture. Study of the Mark Noll book I mention will show the subtleties and pitfalls of being naive about the way Scripture has historically been used in this sort of question.

I am not saying you personally have any will to discriminate, but, as a matter of simple fact, the Church of England does.

I wonder how the Traditionalists you mention manage to rejoice in the diaconal ministry of women, when precisely the same combination of Orthodox and RC, but not all others by any means, equally reject the possibility of female diaconal ordination on the same grounds as they reject the possibility of priestly or episcopal ordination? How is that done?

I agree strongly with your point about structural racism in the Church of England and the Diocese, and look forward to the day that is properly addressed, rather than just on the level of good intentions.

Bishop Alan Wilson said...

Historically it seems that it was in the tenth and eleventh centuries that the shutters came down on female diaconal (and possibly other) ordination. The reason was not a new interpretation of the Bible, but an attempt to reform the church, as they would have said, now it was unthinkable that a woman could be in holy orders. It had simply become incredible that any woman could be ordained, given the prevailing anthropology, with its stress on the temperature of the semen at the time of conception, etc. That's why medieval academic defences of the proposition "why women cannot be ordained" are so few and sketchy. The first iteration of the "Jesus picked only male apostles" argument seems to have been ramped out much later (1920's?), when the tide that advanced in the tenth century was retreating again, and new understandings of female subordination were emerging signalled in the UK, for example by the Married Women's Property Act and later voting reform after World War One.
The Church has always imbibed this aspect of its ministry's enculturation from the societies it served. It is as incredible now that a woman should not be ordained as it was incredible that she should in 1200.

That being the case, it's for those who oppose this development to say why they do, not me. I have no ides why they do, actually, when inertia and cultural fixation are removed from the mix. As the Cardinal Archbishop of Oporto pointed out last year, this was always until the layer years of the 20th century seen as a matter of order not fundamental theology. Of course it was, and that is how I see it. The innovation, theologically, is to suggest otherwise.

I can say that those of us who support sex equality over ordination usually do so from passion and conviction founded in our whole anthropology derived from the Scriptures and of living in the age God has put us.

The moral case is, for us, is unanswerable. Just whining that it is rude to make it because it is so strong and morally obvious does not answer the question.

In this piece I have affirmed simply what I believe and why; it's for those who believe otherwise to do the same thing for their position, if it can be done. The fundamentally offensive Idiocy of the "A woman can no more be a priest than a goat be a Christian" line that sounded so clever and funny back in the eighties will not do. It answers nothing.

Erika Baker said...

I still don't understand why those who are deliberately members of the CoE suddenly claim that it isn't the church its canons and processes make it when they don't like its decisions.

Yes, there are those who believe that the CoE doesn't have the power to make this decision.
But the CoE disagrees and it has made that decision and it has had women as priests for a long long time now.

I am not a Roman Catholic and one of the many reasons is that I do not believe in the organisational and political structure of the Roman Catholic church. I can quite happily attend Catholic services but I could not be a member of a church whose profound understanding of itself and of its God given powers is, in my eyes, completely wrong.

Yet, that seems to be precisely what some people here seem to be doing with regards to the CoE.
And I really don't understand it.

June Butler said...

If it is impossible for a woman to be a bishop, then it is not Discrimination for the Church to say so.

Tim, if the Church of England says it is possible for a woman to be a bishop, then a woman can be a bishop in the Church of England. The Roman Catholic Church recognizes no orders in the churches throughout the world with their roots in Anglicanism and considers all Eucharists and ordinations invalid, but Anglican churches continue to celebrate the Eucharist and ordain.

Certain members of the CofE may not recognize the orders of women priests and bishops, but I fail to understand how anyone can conclude that women bishops are not possible if the church, as a whole, says women may be bishops. Just because you, or others, say it is impossible, doesn't make it true.

Fr Barry Tomlinson said...

St Paul writing to the Corinthians about food offered to idols says "Be careful, however, that the exercise of your freedom does not become a stumbling-block to the weak."
We may believe that women can be bishops but perhaps we do need to be willing to allow the weaker brethren who object to have a male substitute. It is not simply a matter of gender, after all male bishops have given way to flying bishops for 20 years, and there will also be objections to male bishops ordained by women, so the women need not feel that they are the only ones facing discrimination.

Bishop Alan Wilson said...

Erika, there is some degree of fuzziness about these things I know. Whilst making all sorts of personal accommodations on the basis that people negotiate them, what I object to is mucking up the whole pattern of episcopal order in the C of E to supposedly placate people who were off anyway. The whole flying bishops fiasco has not served us well. Currently under 3% of parishes use them, under 1% of Church members in our diocese. Yet they stir up all kinds of division over something that everybody else solved and moved on from years ago. What I think I learnt from today's synod debate is that a whole planeload of legalistic verbiage is unlikely to get us where we need to be. This is why every other Church in the world that has gone down this route has done it by a one-clause measure. With that passed, people have sat down together and worked out the implications for various consciences on both sides - not in a hypocritical "I am going to work out what I think your conscience needs and if I get it right you might deign to stay" way, but honestly. Over heavy engineering in the legal department simply leads to a lot of contention about the meaning of words — something St Paul advises us to forswear. This should come as no surprise. Very seldom, when neighbours have issues dividing them, does the importation of a busload of lawyers into their relationship sweeten things or help them understand each other. I say all this in the context that I have scrupulously observed the letter and spirit of the ludicrous 1993 legislation; down to giving a parish a curate who, having cost £30K to train lasted under 6 weeks before deciding he had really been an RC all along. I wouldn't have joined if I couldn't take a joke, but this kind of nonsense is grossly unfair on people who sacrificially give in order to support what turns out to be a fantasy life.

Erika Baker said...

Alan, I agree with all of that.

I also wanted to reply to Barry Tomlinson that it's not as simple as throwing bible quotes into the ring. It seems we must be a stumbling block - either to the weak who cannot cope with the reality of their church, or to the weak who are seriously turned off because the church is still seriously discussing the status of women. As this decision cannot be made by comparing different levels of suffering and deciding who to allocate a bit more to, it has to be made based purely on what the church actually wants to achieve and what it has discerned as God's will.

To me, that's the real question. Are we really saying to God that we recognise his call to women, yet we reject it because it might offend some people who don't hear it? If we really believe that God calls women, yet we placate those who don't understand that - have we got our priorities right?

The fact that the discrimination against women has previously also had some impact on male bishops is no reason to extend it now. Discrimination doesn't become right just because it's been going on for 20 years already.

UKViewer said...

Bishop Alan,

Castigated for speaking clearly!

Erika has got it right. Discrimination is discrimination, no matter how you try to disguise it.

I have empathy for those who object to the ministry of women, but can't agree with them. Protection for their views being enshrined in legislation, would I believe, lead to all sorts of court action with Lawyers the only winners.

How would validly ordained objectors to women's ministry feel if we challenged the authenticity of their ordination and refused to accept their ministry on the the theological basis that inherent discrimination makes their ordination invalid? And I'm sure if I dig around, I could dig up a few quotes from scripture to support that view.

It's time for a single clause measure and than sit down and discuss how respect for the integrity for each tradition can be maintained, without schism. Others have succeeded, can't see why the same couldn't work for the CofE.

Anonymous said...

Using a Protected Characteristic to deny someone a position or service they would otherwise have had access to is Discrimination and it is seen in our present mores as immoral, and in pretty much every field except religion, illegal.

Too right. The way clergy treat the laity is scandalous, and frankly is a far bigger issue than women bishops will ever be.

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